May in Double Brexit Trouble as EU, Labour Raise ObstaclesBy and
Davis predicts row over divorce bill will go on until 2019
Labour vows to fight Brexit law as EU says talks too slow
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit planning suffered a double blow as a top European Union official doubted that trade talks will start next month and the opposition Labour Party prepared to challenge key legislation.
The EU’s deputy Brexit negotiator, Sabine Weyand, told German lawmakers that she’s skeptical officials will be able to begin discussing a trade deal in October, as they had hoped, according to two people present at the briefing. Her warning emerged as Labour announced it will seek to block May’s plan for a post-Brexit legal regime in London.
May also has to contend with a leak of a draft plan for new immigration rules, which would end the free movement of workers on the day Britain leaves the EU, and impose restrictions on all but highly skilled workers from the region. The 82-page document, obtained by The Guardian, said immigration should not just benefit the migrants, but “make existing residents better off.”
The fresh trouble at home and abroad exposes how hard May is finding it to extricate the U.K. from the EU just days after the latest round of negotiations ended in acrimony with the two sides at odds over how much Britain should pay when it quits the bloc.
“Nobody has ever promised this will be simple or easy,” U.K. Brexit Secretary David Davis told Parliament in London, as he predicted arguments with the EU over Britain’s exit bill could last until 2019. “There will be times when it is very stormy.”
The EU has said it will not shift to discussing the sweeping new free-trade agreement that the U.K. wants until “sufficient progress” has been made on divorce issues -- including the financial settlement, the rights of citizens and the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
Weyand’s comments add to doubt that milestone will be reached at a summit of EU leaders in mid-October. Her boss, chief negotiator Michel Barnier, will on Wednesday brief ambassadors from the 27 EU member states in Brussels.
Meantime in London, Labour said it will try to re-write May’s European Union repeal bill, which will pave the way for a new legal system to replace EU laws after Brexit.
May’s government has just over 18 months until Britain is due to depart from the EU. In that time, if it wants to avoid legal chaos after departure, it needs to transfer 12,433 pieces of the EU rulebook into U.K. law.
Labour is challenging the government’s argument that with a shrinking amount of time available, ministers should be handed the power to revise aspects of EU law without full parliamentary scrutiny. As May has no majority in Parliament, she’d be vulnerable to rebels from her own Conservative side, and some Tories, including former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, have already expressed reservations about this aspect of the bill.
If amendments to the bill mean ministers have to get parliamentary approval for each regulation, they risk being held up by constant roadblocks.
Separately, the government said it wanted to continue close collaboration with the EU in science and innovation after Brexit. A new “position paper,” which will form the basis for future negotiations in Brussels, will be published Wednesday, setting out Britain’s long-term vision for science, including space exploration and nuclear research.
The U.K. also wants future collaboration on the European Medicines Agency and EU research funding programs including the current Horizon 2020 framework.
“This paper sends a clear message to the research and innovation community that we value their work and we feel it is crucial that we maintain collaboration with our European partners after we exit,” Davis said in a statement. “We want to attract the brightest minds to the UK to build on the already great work being done.”
— With assistance by Robert Hutton