The European Union is to tell Theresa May that it will take a year to prepare a new mandate for the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Bernier, thus effectively killing the divorce talks if London wishes to discuss a future trade relationship at the same time as the Brexit deal. Brussels is getting increasingly impatient with the poor state of the British side of the negotiations, which are supposed to begin on 19 June, the same day as the Queen’s speech. By then it will be also clear whether Mrs. May has managed to secure the support of a majority of the MPs for her agenda in her hung parliament.
The Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) sent a note to the European Commission last week signaling that the government was operational and pre-negotiation talks about logistics should begin this week as planned. Olly Robbins, Mrs. May’s EU adviser, told his European counterparts that “the prime minister has directed that the procedures for preparing the negotiations for the formal withdrawal from the European Union should start as soon as possible.” However, Brussels remains skeptical about the ability of Mrs. May’s minority administration to make effective decisions.
The possibility of an additional year in the Brexit negotiations under Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty illustrates the intense frustration in Europe’s capital city. The European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had privately urged Mrs. May to hold an election to secure majority and an EU source disclosed that EU officials had also been secretly briefing the UK government on the 27’s negotiating positions for months to allow it to prepare its response. “They have had everything, sometimes before senior people here have seen the positions”, the source said. “May has known about the sequencing of talks since last September. None of this has been a surprise to her.”