U.K. in Limbo as May Power Bid Stalled Before Brexit Talks

  • Scotland’s Sturgeon: ‘UK gov with no idea what it is doing’
  • Senior Tory figures ask prime minister to soften Brexit stance

May Faces Pressure to Abandon Plan for Hard Brexit

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The U.K. slipped further into political limbo as Prime Minister Theresa May’s talks with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists dragged on and calls mounted for a cross-party consensus on Brexit.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wrote to May to demand clarity on her plans for talks with the European Union and protect “participation” in the bloc’s single market and customs union. Hers was the latest cry for a “more inclusive process” in setting priorities for the exit negotiations with the EU.

Theresa May

Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

“Brexit talks start in 5 days, led by a UK gov with no idea what it is doing,” Sturgeon tweeted on Wednesday.

Every day adds to the sense of paralysis that has enveloped the country with May stripped of a majority in Parliament and hurtling toward the EU negotiations with a reshuffled team under pressure to relent on pursuing a hard Brexit. The pound dropped on election day last week and has stayed down as the prolonged uncertainty keeps currency traders on edge.

“Following the election, you will be aware that people are becoming increasingly worried about the confusion surrounding the U.K.’s position,” Sturgeon wrote, in a letter posted on the Scottish government’s website. “During the election you sought a mandate for your proposals to leave the European single market. That proposal failed to garner support.”

Wobbly May

May’s grip on power is tenuous and she will be reliant on the support of a small, largely Protestant party and its 10 lawmakers to cling on.

The crisis comes against a deteriorating economic backdrop as feeble wage growth and soaring prices eat into the purchasing power of consumers. The squeeze is taking a toll, with Britain posting the weakest growth in the Group of Seven in the first quarter, and it is forecast to intensify as the pound’s Brexit-induced decline sends inflation to levels last seen five years ago.

Talks with the DUP over an agreement that would see its lawmakers back Tory legislation in the House of Commons were complicated by a massive fire in a west London tower block that killed at least six people.

The BBC reported that a deal may not be possible before next week, without saying where it got the information. That might delay the formal opening of the new session of Parliament, scheduled for Monday.

‘Want to Know’

“This is a nonsense situation,” opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said in televised comments. “We want to know what’s in the deal they’re offering to the DUP and we want to know when it’s going to be put to Parliament.”

May’s new chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, who is working on the deal with the DUP, was accused by the Daily Mirror newspaper of “sitting on” a report warning high-rise apartments like the one hit by the blaze were at risk. He was housing minister before losing his seat in the election.

May’s office announced a meeting on the tragedy for Wednesday afternoon to coordinate a response.

Two former Tory prime ministers, David Cameron and John Major, have urged May to collaborate with rival parties on shaping the U.K.’s departure from the EU because she failed to win a mandate. Their separate interventions came after France and Germany told Britain the door is still open to reversing its decision to leave.

On Wednesday, the longest-serving lawmaker in the House of Commons and most prominent Tory advocate of the EU, former Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke, backed the calls for a new approach and cast doubt on the wisdom of forming an alliance with DUP.

“You cannot carry out this negotiation on the basis that every aspect of it is going to be negotiated with the DUP to get their vote in support of it and then you are going to try and get the entire Conservative Party to agree with each other on whatever you have tried to negotiate,” he told BBC Radio 4.

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