Theresa May’s government is reaching out to leaders across the EU to seek reassurance that Britain’s requests aren’t completely rejected during Brexit negotiations.
Whitehall, which is recruiting over 500 new civil servants to ease the task of negotiating Brexit, is worried that Britain’s departure from the 28-nation bloc could be disastrous, according to the Times.
Leaders of the 27 other EU member states have agreed on a “no negotiation without notification” policy — meaning Britain will not be able to negotiate post-Brexit arrangements until May has triggered Article 50.
This makes things incredibly awkward for May as Britain will likely have to enter the two-year negotiation period with no assurances over what sort of deal it can reach.
Oliver Robbins, a civil servant who is leading Brexit talks, has met up with the French ambassador and contacted other European diplomats in an attempt to “sound out” the negotiating position of European governments.
“Britain is trying to sound out what sort of agreement might be possible. The European side will not engage until the British take the first step,” a European diplomat told the Times.
The key issue is whether Britain will be able to retain access to the European single market without continuing the free movement of people. This is the deal the British public wants and May has spoken about in the past.
As we have noted, some of the EU’s most powerful officials, including Commission President Jean Claude-Juncker and the Parliament’s Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt, have made it clear that Britain will not be allowed this deal.
Yet, despite this very clear negotiation position, Brexit ministers like Boris Johnson continue to insist that Britain will be able to cherry-pick from the EU’s “four freedoms.”
Wolfgang Schauble, Germany’s finance minister, said last week Johnson ought to read the Lisbon Treaty and understand the “certain connection” between the single market and free movement of people.
It’s for this reason that it’s easy to understand why May fears Britain could face humiliation when it eventually sits down with EU leaders and tries to negotiate a Brexit which suits both sides.
If the two sides fail to reach a compromise, May will be left in a lose-lose situation.
She will either have to deliver a complete departure from the EU including exit from the single market, dubbed a “hard-Brexit,” or an agreement which sees Britain continue with the free movement of people. Both of these deals are unpopular with the British public.