Britain, EU clash over next Brexit move

World Monday 09/October/2017 17:09 PM
By: Times News Service
Britain, EU clash over next Brexit move

London/Brussels: Britain and its European Union partners clashed on Monday over which side should make the next move to unblock Brexit talks, despite concerns they will miss a deadline for a divorce deal and that London is heading for a chaotic departure.
Prime Minister Theresa May made clear in speech she was to deliver to parliament that she hoped her EU partners would make proposals at a new round of talks opening the way to the next stage of negotiations, saying "the ball is in their court".
But even before she had delivered the speech, an EU spokesman hit back in Brussels, saying "the ball is entirely in the UK court for the rest to happen".
May is desperate to try to regain some of her authority and refocus on talks to unravel more than 40 years of union after a speech at her party conference last week, marred by a repetitive cough, a prankster and a stage malfunction, left her weaker than ever.
She has so far fought off attempts to unseat her by critics already angry over an ill-judged election when she lost her governing Conservatives' majority, but her weakness has opened the door for many in her party to challenge her Brexit strategy with just 18 months to go before Britain leaves the EU.
With Brussels quietly preparing for a collapse in the talks and Britain getting ready for what May calls "all eventualities", some officials and business chiefs worry the country will crash out of the EU without a deal.
Speaking in parliament later on Monday, May will say she is determined to secure a new partnership with the other 27 members of the wealthy political and trade bloc.
"Achieving that partnership will require leadership and flexibility, not just from us but from our friends, the 27 nations of the EU," she will say, according to excerpts of her speech.
"And as we look forward to the next stage, the ball is in their court. But I am optimistic we will receive a positive response."
But the EU was clear: "There is a clear sequencing to these talks and there has been so far no solution found on step one, which is the divorce proceedings," European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told a regular briefing.
"So the ball is entirely in the UK court for the rest to happen."
May, who will host businesses later on Monday to listen to their Brexit concerns, is keen to push the talks beyond a discussion of the divorce to try to offer firms some certainty about future trading conditions.
A report that aerospace manufacturer BAE Systems is planning to cut more than 1,000 jobs can only add pressure for May to press her case for the EU to move beyond talks on the divorce settlement, the rights of expatriates and the border with EU-member Ireland.
EU negotiators say that while they see no big breakthrough at the summit next week, they may offer May a hand by offering some hope of a shift at the next scheduled meeting in mid-December.
Aides to May have signalled that the prime minister has accepted that her October deadline will not be met despite a speech in Italy last month which attempted to reset the tone of the difficult negotiations.
Her spokesman told reporters: "Let's see what happens in the next round of talks".
But some pro-Brexit campaigners are calling on the prime minister to get ready to step away from the talks - underlining the deep divisions in the Conservative Party.
Those differences were aired again on Monday with negative briefings in the local media against finance minister Philip Hammond, who supports prolonging the status quo with the EU for as long as possible, and foreign minister Boris Johnson, who angered some Conservatives for setting his own Brexit red lines.
Some have suggested that May will reshuffle her cabinet, but on Monday her spokesman said she had full confidence in both ministers.
"We are fast reaching the point when the prime minister should assert the authority of her office over the negotiations and call time," Bernard Jenkin, a Conservative lawmaker, wrote in the Guardian newspaper.
Asked whether he meant Britain should walk away if there was no progress at the October summit, Jenkin told Reuters: "Yes".