U.K. to Shower Smallest EU States With Attention Ahead of Brexit

  • Latvia, Estonia, others could split EU unity, says official
  • Former Soviet states offered reassurance over security support

Theresa May’s government is launching a diplomatic charm offensive with former Communist states in central and eastern Europe in a push to win vital allies for Brexit negotiations due to begin in two months.

British ambassadors to Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia, and Slovakia will be given higher status and additional political and lobbying staff. The prime minister’s team wants to cultivate good relations with like-minded EU states ahead of Brexit talks due to start by March 31, a senior British official said.

As the premier attempts to extract concessions in divorce talks, ministers hope to exploit concerns over security and finances in order to split the EU’s united front, according to the official, who did not want to be identified discussing confidential government strategy.

“One of the obvious tactics in any negotiation is to divide your negotiating partners,” said Anand Menon, professor of European politics at King’s College London. “EU unity is only skin deep and having good intelligence from capital cities and not letting everything be transmitted via Brussels is an inherently sensible approach.”

Embassy teams in Malta, which holds the rotating EU presidency in the first half of 2017, and Luxembourg, are also being strengthened in the diplomatic offensive.

Final Touches

All these changes are taking place in the run-up to May’s self-imposed deadline to invoke Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty. That will formally start the two-year period of negotiations before the U.K. leaves the bloc.

While no country around the negotiating table has the power of veto, small countries can come together to influence the debate to Britain’s advantage. May had floated the idea that she is open to continuing some payments and wants to maintain the U.K.’s military and intelligence commitments to European security in the face of Russian aggression.

May sees an opportunity to win support by offering to continue paying money to smaller countries -- which are net recipients of funding from the 28-nation bloc’s central budget. These are the states that stand to lose the most if the U.K. decides to stop contributing entirely to the EU budget. Britain paid about 13 billion pounds ($16.2 billion) to the EU budget in 2015.

The U.K. has committed forces to Estonia and Poland as part of a NATO program to counter the resurgence of Russia and promises to continue to play its part.  

Boris’s Word

After leaving the EU, “we will be there, we simply won’t be doing it through the existing treaty system,” Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told lawmakers on Jan. 26. “When I look at some of the embassies in other European capitals they have been a bit rundown in their engagement with what is really happening in that country. I do want to see that beefed up.”

The decision to upgrade some ambassadors is meant to convey the message that the U.K. takes the selected countries seriously. The changes to senior management posts will happen through normal rotations and are subject to the 18-month recruitment process.

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