EU Reaches Out to U.K. Opposition as May Battles, Telegraph Says
(Bloomberg) -- The European Union has been meeting more frequently with the U.K.’s opposition Labour Party as doubts grow over whether Prime Minister Theresa May will remain in her post through the conclusion of Brexit negotiations, the Daily Telegraph reported without saying where it got the information.
As May brushed off calls from some Conservative Party members this week to resign, a move by EU negotiators to step up communication with Jeremy Corbyn’s party shows fallout from government infighting has reached Brussels. Brexit talks resume in the Belgian capital on Monday with officials saying agreements on some fundamental issues, in particular Britain’s financial settlement, are still some way off.
According to Saturday’s Telegraph, EU negotiators are seeking assurances from Corbyn that he will honor agreements already made during Brexit talks if he were to become prime minister before a deal is signed. The newspaper cited EU officials whom it didn’t name.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, met Corbyn and Labour Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer in July. Shortly after that, Labour announced that it was in favor of a post-Brexit transitional period of between two and four years, during which the U.K. would remain in the EU’s single market and customs union. In her key speech on Brexit in Florence last month, May said she backed such an arrangement for about two years.
Since the June general election, in which May lost her outright majority, the pace of meetings with Labour officials has picked up and involved officials at a higher level, the Telegraph said.
In a further blow to May’s hopes of quickening the pace, a group of countries led by Germany and France rejected on Friday the option of opening talks on that transitional arrangement until the U.K. gives more clarity on its financial commitments to the EU, according to the Financial Times on Saturday. The FT cited unidentified European diplomats.
The U.K. had hoped that EU leaders would use a summit in Brussels later this month to make talks on the transition part of the ongoing negotiations over Britain’s divorce from the bloc. While some countries backed this softer approach after welcoming May’s shift in tone in her speech in Florence, hardline governments have been reluctant to move away from the principle that negotiators must resolve the issue of the divorce bill before moving onto discussions about the post-Brexit relationship.
In London, senior officials in May’s Conservative party, speaking on condition of anonymity, have urged the prime minister to assert her authority by shaking up her cabinet and firing Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. He has angered colleagues by forging his own path on Brexit in the run up to what proved a disastrous party conference, according to three senior Tories.
May faced calls to quit following a chaotic speech at the conference that she almost failed to finish because of a coughing fit. Grant Shapps, a former Conservative party chairman, announced on Friday he was orchestrating a campaign to persuade her to step down -- to which May responded by saying she’s providing the “calm leadership” the country needs.