May Under Pressure From All Sides as Brexit Talks Enter Final Months

September 3, 2018 Updated: September 3, 2018

With just two months left to strike a Brexit deal, the pressure is mounting on all sides for UK Prime Minister Theresa May.

As lawmakers return from summer recess, May’s strategy is under fire from within her own party and the EU, with yet more warnings over a “no-deal” Brexit.

The EU and UK are in talks to negotiate the terms of Brexit and are trying to beat a self-imposed October deadline.

They need time to run any deal through lawmaking chambers ahead of March 29, 2019, when the UK leaves the 27-member trading bloc.

May has proposed allowing free trade in manufactured and agricultural goods, but with Britain accepting EU regulations over traded goods—known as the “Chequers” deal.

To hardline Brexit supporters within her own party, her plan is a “soft” Brexit that binds the UK too tightly to EU rules. On Sept. 2, the Times reported that 20 of May’s Conservative lawmakers were now backing the grassroots StandUp4Brexit campaign committed to opposing May’s plan.

Even if her plan were agreed by the EU, 20 party rebels would be more than enough to block its ratification in British lawmaking chambers.

Politician Boris Johnson leaves his residence
Boris Johnson leaves his grace-and-favour residence in Carlton Gardens near Buckingham Palace in London, on July 18, 2018. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

“We’re walking a narrow path with people chucking rocks at us from both sides,” said Damian Green, May’s former deputy.

But winning support in British lawmaking chambers was “difficult but not impossible,” he told the Times.

Former foreign secretary, and potential successor to May, Boris Johnson laid into May’s strategy. 

‘End of the Single Market and the European Project’

“In adopting the Chequers proposals, we have gone into battle with the white flag fluttering over our leading tank,” Johnson wrote in the Telegraph on Sept 3.“If we continue on this basis we will throw away most of the advantages of Brexit.”

“We will remain in the EU taxi; but this time locked in the boot, with absolutely no say on the destination.”

Brexit-supporting Conservative lawmakers are preparing to unveil an alternative plan before the party’s annual conference at the end of the month.

Even if British lawmakers were to swing behind May’s plan, it would first need to be agreed upon by the EU.

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said that he strongly opposed Britain’s proposal.

Michel Barnier meets Dominic Raab
EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier (R) meets Britain’s Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab at the European Commission in Brussels on Aug. 31, 2018. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

“If we let the British pick the raisins out of our rules, that would have serious consequences,” he told a German newspaper on Sept 2. “Then all sorts of other third countries could insist that we offer them the same benefits. That would be the end of the single market and the European project.”

Barnier’s stance is dismissed by some as a negotiating tactic, while others say it’s a genuine red-line, consistent with the EU’s founding principles.

The UK will be out of the trading bloc, regardless of whether a deal is reached, on March 29.

On Sept. 3, a new think tank report warned that the short-term impact of a no-deal Brexit would be “chaotic and severe.”

No Compulsion for the EU to Accommodate the UK

The report from EU in Changing Europe warned that a “no-deal” scenario is likely to be accompanied by an acrimonious breakdown in relations, extinguishing the goodwill that would help plug some regulatory gaps.

With no deal in place, the UK’s trade relationship with the EU would automatically be set to World Trade Organization rules, but according to the report, the EU is not legally bound by that.

“There would be absolutely no compulsion on the EU to accommodate the UK in this way, and no reason why they would be likely to do so in the context of an acrimonious, chaotic no deal,” according to the report.

Professor Anand Menon, director of The UK in a Changing Europe, said: “Make no mistake, the impact of a no deal Brexit will be severe. In the short term at least, considerable uncertainty and disruption will result.”

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