New York (AFP) – EU-British talks are to resume Monday as scheduled with Britain’s new Brexit minister, Europe’s chief negotiator said, refusing to comment on political turmoil in London following twin dramatic cabinet resignations.
British Prime Minister Theresa May was clinging to power Tuesday, following the resignation of her foreign and Brexit ministers in protest at her strategy for leaving the European Union.
“I had with David Davis a frank and cordial relationship, and now I will work next Monday with this negotiator appointed by Mrs May,” Michel Barnier told AFP on Tuesday after an appearance before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
Asked whether the British reshuffle reduces the chance of reaching a deal on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal by the October target, Barnier was tight-lipped.
“In any case, to conclude the negotiation will be difficult,” he said.
The EU negotiator refused to comment on the political crisis in London following the resignations of Davis, replaced by Brexit supporter Dominic Raab, and of foreign secretary Boris Johnson, replaced by health minister Jeremy Hunt.
May’s Conservative opponents could trigger a confidence vote against her if at least 48 MPs support it, but to actually force her from office 159 MPs would have to vote against her — a figure hardliners may not be able to reach.
“I don’t want to comment and never commented on the national political situation in the UK,” Barnier told AFP.
Neither did he weigh in on Johnson’s pronouncement in his resignation letter that the Brexit “dream is dying” and that Britain was headed for the “status of colony” of the EU under May’s leadership.
“The time is so short, that I don’t want to lose time, we have to use time for negotiation with the UK,” Barnier added.
“We all know a no-deal scenario will have substantial costs,” the European negotiator told the Council on Foreign Relations.
“No deal is the worse solution for everybody,” he said.
Barnier told the Council that Britain and the European Union had so far agreed on “80 percent of the withdrawal agreement” but that the “most difficult issues remain open.”
One of the most sensitive is the border between the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, and Northern Ireland, which will withdraw as part of the United Kingdom.
Barnier said he hoped to “de-dramatize” what he called “very technical and practical (border) controls” such as veterinary and customs checks.
“We must have an operational solution for Ireland,” he said.
Asked about the possibility of Italy leaving the European Union after Britain, Barnier played down any risk.
He said he had “never heard” from the new Italian government that they wanted “to launch a process to leave the EU and to leave the eurozone.”
“On the contrary the new government has clearly said that it wants to be part of the union, to be part of the single market and to be part of the eurozone.”