Jean-Claude Juncker’s officials see paralysis and disarray in Theresa May’s government. Credit: Max Rossi/Reuters
By Peter Foster, Europe Editor
9 September 2016 • 6:45pm
Britain has become “completely lost” post Brexit and can eventually be expected to “plead” for a deal when it realises the weakness of its position at the negotiating table, senior European Commission officials now believe.
While officially pressing for Britain to invoke Article 50 and begin divorce talks, officials in Brussels are taking growing satisfaction in what they believe is paralysis and disarray in Theresa May’s new government, according to internal discussions seen by The Telegraph.
The spectacle of Mrs May rebuking David Davis, the Brexit minister, at Prime Minister’s Questions for prematurely revealing the government’s hand was taken as further evidence in Brussels that Downing Street does not have a coherent strategy for Brexit, according to one Commission insider.
David Davis, the Brexit minister, was slapped down by Theresa May for revealing the Government’s hand too early Credit: PA
Officials are also jubilant that the United States, Japan and India all gave the UK what one EU diplomat described as “the cold shoulder” at the recent G20 Summit in Hangzhou, heeding the demand by Brussels that Britain cannot begin independent trade negotiations before Brexit.
“The Commission clearly sees this space and wants to exploit it for its own ends, to push its agenda”
Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at the Eurasia Group risk consultancy
The revelations come as Europe attempts to stage a post-Brexit display of unity this week, when Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, delivers his “State of the Union” address on Wednesday followed by a meeting of all 27 EU leaders in Bratislava on Friday.
Mrs May has pledged not to trigger Article 50 until at least 2017, but is likely to face rising pressure from European capitals if she does not act soon after the new year.
The Prime Minister stuck to her guns this week during a visit to London by Donald Tusk, the European Council president, who hinted at rising impatience in EU capitals, saying that Britain should trigger talks “as soon as possible”.
Tusk tells May to get on with Brexit: The ball’s in your court Tusk tells May to get on with Brexit: The ball’s in your court Play! 01:31
UK officials concede privately that the Whitehall bureaucracy is still “miles and miles” from being ready to conduct detailed negotiations as it comes to terms with a new departmental structure created by Mrs May, however officials contend that Europe is equally in disarray.
British negotiators are determined that the European Commission, with its more “theological” approach to issues like Free Movement, must not be allowed to dominate the Brexit negotiations but wants them controlled by EU leaders who, Britain feels, may take a more pragmatic approach.
However the Commission hopes that divisions among the remaining 27 member states will enable the Brussels bureaucracy, with its mastery of the legal details, to insert itself more forcefully into the coming talks – a strategy that some analysts warned could backfire.
“Member states aren’t on the same page following Brexit, and the Commission clearly sees this space and wants to exploit it for its own ends, to push its agenda,” said Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at the Eurasia Group risk consultancy. “It’s a high risk strategy, and is likely to fail, further alienating Juncker from the member states.”
The People That Think Britain Will Beg
Pictures: AFP, Getty, Patrick Seeger/EPA, Reuters
1. Jean-Claude Juncker — President of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm. Former Prime Minister of Luxembourg for 18 years. Federalist and bon viveur
2. Donald Tusk — President of the European Council, the summit of 28 member states. Tough former Polish Prime Minister, still finding his feet in Brussels
3. Frans Timmermans — First Vice President of the European Commission. Former Dutch foreign minister. Realist who embraces Britain’s desire for greater competitiveness and less ideology
4. Martin Schulz — President of the European Parliament. Veteran German socialist and furious critic of Cameron’s renegotiation
5. Mario Draghi — Powerful Italian president of the European Central Bank and former Goldman Sachs banker. His institution was criticised for pushing Greece to the brink of a euro exit this summer
6. Federica Mogherini — High Representative, the EU’s foreign secretary. Former Italian socialist foreign minister.
Tags: Article 50, Brexit, Britain, David Davis, Donald Tusk, EU, Europe at the Eurasia Group risk consultancy, European Central Bank, European Union, Federica Mogherini, Frans Timmermans, free movement, G20 summit, independent trade negotiations, India, Japan, Jean-Claude Juncker, Mario Draghi, Martin Schulz, Mujtaba Rahman, the Brexit minister, Theresa May's government, UK, United States