Do the EU need May to stay?

Flaggen in Berlin / 060813

By Conor Holohan

There have been some rather interesting messages out of Brussels recently. Despite the EU’s customary swipes at our Prime Minister and Brexit Minister, there have been many stories that play well for May’s leadership and David Davis’ enormous task.

It was reported last week that Guy Verhofstadt urged Theresa May to face down Boris Johnson and other Brexiteers who refused to ‘accept the reality of the Brexit they campaigned for’. This is telling of how the Eurocrats view the British Prime Minister: They rightly see May as someone reluctantly implementing Brexit. Since May was a known remainer before the referendum, the EU believe that she is more likely than someone like Boris Johnson to give concessions and less likely to walk away from the negotiating table. They are correct on both counts.

European leaders have also somewhat thrown May some rope in the press regarding the next stage of negotiaions; trading arrangements. It was reported that the EU are internally preparing for discussions on trading arrangements and a transitional period. Previously the EU had insisted that they would not entertain this prospect before the so-called ‘divorce’ payment was settled.

This change of tone is indicative of the fact that Brussels are eager to pressure the UK into paying the ‘divorce’ bill which has caused a deadlock between sides throughout the summer. They hope that by portraying December as a deadline of sorts for moving on with discussions, the UK will be rushed into paying a large enough settlement to disparage other nations from thinking that exiting the EU is cheap.

The change of tone on trade talks also suggests that the Eurocrats are trying to help May, who is domestically week and under constant threat of a coup from within her minority party. The announcement that the EU are internally preparing for trade talks may be designed to calm Brexiteer Tories who are frustrated with the negotiating deadlock and have become restless, some having already called for May to walk away from the table without a deal.

However, it was leaked to the German Press that, during their recent dinner, Mrs May begged President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker for help. Though Juncker’s chief of staff denied being the source of the leaks, it must be remembered that there are some prominent Eurocrats that still believe Brexit can be reversed through aggressive briefing against the UK’s negotiating team designed to lower morale and confidence in the possibility of Brexit. Reportedly, sources surrounding Angela Merkel are angry about the leak, and have said that the German Chancellor wants May to stay the course of Brexit negotiations.

The reason that the Eurocrats and the national leaders in Europe want May to stay on is that they know she will pay a large ‘divorce’ settlement in order to get onto trade talks by December for the sake of her government. They rightly believe that, if May were usurped, she could be replaced by a more brutish character, particularly Boris Johnson, whom EU sources have called a ‘dangerous joke’. If the EU want to cover the economic black hole left by the UK and discourage Eurosceptic sentiment across the continent simultaneously, they need someone like May in place, who isn’t ideologically attached to Brexit and is more likely to take a sore deal.