Frag­ile Tories warned over ‘bru­tal Brexit’

May’s slim grasp on power means UK more likely to crash out with­out deal

The Guardian - - FRONT PAGE - Dan Roberts Jen­nifer Rankin and Daniel Bof­fey Brus­sels A girl places a can­dle among flow­ers left for those who died in the Gren­fell Tower fire Pho­to­graph: Will Oliver/EPA

Euro­pean lead­ers fear Theresa May’s gov­ern­ment is too frag­ile to ne­go­ti­ate vi­able terms on which to leave the union, mean­ing the dis­cus­sions that of­fi­cially be­gin to­day could end in a “bru­tal Brexit” un­der which talks col­lapse with­out any deal.

As of­fi­cials be­gan to gather in Brus­sels last night, the long-awaited start of ne­go­ti­a­tions was over­shad­owed by po­lit­i­cal chaos in West­min­ster, where the chan­cel­lor, Philip Ham­mond, warned that fail­ing to strike a deal would be “a very, very bad out­come”.

The EU side fears that in re­al­ity the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment will strug­gle to main­tain any po­si­tion with­out fall­ing apart in the com­ing weeks and months, be­cause with­out sup­port from the Demo­cratic Union­ist party, May’s ne­go­ti­at­ing hand is lim­ited. There are also con­cerns that any DUP back­ing to give May a Com­mons ma­jor­ity would come with strings at­tached.

Ham­mond has been urged to pub­lish the costs of any deals made with the DUP to prop up the gov­ern­ment. The shadow chan­cel­lor, John McDon­nell, has raised con­cerns over re­ports that the DUP wants to end air­port tax on vis­i­tors to North­ern Ire­land, which gen­er­ated about £90m in 2015-16 ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates by HM Rev­enue & Cus­toms. Abol­ish­ing air pas­sen­ger duty is one of the DUP’s key de­mands, as it puts North­ern Ire­land at a dis­ad­van­tage com­pared with the Repub­lic of Ire­land, where the duty has been abol­ished.

As well as con­cern over any terms agreed with the DUP, May will have to as­suage fears from Ire­land’s new prime min­is­ter, Leo Varad­kar, when she meets him in Down­ing Street to­day that Brexit will in­fringe on the rights of peo­ple in Ire­land. The taoiseach will also raise the im­pact of any Tory-DUP deal on power shar­ing in North­ern Ire­land.

The prime min­is­ter has said she is con­fi­dent of get­ting the Queen’s speech through the Com­mons, re­gard­less of whether a deal is reached with the DUP by the time of the state open­ing of par­lia­ment on Wed­nes­day.

Bri­tish Brexit ne­go­tia­tors are hop­ing to shore up con­fi­dence in their hard­line ap­proach to the start of talks by mak­ing early progress on the vexed ques­tion of cit­i­zens’ rights. The Brexit sec­re­tary, David Davis, is de­ter­mined to demon­strate his take-it-or-leave-it ap­proach to the two-year ar­ti­cle 50 process is still on track and is un­der­stood to be will­ing to make con­ces­sions on cit­i­zens’ rights to help the process get off to a cred­i­ble start.

“We want both sides to emerge strong and pros­per­ous, ca­pa­ble of pro­ject­ing our shared Euro­pean val­ues, lead­ing in the world, and demon­strat­ing our re­solve to pro­tect the se­cu­rity of our cit­i­zens,” the sec­re­tary of state for leav­ing the EU is ex­pected to tell his coun­ter­parts. “I want to re­it­er­ate at the out­set of th­ese talks that the UK will re­main a com­mit­ted part­ner and ally of our friends across the con­ti­nent.”

Bri­tish of­fi­cials have al­ready con­ceded to EU de­mands for a min­is­te­rial pres­ence to show they have po­lit­i­cal sup­port for the planned monthly cy­cle of meet­ings, although the first ses­sion is due to last just one day. While the Bri­tish hope for an early win on cit­i­zens’ rights, EU sources said to­day’s agenda would mainly be fo­cused on “talks about talks”, agree­ing the lo­gis­tics of Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions rather than de­tails. The UK had hoped of­fi­cials could sort out th­ese ques­tions, but bowed to EU pres­sure that a per­son with a gov­ern­ment man­date lead talks.

Fac­ing Davis at the Euro­pean com­mis­sion’s star-shaped head­quar­ters will be the se­nior French politi­cian Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief ne­go­tia­tor. The two men got to know each other when they served as Europe min­is­ters in the mid 1990s. They have met only once since the ref­er­en­dum, in what the EU side de­scribed as a 30-minute “courtesy cof­fee” when Davis made an un­der-the-radar trip to Brus­sels last Novem­ber. Talks will get un­der way at 10am UK

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.