EU Worries U.K. `Soap Opera' Over Brexit Has Worse to Come

(Bloomberg) -- European Union officials who had half an eye on developments in the British Parliament on Wednesday fear the uncertainty will continue, and aren’t reassured by Prime Minister Theresa May’s apparent victory.

While they say the failure of U.K. lawmakers to win influence over the final Brexit deal at least allows May to focus on the next stage of talks, they’re far from convinced that it will make the process run any more smoothly.

One diplomat said Brussels was viewing the events in Westminster as if they were a “soap opera” that had little effect on the day-to-day discussions around the negotiating table -- but still added to the sense of chaos. And few people think the vote marks the end of the turmoil, he said.

EU officials have been concerned about the prospect of a no-deal Brexit for some weeks. While diplomats don’t think Wednesday’s vote in itself necessarily makes it more or less likely, the potential for more skirmishes and the continuing divisions in May’s Cabinet means they fear talks could collapse “almost by accident,” according to one person familiar with the negotiations.

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill was only the first of several that May has to get through Parliament. May won by 319 votes to 303.

Further Trouble

It was the latest bump in the Brexit road that EU officials have been aware of for some time. They have already identified other votes in the House of Commons, including on the trade and customs bills expected in July, that could lead to further trouble for May.

Other potential flashpoints could be the gathering of May’s ministers at her Chequers countryside retreat in July to thrash out their vision for Britain’s future relationship with the EU, as well as the Conservative Party conference at the end of September, the person said.

But EU officials are not getting too bound up in British politics. When the question of whether to focus more on goings-on in London came up at a recent diplomats’ meeting, the idea was rejected, another person said. Things move too fast, was the verdict -- and can’t be influenced from Brussels anyway.

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