EU reaches out to UK Opposition as May battles

EU negotiators are seeking assurances from Corbyn that he will honour agreements already made during Brexit talks


BRUSSELS • The European Union (EU) has been meeting more frequently with the UK’s Opposition Labour Party as doubts grow over whether Prime Minister Theresa May will remain in her post through the conclusion of Brexit negotiations, the Daily Telegraph reported without saying where it got the information.

As May brushed off calls from some Conservative Party members last week to resign, a move by EU negotiators to step up communication with Jeremy Corbyn’s party shows fallout from government infighting has reached Brussels. Brexit talks resume in the Belgian capital last Monday with officials saying agreements on some fundamental issues, in particular Britain’s financial settlement, are still some way off.

According to Saturday’s Telegraph, EU negotiators are seeking assurances from Corbyn that he will honour agreements already made during Brexit talks if he were to become prime minister before a deal is signed. The newspaper cited EU officials whom it didn’t name.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, met Corbyn and Labour Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer in July. Shortly after that, Labour announced that it was in favour of a post-Brexit transitional period of between two and four years, during which the UK would remain in the EU’s single market and customs union. In her key speech on Brexit in Florence last month, May said she backed such an arrangement for about two years.

Since the June general election, in which May lost her outright majority, the pace of meetings with Labour officials has picked up and involved officials at a higher level, the Telegraph said.

In a further blow to May’s hopes of quickening the pace, a group of countries led by Germany and France last Friday rejected the option of opening talks on that transitional arrangement until the UK gives more clarity on its financial commitments to the EU, according to the Financial Times on Saturday.

The UK had hoped that EU leaders would use a summit in Brussels later this month to make talks on the transition part of the ongoing negotiations over Britain’s divorce from the bloc. While some countries backed this softer approach after welcoming May’s shift in tone in her speech in Florence, hardline governments have been reluctant to move away from the principle that negotiators must resolve the issue of the divorce bill before moving onto discussions about the post-Brexit relationship.