Even before the PM's closest ally Damian Green imploded, Prospect’s executive editor wasn’t buying shares in her revivalby Jay Elwes / December 18, 2017 / Leave a comment
The first round of Britain’s negotiations with the EU is over. And now, as the cabinet meets for the first time to discuss what that relationship might be, the question becomes one of political will and political capital: does Theresa May have enough of either, not only to reach an agreement with the EU on future relations, but also to sell it back home to the hard-Brexit nationalists on her own benches?
It’s unlikely that May will survive the coming bout of political contortion. As Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, made clear in his comments to Prospect, the EU does not intend to make special concessions to Britain over its economic relations and trade agreements with the EU. “The British have to understand,” he said, that after Brexit “it cannot be business as usual.”
That attitude will cut deeply into the nationalists’ sense of Britain’s clout on the world stage. It has been a central argument of the hard Brexiters that the EU needs Britain more than vice versa. It seems that they genuinely believe this—even though Britain’s economy is equivalent to 3 per cent of global economic output and the EU’s is equivalent to 21.8 per cent.
But the nationalists’ view of where the power lies is quite wrong, and the coming round of trade talks with the EU will be a brutal education on that point. Barnier made clear in his remarks that, although the EU does not seek to “punish” Britain, “no one should be surprised that the French, German, Dutch, Italian and other leaders are anxious the European project is not harmed or weakened by the UK departure.”