Theresa May accused of an 'outrageous' attempt to blackmail the EU over security

LONDON — Prime Minister Theresa May has been accused of blackmail after suggesting in her Article 50 letter to the European Union that failure to reach a deal with Britain would make the 28-nation bloc more vulnerable to terrorists.

In a letter to given to the European Commission on Wednesday, the prime minister wrote: “If, however, we leave the European Union without an agreement, the default position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms.

“In security terms, a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.”

The long-awaited letter was designed to notify the EU of Britain’s departure and establish mutual good will ahead of exit negotiations getting underway. 

However, May’s language has riled key EU figures, less than 24 hours after Brexit was officially triggered.

Gianni Pittella, the leader of the Socialist bloc in the European Parliament, described the remark as “outrageous” and added that it had “not been a good start” for the UK Prime Minister.

Pittella said: “It would be outrageous to play with people’s lives in these negotiations. This has not been a good start by Theresa May. It feels like blackmail, but security is a good for all our citizens and not a bargaining chip. We still hope that Theresa May can get back on the right track … This was not a smart move.”

The EU Parliament’s Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt added that it would be wrong for either side to use the issue of security as leverage in negotiations.”I think the security of our citizens is far too important to start a trade-off of one and the other.

“Both are absolutely necessary in the future partnership without bargaining this one against the other,” he said.

Brexit minister David Davis rejected accusations of blackmail on Thursday morning.

He told the BBC’s Today programme: “We want a deal. That’s the point. We want a deal.

“And [May] was making the point that it is bad for both of us if we don’t have a deal. That, I think, is a perfectly reasonable point to make and not in any sense a threat.”

However, Davis’ remarks have done little to appease critics, who have accused the government of using desperate tactics in an attempt to strengthen its negotiating hand ahead of exit talks getting underway in a few weeks’ time. 

Pro-Brexit newspaper The Sun has also come under fire for its coverage of May’s remarks. The Sun’s front page today leads with the headline “Your money or your lives” and adds “trade with us and we’ll help fight terror”.

May’s letter to the EU was generally more conciliatory compared to Brexit speeches she has given in the past.

In the letter, which you can read in full here, the prime minister says she wants the EU to remain “strong and prosperous” and hopes Britain and the EU can enjoy a “deep and special” post-Brexit partnership.

Yet, despite May’s more positive tone, it is accusations of blackmail that are making headlines this morning. 

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