European officials are said to be ready to pounce on Theresa May’s weakened and unstable leadership, after last week’s snap election left the British prime minister with a diminished mandate just days before Brexit negotiations are due to begin.
Formal talks with European Union counterparts were scheduled to begin next Monday, June 19, but might be postponed by a few days.
Brexit secretary David Davis announced the possible change of plan on Monday, as the date clashes with the announcement of the new government’s policy program, known as the Queen’s Speech.
“It’s in the week of next week, basically, is the first discussions,” Davis told Sky News when pressed about the start of negotiations.
“My permanent secretary is actually in Brussels today talking to them about the details. It may not be on the Monday because we’ve also got the Queen’s Speech that week and I will have to speak in that and so on.”
European officials highlighted the need for “stability” over the weekend, but did not refrain from pushing for a ‘soft Brexit.’
“It’s the end of hard Brexit,” the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.
Germany’s EU commissioner, Günther Oettinger, also said Britain could remain in the EU customs union, as well as preserve its free trade deals, as Europe does “not want the UK to be in a worse position” post-Brexit.
“If London, for example, stayed in the customs union, it would not have to renegotiate all trade agreements. This would greatly relieve the burden on the British government,” the MEP said.
“With this election result the British have clearly expressed their opposition to Theresa May’s confrontation with the European Union,” echoed the Bundestag EU committee chairman, Gunther Krichbaum.
“I very much hope that London is opening up its negotiating position.”
Germany’s second largest newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, headlined its general election coverage with the words: “Will May be able to hold on?”
In neighboring France, too, the mood seemed to doubt May’s capacity to hang on to power, with newspaper La Croix putting an article on its Monday front page reading: “In the United Kingdom, the uncertain future of Theresa May.”
“[May’s] program, which included defending the stronghold of the City and launching an ambitious industrial investment program, will have to adapt itself to the new parliamentary situation,” added an article in the weekly La Tribune.