Brexit talks ‘could be delayed’ - Brussels

Brexit talks had been due to begin in 10 days.
Brexit talks had been due to begin in 10 days.
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Talks on Britain’s withdrawal from the EU will begin when the new UK government is ready, Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said.

The comment suggests Mr Barnier is ready to delay the opening of official negotiations, which were expected to begin on June 19 in Brussels.

It came as European Commissioner Gunther Oettinger warned that the inconclusive result of the General Election could lead to a worse result for both sides.

In a message released on Twitter, Mr Barnier said: “Brexit negotiations should start when UK is ready; timetable and EU positions are clear. Let’s put our minds together on striking a deal.”

Meanwhile the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt voiced his frustration with the snap election called by Theresa May.

“Yet another own goal, after Cameron now May, will make already complex negotiations even more complicated,” said the former Belgian prime minister.

Mr Oettinger told German radio station Deutschlandfunk that in negotiations “a weaker partner weakens the whole thing”, while if both sides were strong “you get results more quickly”.

“We stand ready,” said Mr Oettinger. “Michel Barnier is well prepared. We will be hard but fair in our dealings.

“But whether the other side can even begin remains to be seen in the next few hours or the next few days, because without a government, no negotiations.”

Mr Oettinger said that the timetable to prepare for Brexit by March 29 2019 was “ambitious” and Britain had already lost a lot of time by delaying its Article 50 letter and then calling an election.

He said: “The British will now have to set up a new team. There is a new government, perhaps a minority government, which will be dependent from day to day on shifting majorities in Parliament, in the lower house.

“We will have to see whether the negotiation chief will remain the same, how the relevant ministers will look.

“Therefore I am expecting uncertainty, because it has an effect on everything. It has an effect on tariff negotiations, on contract negotiations in business and in politics.

“Two strong partners are sovereign and can more quickly get better results that are acceptable to both sides.

“A weakened partner weakens the whole negotiation.”

Mr Oettinger said he believed that Mrs May’s “Brexit means Brexit” mantra was still operative, but added that the Conservatives would have to decide how they wanted to conduct negotiations, adding: “Then we will see whether this sentence remains.”

Asked whether he believed the election result indicated that the British were “turning their backs on Brexit”, he said: “We will have to wait and see.

“I think the debate about withdrawal will only become concrete when the results of the negotiations or parts of the negotiations become visible to the public.

“The whole thing is still a ‘black box’ to the citizens of Britain. Therefore I would put off answering that question until the end of the year.”

Manfred Weber, chairman of the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest grouping in the European Parliament, said Britain looked disorientated by the election result.

The German MEP told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “One year after the decision by the British people to leave the European Union, we see that Europe, Paris for example, Berlin and even Brussels is very stable, so we are ready, and we see disorientation in London, which is not a positive thing.”

Asked whether he expected to negotiate with Mrs May, he said it was purely a domestic matter, adding: “We want to start, the time is running, and instability, losing time, is not in your or our interest.

“Europe is for the moment strong and united and we are waiting for Britain.”

Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka said he was “delighted” that Jeremy Corbyn had significantly strengthened his party’s position, saying that the Labour leader was “the real winner of the British election”.

Mr Sobotka said that Europe would now have to wait for the formation of a UK government, but said he did not expect it to take long.

“Britain launched Brexit in March,” he said in a tweet. “We only have two years.”

The election is dominating the homepages of news websites in Europe including Le Monde, Le Figaro, El Pais and Corriere Della Sera.

An article on the Europe edition of website Politico said Britain was waking up on Friday morning “more divided and uncertain about its future than anyone thought possible”, with Mrs May “struggling to cling on to her job, unsure whether she will even be able to form a minority government”.

The article said Mrs May is “mortally wounded” and looked ahead to who could potentially emerge from the political wreckage, saying: “Boris Johnson is the most obvious Tory winner from the fallout.

“When a steady but uninspiring leader has been found wanting, they may turn to a tried and tested winner with the charisma to take on Corbyn.”