With a flurry of resignations in Westminster, and speculation that Prime Minister Theresa May could be pushed out, the spotlight has turned away from Brussels and is firmly focused on the political turmoil in the U.K.
But at the EU institutions and across the 27 European countries, officials and politicians have a difficult balancing act. They must be reluctant to pile yet more pressure on May but with just over four months left until the deadline for Brexit, they need to remind the U.K that time is of the essence.
Indeed, the message is that May’s current Brexit draft is the exit deal and there’s no time to negotiate something else before the U.K.’s departure on March 29.
“We have a document on the table that Britain and the EU 27 (other EU nations) have agreed to, so for me there is no question at the moment whether we negotiate further,” Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said in her home country on Thursday.
The 27 other EU nations have started examining the 585-page draft withdrawal plan — this text outlines how the U.K. will leave the European Union and is the sole reason why several U.K. politicians have turned their back on the prime minister in the last 48 hours.
European officials are therefore taking the necessary steps to prepare for a special Brexit summit on November 25, hoping that May will survive the current turmoil and sign off on the exit deal together with the other European heads of state.
May led negotiations
European Council President Donald Tusk said Thursday that the withdrawal deal ensures “the limitation of the damage caused by Brexit” and it also “secures the vital interests and principles of the 27 member states, and of the European Union as a whole.”
Overall, European leaders seem happy with the agreement that’s on the table and EU negotiators believe that this deal is the best possible arrangement.
On Thursday, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab led the rout in sterling by resigning from his post, saying he couldn’t accept the deal after the promises the ruling Conservative Party made to the country in an election manifesto last year.
But EU officials don’t seem worried about Raab stepping down. In fact, Margaritis Schinas, the chief spokesperson for the European Commission told reporters Thursday, that May had been the person leading the negotiations from the U.K. side anyway.
“We understand that Prime Minister May was the chief negotiator, in the article 50 negotiations and Dominic Raab was the secretary of state for the department of exiting the European Union. I think this was the division of responsibilities,” he said.
If all goes well in the next week and the other 27 EU leaders alongside May sign off on the exit agreement next Sunday, the next big moment will be the ratification process — the vote in the U.K. and the EU Parliaments.
The votes, mainly the one in London, remain the biggest uncertainty in this whole process. The other EU nations, so far, are united when it comes to the Brexit negotiations and that’s likely to remain the case.
“I don’t share the prime minister’s enthusiasm about Brexit as such. Since the very beginning, we have had no doubt that Brexit is a lose-lose situation, and that our negotiations are only about damage control,” Tusk also told reporters on Thursday. “As much as I am sad to see you (the U.K.) leave, I will do everything to make this farewell the least painful possible, both for you and for us,” he added.