May could walk away from the negotiations in part to show she is still in charge of an unruly Tory party
BRUSSELS • The European Union (EU) reopened the war of words with UK Prime Minister Theresa May, saying it’s for her to make the next move on Brexit, not the EU, if she wants negotiations on future trade relations to start.
“The ball is entirely in the UK court for the rest to happen,” European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters yesterday in Brussels.
It was a pointed response to May’s statement to Parliament in London later in the day, in which she said “the ball is in their court”, according to an extract released in advance by her office. May addressed lawmakers having met with company executives, including Vodafone Group plc and Nestlé SA, who are lobbying for a soft Brexit landing.
The spat comes at a sensitive time for Brexit negotiations and also for May’s leadership. The fifth round of talks started in Brussels yesterday.
Progress has been limited so far, despite May’s offer in a speech in Florence to plug the gaps in the EU’s budget that the UK will create when it leaves, and an assurance that the country will meet its wider financial obligations to the bloc.
Fundamental disagreements remain on the scale of the UK’s financial settlement and the protection of EU citizens’ rights in the UK. At last week’s gathering of May’s Conservative party, her government announced that significant work was under way to prepare for leaving the EU without a new trade deal, if the talks fail.
Some observers believe it is increasingly likely that May could walk away from the negotiations in part to show she is still in charge of an unruly Tory party.
“We would not go as far as saying a walk-out is the base case at this point,” said JPMorgan Chase Bank economist Malcolm Barr. “But we have warning for a while that the atmosphere around the talks was likely to deteriorate, and as it does one should expect the possibility of the UK withdrawing from the talks to be part of the story.”
The latest round of negotiations will conclude on Thursday and are the last before EU leaders discuss Brexit at a summit next week. The EU said “sufficient progress” is needed on the separation issues, like the financial settlement, citizens’ rights and the Irish border, before it will allow the talks to move on to discussing a future trade deal.
The EU’s Brexit negotiating team “is available 24/7” and “the timing of talks depends on the availability of our UK partners”, Schinas said. The UK published papers setting out plans for post-Brexit trade and customs regimes yesterday.