Britain, EU in suspense as May tries to strike deal

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LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May will try to clinch a deal on Wednesday that would allow her minority government to survive, as EU leaders voice growing impatience to start Brexit negotiations.

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May lost her parliamentary majority in last week’s election and is now desperately seeking the support of the 10 MPs from Northern Ireland’s ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party.

An initial round of talks between May and DUP leader Arlene Foster ended with no agreement on Tuesday, although both sides said they were hopeful, with talks to resume Wednesday.

“I hope that we can reach a conclusion sooner than later,” Foster said.

On a visit to Paris on Tuesday evening where she met with French President Emmanuel Macron, May described the talks as “productive.”

The talks are being closely watched in European capitals as they could delay the expected start of Brexit negotiations next week, as well as change Britain’s entire approach to its EU withdrawal.

May has dismissed calls to resign following the dismal election result after calling a vote three years early in the hope of bolstering her slim majority ahead of the Brexit talks.

Her gamble failed spectacularly.

A lackluster campaign saw her high approval rating slip away, and support for her “hard Brexit” strategy—pulling out of the European single market and customs union—now hangs in the balance.

The DUP is believed to be more favorable to a “soft Brexit” that would keep Northern Ireland’s border with the Republic of Ireland free-flowing.

The negotiations with the DUP revolve around support from the party on a vote-by-vote basis in parliament, rather than a formal coalition government.

But the prospect of a deal has prompted warnings that it could upset Northern Ireland’s fragile peace.

‘Very unsettling’
London’s neutrality is key to the delicate balance of power in Northern Ireland, which was once plagued by violence over Britain’s control of the province.

“The danger is that however much any government tries they will not be seen to be impartial if they are locked into a parliamentary deal,” former Conservative prime minister John Major told BBC radio.

The Irish republican Sinn Fein party—which won seven seats in the election although MPs traditionally do not take up their seats in protest—is also wary of the alliance.

“This new arrangement is very unsettling and people are concerned and worried about what it may mean, or what promises may be given. There’s a lot of anxiety,” Sinn Fein MP Michelle Glidernew told Agence France-Presse.

As May attempts to cobble together a majority, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned that time was passing in an interview on Tuesday.

“It’s passing quicker than anyone believes… That’s why we’re ready to start very quickly. I can’t negotiate with myself,” he told The Financial Times.

With the two-year clock on Brexit ticking since March, when a letter from May formally started proceedings, Barnier dismissed the suggestion of postponing the negotiations and said such a delay would only prompt further instability.

The European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, also expressed his frustration.

“We are impatiently waiting for the negotiating position of the UK gov[ernment]. The current uncertainty cannot continue,” he said on Twitter.

At a press conference with May, Macron said the door was “always open” for Britain to remain in the EU as long as the negotiations on Brexit have not finished.

As talks go on, the EU unveiled plans to give itself new powers over London’s banking business after Brexit, in what could be a blow to the city’s supremacy as a global financial hub.

The draft law would empower Europe to decide if post-Brexit London has the right to host financial market “clearing houses” that deal in euros, the EU’s single currency.

AFP

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