If the date of initiation of Article 50 for Brexit is now known, the vision of the negotiations on the British side is not. For this reason, the expectations surrounding the first appearance at a European summit in Brussels by Theresa May are strong. But European partners are not ready so far to begin negotiations on this occasion.
Three months after his arrival in Downing Street, Theresa May participated on Thursday in her first European summit in Brussels as British Prime Minister, responsible for implementing the Brexit. On the occasion of a working dinner with leaders of 27 other countries of the European Union, it was urged that Mrs May should reaffirm the commitment to activate before the end of March 2017, Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which will launch negotiations with the European Union for the Exit of the EU.
This calendar was hailed by European leaders who are pushing for a quick divorce from the result of the referendum on the 23rd June. But Mrs. May also caused raised eyebrows among the twenty-seven emphasizing the idea of applying an immigration control on EU citizens.
The 27 will not let go on the free movement
For European partners, this proposal goes against the principle of free movement and is incompatible with unconditional access to the single market. “The brutal truth is that the Brexit will be a loss for us all. There will be no cake on the table, only salt and vinegar “, highlighted last Thursday the European Council President Donald Tusk, who fears a stormy divorce.
According to a source close to Downing Street, Mrs May is not yet ready to ask the twenty-seven to help to negotiate a separation that is as painless as possible. “She wants a strong UK who becomes a partner of a strong European Union. She does not want the exit procedure detrimental to the EU. We want a smooth and constructive start, minimizing uncertainty “, underlined this government source.
In the same vein, the Prime Minister will emphasize the solidarity of the United Kingdom, while Syria and the role of Russia are expected to dominate the agenda in Brussels. “We will act as a responsible member, active and EU committed until the exit”, it was assured by Downing Street.
What state of mind around the negotiations?
Regarding the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker repeating the urge that there can be no negotiations before the outbreak of Article 50. “It would not take that whole sectors of European industry engaging in secret talks in dark rooms, curtains drawn with the envoys of the British government “, he has said at the 20th anniversary of the Delors Institute in Paris. There will be no Thursday evening debate after the speech of the British Prime Minister, insisted a European diplomatic source.
Still, Mrs. May, who had not been invited at the last EU summit in Bratislava, should take the opportunity to probe potential allies. British delegates have already visited Paris, Berlin, Denmark, the Netherlands and Spain. In Brussels, it will have private conversations with the leaders of Estonia and Romania. “The UK is eager to know what other Member States are willing to accept in negotiations for Brexit” notes Iain Begg professor of political science at the London School of Economics. “The complexity of the upcoming negotiations”, Mrs. May said on Wednesday in Parliament that negotiations would last “two years or more” , thus not excluding the possibility of an extension of the period provided.
One challenge comes from the divisions within the British government, which is struggling to agree on a clear common strategy. The foreign minister Boris Johnson stresses the need for immigration control. The Finance, Philip Hammond seeks first to protect the economy. Scotland, which threatens a new independence referendum is another puzzle, whereas several legal remedies may slow the process.
“I think that European leaders will serve on Ms. May to first to clean her home before you even begin to discuss” divorce to come with EU leaders, slice Catherine Barnard, professor at the University of Cambridge.