Theresa May, U.K. prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party, waves as she arrives to the launch of the party’s general election manifesto at Dean Clough Mills in Halifax, U.K. (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

May Hits EU With Terror Warning As Brexit Mood Gets Bitter

(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May accused the European Union of putting the safety of its 500 million citizens at risk by blocking a broad Brexit deal on security, as the atmosphere surrounding negotiations soured.

During a working dinner at the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, May told her fellow leaders that Britain wants to play a major role in European security after it leaves the bloc. “Our ability to do so is being put at risk,” she said.

May cited inflexible EU rules that stop third countries -- as the U.K. will become -- taking part in the EU’s information-sharing programs. Then she listed the implications of shutting Britain out.

“We would no longer be able to share real time alerts for wanted persons, including serious criminals,” she said. “Our collective ability to map terrorist networks across Europe and bring those responsible to justice would be reduced. That is not what I want and I do not believe it is what you want either.”

May’s comments -- which are as blunt a warning as she’s ever made on the state of Brexit talks -- come at a sensitive time in the negotiations. Discussions on a future trade deal haven’t yet got under way as May’s Cabinet is still arguing over what kind of customs arrangements they want with the EU.

Frustration

There is also no agreement on how to avoid a hard border with Ireland, while EU officials are stepping up their preparations in case negotiations fail to produce a deal.

Leaders including Ireland’s Leo Varadkar and Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, voiced their frustration at the U.K.’s slow progress in the negotiations when they arrived at the summit on Thursday.

May said EU leaders must put security first and give negotiators a mandate to be more flexible in talks on a future security partnership. The leaders of the 27 remaining EU member countries will meet to discuss Brexit -- without May -- on the second day of the summit on Friday.

“When you meet at 27 tomorrow, I would urge you to consider what is in the best interests of the safety of your citizens and mine and give your negotiators a mandate that will allow us to achieve this crucial objective,” May said.

More flexibility from the EU is an often-repeated demand from the U.K., which goes beyond the issue of security. May says the new trade accord must be bespoke, because the U.K. and EU are starting a negotiation from the unique position of full alignment of their tariffs, standards and regulations.

The EU views many British demands for flexibility as “cherry picking” the best bits of membership without the obligations. European leaders say that can’t be allowed and are adopting a rules-based approach to the negotiations.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.