EU Turns Schadenfreude Up to Maximum After May Election Disaster

  • Oettinger says we need a U.K. government that can negotiate
  • EU Commission chief says EU ready to begin talks tomorrow

Theresa May Fights for Job as Labour Gains in Parliament

European officials struggled to hide their impatience for the U.K. after Prime Minister Theresa May’s bid for a stronger parliamentary majority ahead of Brexit talks ended in disaster.

May’s call seven weeks ago for elections to bolster her party in parliament and reinforce her Brexit negotiating position backfired with the Conservatives on course to garner 318 seats, down from the 330 held at the start of the campaign and short of the 326 needed for an overall majority.

Donald Tusk

Donald Tusk

Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

The U.K. notified the EU in March that it would quit the bloc, starting a two-year countdown to its exit. And with the negotiating phase of Brexit needing to wrap up by the fall of next year, officials are putting pressure on Britain not to disrupt an already tight timeline, which could risk a disorderly divorce.

Juncker in Prague, June 9.

Photographer: Michal Cizek/AFP via Getty Images

“As far as the commission is concerned, we can open negotiations tomorrow morning at half-past nine,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said at a defense conference in Prague. “So we are waiting for visitors coming from London -- I hope that we will not experience a further delay in the conclusion of this negotiation.”

Conservative ‘Disaster’

“We don’t know when Brexit talks start,” EU President Donald Tusk said in a Twitter posting. “We know when they must end. Do your best to avoid a ‘no deal’ as result of ‘no negotiations.’” The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier underscored the point, posting on Twitter that the exit timing and the EU positions were already clear and that talks would start when the “U.K. is ready.”

May held talks Friday morning with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party in a bid to shore up her position and form a coalition. She’ll visit Buckingham Palace at 12:30 p.m. London time to seek Queen Elizabeth II’s permission to form a government.

EU Commissioner Guenther Oettinger told Deutschlandfunk German radio that the Brexit timetable was “very ambitious” as negotiations would need to be wrapped up by October or November of 2018. “Regardless of this disaster for the Tories...we need a government capable of negotiating, which is able to negotiate Britain’s exit.”

Sterling tumbled the most since October as investors were confronted with another spasm of political turmoil less than a year after Britain voted to quit the EU, its biggest trading partner. The pound dropped as much as 2.1 percent and was trading at $1.2732 at 10:41 a.m. in London. The FTSE 100 Index was up 0.8 percent.

‘Self-Inflicted Dilemma’

“Evidently, the confidence of citizens that many things will get better and easier after leaving the EU is waning -- even among Brexit supporters,” Juergen Hardt, the foreign affairs spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s parliamentary caucus, said in an emailed statement. “One way out of the self-inflicted dilemma might be that members of the British lower house rethink their Brexit strategy.”

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Europe1 radio that Brexit talks “were never simple to begin with” and the talks “will be long and complex.”

The election result has sown confusion for EU leaders, who have expressed a desire to negotiate with a unified U.K.

“EU is united, Great Britain is deeply divided,” Manfred Weber, leader of the Christian Democrats in the European Parliament, said on Twitter. “May wanted to achieve stability and brought chaos.”

Pierre Moscovici, the EU’s economics chief, told Europe1 radio on Friday: “May, who wanted to strengthen her position, lost her bet.”

— With assistance by Gregory Viscusi, Ben Sills, and Ladka Mortkowitz Bauerova

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