May Seeks to Charm EU Leaders Amid Opposition to Hard Brexit

  • Prime minister goes to Denmark and the Netherlands on Monday
  • Pressure for parliamentary vote on Brexit terms increasing

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May will begin a diplomatic offensive on Monday amid mounting international concern and domestic opposition to her so-called hard Brexit rhetoric for leaving the European Union.

The Conservative Party leader will go to Denmark and the Netherlands for talks with other EU leaders as comments suggesting that her priority will be to curb immigration spurred concern that Britain will exit the regional bloc without a trade agreement in place.

The prime minister is under pressure from financial markets, business leaders, government colleagues and a cross-party alliance of lawmakers just days after she set out her vision of how Britain will exit the EU. Her critics see May’s pledge to restrict immigration as incompatible with continued U.K. access to the single market, posing a risk to the economy. That has sent shock waves through markets and pushed the pound to its biggest weekly loss since the Brexit vote in June.

The Observer newspaper reported on Sunday that former Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband has discussed with pro-EU Conservative lawmakers forming an alliance to demand the government allow a parliamentary vote on terms of Brexit. Miliband is considering offering an urgent question in the House of Commons on Monday demanding that May appear before parliament to explain the body’s role in EU-exit decisions.

‘Complete Outrage’

“It would be a complete outrage if May were to determine the terms of Brexit without a mandate from parliament,” Miliband told The Observer. “There is no mandate for hard Brexit.”

Keir Starmer, Labour’s spokesman for Brexit, said on Sunday that it could be a “disaster” if lawmakers weren’t able to have a say on the terms of Britain’s departure from the EU.

“The terms on which we are going to negotiate absolutely have to be put to a vote in the House, because if we can’t get the opening terms right, we’ll never get the right result,” he said on the “Andrew Marr Show” on the BBC. “Nobody, whether they voted to leave or remain, voted for the government to take an ax to the economy, and the prime minister’s stance on the single market is making it nigh on impossible to have access to the single market, and that is a huge risk to the economy, jobs and working people.”

Former Conservative Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, in an interview on Sky News on Sunday, also called for parliament to have a vote on Brexit negotiations, saying it would be “extraordinary” for that not to happen.

‘Near Nativist’

May’s comments on curbing immigration last week dominated talk on the sidelines at the International Monetary Fund meeting in Washington.

“To say that everyone I have spoken with here in Washington is shocked by what comes out of London now would be an understatement,” Erik Nielsen, chief economist at UniCredit Bank AG, said in a note to clients on Sunday. The view “of a future U.K. as a globally attractive, business-friendly and dynamic economy, freed from the shackles of the EU, has been put to bed, with the government’s talk of an inward-looking, near-nativist vision for the country.”

France and its European partners vow to keep intact the four freedoms that constitute the foundations of the EU in Brexit negotiations, the French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said at a press conference Saturday while attending the IMF meetings.

Splits have also emerged in May’s administration. A government minister speaking on condition of anonymity condemned a proposal to force companies to list foreign workers, proposed by Home Secretary Amber Rudd at the Conservative Party conference on Tuesday, as illegal and discriminatory and said it would have to be abandoned because it wouldn’t pass a vote in parliament.

U.K. business leaders added their voice to those concerned by the rhetoric. The Confederation of British Industry and other trade groups signed a letter released this weekend, pleading with the government to be included in the process to formulate Britain’s negotiating position in talks with the EU.

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