Brexit negotiations set to be delayed amid stark warning

The European Union’s chief negotiator for Brexit has hinted that negotiations will be delayed following the general election result, saying things will commence when the “UK is ready”.

Michel Barnier tweeted: “Timetable and EU positions are clear. Let’s put our minds together on striking a deal.”

The hung parliament is likely to push back the original proposed start date for negotiations of June 19.

The European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt sounded fed up with this turn of events, describing the election result as “yet another own goal” which would make negotiations “even more complicated”.

A European Commissioner has confirmed that the inconclusive result of the General Election, which saw Theresa May lose her majority, could delay the start of Brexit negotiations.

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Budget Commissioner Gunther Oettinger said that the EU side led by Michel Barnier was ready to begin talks on June 19 as originally planned – but it was not yet clear whether the British government would be able to join them.

The European Union's chief negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier (Rex)
The European Union’s chief negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier (Rex)

Mr Oettinger warned that a weak government in London could lead to a worse result on both sides.

He 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.”

European Commissioner Gunther Oettinger (Rex)
European Commissioner Gunther Oettinger (Rex)

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.

And 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. 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.

Manfred Weber, chairman of the European People's Party (EPP) (Rex)
Manfred Weber, chairman of the European People’s Party (EPP) (Rex)

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 Theresa 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.”

Top image: Rex

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