LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May attempts to form an alliance to cling on to power before heading to Paris on Tuesday, leaving the EU’s dismayed Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier wondering when exit talks will begin.
Days after a crushing electoral result showed May had lost her parliamentary majority, the premier is due to meet with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party in a bid to gain the support of their 10 MPs.
The prospect of such a deal has already raised alarm in Dublin, where Prime Minister Enda Kenny has warned of the impact on peace in the British province, while the DUP’s ultra-conservative views have also prompted criticism.
Ahead of the start of talks Michael Gove, agriculture and environment minster, said aligning with Arlene Foster’s DUP was aimed at “strengthening” the UK.
“My understanding is that the DUP, like the Conservative Party, has a shared interest in making sure we have a stable government,” he told BBC radio.
While the details of the proposed deal are yet to be made public, the ruling Conservatives have said a lose alliance is expected rather than a formal coalition government.
Foster said her party would go into the talks “with the national interest at heart.”
May has dismissed calls to resign following the dismal election result and on Monday faced her MPs and vowed to govern.
“I got us into this mess, and I’m going to get us out,” she told her Conservative MPs.
In calling a general election three years early, May had hoped to boost her slim majority ahead of Brexit talks starting later this month.
But a lackluster campaign saw her high approval rating slip away and support for her “hard Brexit” strategy — pulling out of the European single market and customs union — now hangs in the balance.
As May attempts to cobble together a majority, the EU’s Barnier said he will hold talks with British envoy Olly Robbins on Tuesday to organize the negotiations.
“My preoccupation is that time is passing — it’s passing quicker than anyone believes — because the subjects we need to deal with are extraordinarily complex from a technical, judicial and financial point of view.
“That’s why we’re ready to start very quickly. I can’t negotiate with myself,” he told European newspapers including the Financial Times.
With the two-year clock on Brexit ticking away since March, when a letter from May formally started proceedings, Barnier dismissed suggestion of postponing the negotiations and said such a delay would only prompt further instability.
Following London talks with the DUP, May will head to Paris to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron who has just won an impressive victory in parliamentary elections.
A working dinner between the British premier and her Europhile counterpart — a Brussels favorite — will be followed by their attendance at a friendly football match between England and France.
Colin Talbot, a professor of government at the University of Manchester, said the Paris trip is part of May’s strategy to improve her position at home.
“Going abroad and being seen to be the prime minister and talking to the president of France, being seen to be wheeler-dealing on the international stage, is a classic move to shore up authority at home,” he said. — AFP