May Seeks Brexit Progress as Tory Plotting Prompts Fightback

Updated on
  • Talks resume in Brussels after May survives plot to oust her
  • Diplomats say EU27 unity may unravel if trade talks delayed

May Points to EU in Parliament Brexit Message

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Prime Minister Theresa May will try to make progress in Brexit talks, telling European negotiators the next move is theirs, even as Tory plots dim the chances she’ll survive long enough to cut the final deal.

May appeared on Sunday to have survived a concerted attempt to remove her, and fought back with a veiled threat to demote her rebellious foreign secretary, Boris Johnson. As negotiators head back to Brussels for more divorce talks, May will update Parliament on the concessions she offered last month in her Florence speech.

“The ball is in their court,” May will say in her statement, around 3.30 p.m. London time, according to her office. “So while of course progress will not always be smooth, by approaching these negotiations in a constructive way -- in a spirit of friendship and co-operation and with our sights firmly set on the future -- I believe we can prove the doomsayers wrong.”

In an effort to get back to work after a week that came close to ending her premiership, May will also meet business leaders on Monday. Even as government infighting risks disconcerting EU negotiators, there are signs May might be able to deliver some progress: EU diplomats say leaders may be forced to give ground to the U.K. before the end of the year to prevent splits opening up between the other 27 governments.

The pound fell last week as investors worried that the campaign to oust May would succeed, ushering in months of uncertainty and the possibility of another general election, which the opposition Labour Party could win.

Supporters of a hard Brexit meanwhile turned their fire on Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, with Tory lawmaker Bernard Jenkin writing in the Guardian that the Treasury was “legitimizing EU threats of economic disruption.” The Times cited unidentified pro-Brexit Tories saying Hammondhad to go, after lawmaker Nadine Dorries told ITV that he should be sacked for obstructing Brexit. Hammond has advocated a long transition period after the split to allow companies to adapt, and is seen by business as their key advocate in government.

EU Splits?

With political intrigue overshadowing the fact Britain has just 18 months to get a Brexit deal, the fifth round of negotiations starts in Brussels on Monday. The EU has all but ruled out moving on to trade talks at a summit next week, as not enough progress has been made on issues such as how much the U.K. owes the bloc when it leaves. Some governments are also blocking proposals to allow discussion of the two-year transition deal that May asked for in Florence, according to diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity.

While the 27 governments have been united so far, that consensus may not hold if trade talks are postponed beyond December, according to the diplomats. Countries including the Netherlands and Denmark are keen to open trade talks as soon as possible.

“In any political negotiations, there is not enough time, not enough money, not enough this, not enough that,” Danish Finance Minister Kristian Jensen told the Guardian. “This is part of the game. In my view it is rather important we get into a more close and more speedy process on concluding some of the issues.”

U.K and EU officials will hold talks about issues including the controversial bill on Monday and Tuesday, then take a break on Wednesday. Brexit Secretary David Davis isn’t due to attend on Monday as he has done in past rounds but will appear at a news conference on Thursday with his counterpart Michel Barnier.

Read more: With May’s Leadership in Doubt, Four Scenarios for Brexit

May’s position seemed to have stabilized over the weekend, even as it was clear that her political lifespan is limited. The Sunday Times reported that three members of her Cabinet had last week discussed ejecting her. It suggested that she might be moved out early next year, once this phase of the Brexit talks was completed.

In an interview with the same newspaper, May pushed back. Asked what she would do about Johnson, who has repeatedly undermined her in recent weeks, she replied: “It has never been my style to hide from a challenge and I’m not going to start now.”

Read more: With Tories Calling For May to Go, Who Could Succeed Her?

Royal Bank of Scotland Plc Chairman Howard Davies added to warnings on Sunday that Brexit would cost London jobs, and could do great harm if mishandled. “The game is, can we provide an outcome which minimizes that cost? It will not remove it, it will definitely be a cost and the question is can we negotiate enough market access so that that cost is at the margin, is a few thousand people and not tens of thousands.”

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