EU Says It’s Dazed and Confused by Theresa May’s Brexit BumblingBy , , and
EU summit gets under way with prime minister under pressure
Swedish leaders says U.K. must express: “where they stand”
European Union governments say Theresa May’s got a lot of explaining to do.
After the British Prime Minister’s calamitous decision to call a snap general election ended with her Conservative Party losing its majority in parliament, her EU counterparts are pressing her to clarifty how the U.K. envisages its relationship after Brexit.
“I have to say, honestly, that since the British election, it’s not entirely clear what the strategy is that’s being followed,” Danish Finance Minister Kristian Jensen said in an interview in Copenhagen. “We today don’t have a British government declaration on the direction that’s to be taken” on Brexit, “so we’re in a very, very difficult situation,” he said.
May is meeting her 27 EU counterparts in Brussels on Thursday for her first summit since the election, and after negotiations between the U.K. and EU officially started in a good-natured atmosphere earlier this week. While Brexit isn’t at the top of the agenda for the two-day gathering, May is scheduled to speak over post-dinner coffee, where leaders hope she’ll give some indication of the direction she’s heading in.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested that the other 27 EU governments need to focus on tasks at hand, such as public safety, economic growth and defense, while the U.K. makes up its mind.
“I want to be quite clear that as far as I’m concerned, shaping the future of the 27 member countries takes priority over the exit negotiations with Britain,” she said at the summit’s start.
Before the election, May was steering the U.K. toward what’s known as a “hard Brexit” -- out of the EU’s single market of goods and services and out of the customs union to enable it to strike its own trade agreements. But her miscalculation has emboldened leading members of her party who want a less abrupt separation.
“It’s important for the U.K. just to inform where they stand, what kind of relationship they want,” Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told reporters before the meeting. “We both want an outcome of these negotiations that is beneficial for both -- we need to be calm and steady.”
May will use the summit, which takes place a year since the U.K. voted to leave the bloc, to run her fellow leaders through the principles of her approach toward protecting the rights of EU citizens in a post-Brexit U.K., one of the three aspects of the U.K.’s withdrawal that negotiators are discussing before starting work on their future trade relationship. May’s offer is likely to fall some way short of what the EU is demanding, diplomats in Brussels said.
Leaders say that even if a compromise can be found on citizens’ rights, they still need a clearer indication of the British government’s overall plan for when the U.K. leaves the EU in March 2019 -- with or without a deal.
“It’s crucially important that we know what Great Britain wants from Brexit,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters on the way into the summit. “I hate Brexit from every angle but this is a sovereign decision by the British people and I can’t argue with democracy.”
— With assistance by Viktoria Dendrinou, Nikos Chrysoloras, Esteban Duarte, Marine Strauss, Arne Delfs, Helene Fouquet, and Robert Hutton