- Senior European diplomats believe Theresa May has little authority to reach a Brexit deal.
- Fears have grown that withdrawal talks will be delayed amid debate over the future of the prime minister.
- German businesses have been warned to prepare for a “very hard” Brexit.
LONDON — Senior European diplomats doubt whether Theresa May has the authority to negotiate and reach a Brexit deal.
Officials from across the EU held discussions in Brussels on Thursday as fears grow that transition and withdrawal negotiations will be delayed as there has not been “sufficient progress” in talks so far and that the prime minister might soon be replaced.
One diplomat told the Times newspaper: “We can’t take the risk of going forward if her government might fall before December. What are her commitments worth to other EU leaders if she is a lame duck or gone?”
The European Council will make the decision on whether the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier is given a mandate to progress talks onto a future UK-EU relationship in two weeks.
On Tuesday Barnier said: “We have not yet achieved sufficient progress to undertake in full confidence the second phase of negotiations,” before the European Parliament voted to say they did not think Brexit talks should be allowed to advance.
The momentum created by concessions made by the prime minister in her Florence speech has been halted by the re-emergence of the debate over the future of her premiership.
A European negotiator said: “The Tories have to decide what they want. It remains undecided so now the unrest will continue. It is not good for the negotiations. We want clarity.”
There are fears in Europe that Johnson, the foreign secretary, is in pole position to succeed May, and would demand a much harder Brexit.
An EU source told the Times: “Can we seriously talk about a transition when Britain’s foreign minister is opposed and her government is so publicly split? People say, ‘It’s just Boris being Boris’, but he is a senior member of her government and might be her successor. We have to take him seriously, even if Brits don’t.”
The foreign secretary has said that he is opposed to May’s transition plans because of its proposed length, and the UK being forced to accept EU laws and regulations during the period.
German businesses warned of “very hard” Brexit
German companies in the UK should be ready for a “very hard” Brexit the Federation of German Industries has warned or face heavy losses.
The BDI’s managing director Joachim Lang said: “The British government is lacking a clear concept despite talking a lot.
“German companies with a presence in Britain and Northern Ireland must now make provisions for the serious case of a very hard exit. Anything else would be naive.”
The organisation announced that it had set up a taskforce in order to get ready for hard Brexit, saying that the Tory conference had shown “just how split” ministers were over the direction of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
Lang said: “The unbundling of one of Germany’s closest allies is unavoidably connected with high economic losses.”
German firms feel “not only that the sword of Damocles of insecurity is hovering over them, but even more so that they are exposed to the danger of massive devaluation,” he said.
Businesses from Germany export around £75.8 billion to the UK every year and employ about 400,000 workers in Britain.
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