Brexit Britain from Abroad: May Faces Obstacles to Her Winning Brexit Coalition
An Election About Hard or Soft Brexit
In principle, a resounding electoral victory should strengthen May’s position in the U.K.’s upcoming Brexit negotiations. Going into those negotiations, May could claim to have received a strong mandate from the U.K. electorate. She would also enjoy the benefit of not having to return to the polls until 2022. That should ease her task of getting parliamentary approval for any deal that she might have struck with her European partners by the March 2019 deadline.
The basic question remains as to whether these elections will give May the room to make a U-turn from the hardline position she has been taking toward the Brexit negotiations up until now. Repeatedly, May has insisted that any deal with Europe must satisfy two basic U.K. demands:
First, the U.K. must regain full control over its borders in so far as immigration is concerned. Second, the U.K. must restore its sovereignty by freeing itself from the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Maintaining those positions would almost surely lead to a hard-Brexit, since they would cross the red lines enunciated by the U.K.’s European partners regarding what is required for a country to continue enjoying access to Europe’s Single Market. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly warned the U.K. against entertaining any illusions as to the firmness of Germany’s commitment to those red lines.
Desmond Lachman, The Hill
May’s New Conservatism
On Brexit, the manifesto promises to enter negotiations in a constructive spirit but repeats the assertion that no deal would be better than a bad deal. And it states explicitly that Britain will leave the customs union as well as the single market after Brexit.
Brexit has loosened party loyalties in Britain, destroying Ukip and weakening Labour in its traditional industrial heartlands. May has seized the opportunity to expand the Conservatives’ reach, both geographically and socially. In the process, she has repositioned her party ideologically, although she claimed on Thursday that “there is no Mayism” and that she was not rejecting Thatcherism.“Margaret Thatcher was a Conservative, I’m a Conservative, this is a Conservative Party manifesto,” she said.
Denis Staunton, The Irish Times
Merkel’s Immigration Warning
The German chancellor delivered a vague but pointed warning to British leaders on Wednesday amid questions over how the UK's divorce from the EU will impact the free movement of people across Europe.
Speaking at an event for labor union officials in Berlin, Merkel said that "if the British government says that free movement of people is no longer valid, that will have its price in relations with Britain."
Merkel said that if Britain were to limit the number of EU citizens allowed into the country to only 100,000 or 200,000, for example, "we would have to think about what obstacle we create from the European side to compensate that." She was quick to say, however, that such a plan wasn't meant to be "malicious."
Freedom of movement between the UK and the EU remains a central issue in negotiations over Brexit, whose supporters often pointed to migration as one of the most compelling reasons to leave the 28-member bloc.
Nothing left to Chance
President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said on Wednesday he is confident Michel Barnier, Europe's chief negotiator for Brexit, will "leave nothing to chance".
Speaking during a plenary session in Strasbourg on Wednesday morning following the conclusions of the European Council meeting on Brexit at the end of April, Juncker said the process showed the EU's "commitment to transparency".
Speaking of Barnier, Juncker said: "I won't wish him luck in the negotiations as I know he will leave nothing to chance."
President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said negotiations would take place with a phased approach and that citizens' rights, financial commitments from the UK and free-trade agreements would be key.
He also said the European Union must "aim to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland" to "protect the peace and reconciliation" set out in the Good Friday agreement.
He said the EU needed guarantees the UK would honour all financial commitments.
"It's obvious the relationship between the EU and a non-member state cannot offer the same benefits as EU membership," he said.
"It cannot mean participation in the single market. The UK must be aware any free-trade agreement will have to ensure a level playing field.
"Time is of the essence here, and much is at stake."
In a Wednesday debate in Strasbourg, Members of European Parliament discussed upcoming Brexit negotiations, praising the European Council for its speed and unity, while calling for reform of the European Union.
European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and Chief Brexit Negotiation for the European Union Michel Barnier travelled to Strasbourg to present and discuss with the Parliament new negotiation guidelines that were adopted by the European Council during its April 29 meeting, its first meeting as 27 member states since the Brexit referendum result in June 2016.
"What was and remains most important for me is that our conduct in these talks will show the European Union at its best, in terms of unity, political solidarity and fairness towards the United Kingdom," European Council President Tusk confided to Members of European Parliament (MEPs), and thanked the parliamentarians for their guidance and assistance in the negotiation preparations.
The guidelines set out the need for a "phased approach" to Brexit negotiations, establishing three priorities that must be addressed in a first stage of talks: the fate of nearly EU citizens living in the UK and British citizens living in Europe, estimated at 4 million people; an agreement on financial commitments undertaken by the UK while still a member of the EU 28; and measures to preserve peace in Northern Ireland, including ensuring there will not be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as set out in the Good Friday Agreements.
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