British Prime Minister Theresa May failed to strike a government deal in an initial round of talks with Northern Ireland’s ultra-conservative DUP party on Tuesday (13 June), leaving the EU’s Brexit negotiator wondering when divorce talks would begin.
May has dismissed calls to resign following the dismal election result after calling a vote three years early, in the hope of bolstering her slim majority ahead of Brexit talks starting this month.
But a lacklustre campaign saw her high approval rating slip away, and support for her “hard Brexit” strategy – pulling out of the European single market and customs union –now hangs in the balance.
The Times reported yesterday that Finance Mminister Philip Hammond will argue for Britain to stay in the EU’s customs union, in a bid to soften Brexit.
The EU customs union guarantees tariff-free trade within the bloc but prohibits members from striking third-party trade deals. The report said Hammond believes the government must rethink its plan to pursue an independent trade policy outside the EU.
In January, May outlined her vision of a clean break with the EU, saying that she wanted Britain to be able to make its own trade deals while maintaining trade with Europe that was as “frictionless as possible”.
Barnier: “I can’t negotiate with myself”
As May attempts to cobble together a majority, the EU’s Michel Barnier said he would hold talks with British envoy Oliver Robbins on Tuesday to organise the negotiations.
“My preoccupation is that time is passing – it’s passing quicker than anyone believes… That’s why we’re ready to start very quickly. I can’t negotiate with myself,” Barnier, the EU’s Brexit negotiator, told European newspapers including The Financial Times.
With the two-year clock on Brexit ticking since March, when a letter from May formally started proceedings, Barnier dismissed the suggestion of postponing the negotiations and said such a delay would prompt only further instability.
The European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, also expressed his frustration.
“We are impatiently waiting for the negotiating position of the UK gov(ernment). The current uncertainty cannot continue,” he said on Twitter.
We are impatiently waiting for the negotiating position of the UK gov. The current uncertainty cannot continue.
— Guy Verhofstadt (@GuyVerhofstadt) June 13, 2017
May headed to Paris later Tuesday to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron, and the two leaders attended a friendly football match between France and England.
Macron and May unveiled joint plans to address online extremism by pressuring internet giants and social media to tackle terror propaganda and hate speech.
The French President said the “door is always open” for Britain to remain in the EU, despite May saying Brexit talks would begin next week, as planned.