UK’s May to talk up Brexit outcome, meet business leaders

A woman pours water as Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May delivers her speech on the final day of Conservative Party Conference his displayed in Manchester, Britain, 04 October 2017. [Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA]

British Prime Minister Theresa May, weakened by a disastrous party conference last week, will give Parliament on Monday (9 October) a bullish prognosis for negotiations over the UK’s exit from the European Union, but will stress that it is up to Brussels to make the next move.

In a separate development, May will also meet leaders of the UK’s business community on Monday to hear what they want from the Brexit talks, stepping up her engagement before the EU leaders are to decide on 19 October whether enough progress has been made to move the talks on to the UK’s future relations with the EU.

Also on Monday, EU negotiator Michel Barnier and his British counterpart David Davis kick off the fifth round of divorce discussions, the last before European leaders meet next week.

The embattled prime minister has seen her authority erode since calling and then bungling an election in June, which cost her Conservatives their majority in parliament.

Her final speech at a Conservative party conference last week was marred by a coughing fit and letters falling off the slogan on the set behind her, while reports emerged that a group of Conservative lawmakers were trying to topple her, and that many of them are strongly opposed to any compromise with the EU.

Some diplomats in Brussels believe that is precisely why EU leaders might give her some hope at next week’s summit – to help her face down calls for Britain to simply walk out without a deal – an eventuality that the Europeans are nonetheless preparing for.

So far, May has failed to persuade Brussels to start talks on post-Brexit issues, although the EU’s Barnier admitted May’s speech in Florence had created a ‘new dynamic’.

May asks for two-year transition deal after Brexit

British Prime Minister Theresa May called for a two-year transition after Brexit on Friday (22 September) in which Britain would largely maintain its current ties with Brussels, in a charm offensive intended to unlock stalled negotiations with the European Union.

May will tell lawmakers on Monday that she was offering Europe a “new, deep and special partnership” with Britain, her office said.

The next move would have to be taken by the other EU member states, but she expects them to accept her offer: “The ball is in their court. But I am optimistic we will receive a positive response.”

Britain had aimed to start talks on its future ties with the European Union after a summit in Brussels later this month. But European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said last month a “miracle” was needed in order to make sufficient progress to push the talks beyond the initial terms of the divorce.

Brussels says it will not discuss its future relationship with Britain until London agrees to pay its outstanding dues, resolves the fate of EU citizens living in Britain and works out a plan for the future UK-EU land border in Ireland.

On Monday, May will meet GlaxoSmithKline, Vodafone, HSBC and other major companies to hear their views on Britain’s relation with the EU after 2019, when it is supposed to officially leave the bloc. Companies attending will also include Balfour Beatty, WPP, Morgan Stanley and AB Foods, the government said.

Businesses on both sides of the Channel have become increasingly alarmed by the slow progress of negotiations and the prospect that the country could crash out of the trading bloc without a deal in 2019.

They have also complained that their voice has been drowned out by disagreement and division in the government, and they have not heard anything to give them the certainty they need to plan and invest in their businesses.

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The government sought to reset its relationship with employers by setting up a business advisory council in June, shortly after May lost her majority in an election.

Despite May’s weakened ratings at home, she will set out a confident pitch, based on her goal to achieve a transitional period so that companies could benefit from a smooth, orderly exit.

“Last month in Florence I set out my vision for a bold and unique new economic partnership with the EU,” she said ahead of Monday’s meeting.

“We are working hard to achieve this and are optimistic about our future as a global, free-trading nation.”

May will be joined by finance minister Philip Hammond, business minister Greg Clark, minister for exiting the EU David Davis and trade minister Liam Fox at the council.

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