The Slovakian Prime Minister has fired warning shots our wayby Stephen Booth / September 21, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: Six Brexit deals that Theresa May must strike
Much has been made of the pressure that Theresa May is likely to come under from within her Cabinet and on the Conservative backbenches to deliver a “hard Brexit.” However, the Prime Minister could find that the bigger challenge in delivering an “ambitious” new relationship with the EU, which she says she wants from the forthcoming negotiations with it, will be navigating the increasing political volatility within and between the other 27 EU member states.
Last week, Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico fired the most explicit warning shot yet to the UK, saying that Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary would be prepared to veto a Brexit deal unless their citizens retained their rights to work in the UK. May dismissed the threat, saying “The 27 will sign up to a deal with us,” and “This is not just about us, it’s actually about their relationships and trading within that European arena.”
In this “phoney war” stage, when the UK has yet to state its position on the fundamental questions of whether it will seek to remain within the EU’s customs union or the single market, we can indeed put the rhetoric of the Slovakian Prime Minister down as a stalking horse negotiating position. However, the episode does illustrate that, if the UK and the EU simply return to a narrow, technical debate about how much control the UK can secure over migration in return for continued trade access to the EU’s single market, which was also the crux of David Cameron’s renegotiation, we could be in for a very bitter and tempestuous Article 50 negotiation that satisfies neither party.
May is right to be ambitious. The UK is not Norway, Switzerland nor Canada—all of whose relationships with the EU have been cited as possible models for the UK to follow. The UK is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Europe’s leading Nato member state and a member of…