UK Politics: EU holds power in Brexit talks and Theresa May knows it

EU leaders welcomed Theresa May's realism
The EU, not the UK, holds the power in Brexit talks
Join today View market

Following Theresa May's big Brexit speech, it hasn't taken long for Tory unity to crumble. Meanwhile, Italy's unpredictable election is under way and Germany finally has a government. Max Liu reports.

"The Brexit stand-off will resume, with the EU talking concrete proposals and the British government offering vague pipe-dreams. Exchange layers are right to think Brexit will not be complete by the March 29 2019, making it [2.36]."

On Friday, the early signs looked fairly promising for Theresa May, following her "big Brexit speech."

Arch-Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith praised the speech and challenged the European Union chiefs to start negotiating with the UK as an equal partner. Nicky Morgan, one of the Tories' prominent Brexit-sceptics, welcomed the speech for its "realism." Even Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the pro-Brexit European Research Group and [5.6] favourite to succeed May as Tory leader, said he could live with its tone of compromise.

For a moment, it was almost enough to make you think those who've backed May leaving office before Brexit is complete into [1.45] on the exchange, might be wrong.

Hestletine slams May's Brexit platitudes

Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, Tory unity doesn't last long at the best of times, and now isn't the best of times. On Saturday night, Michael Hestletine delivered a scathing assessment of May's speech, which he dismissed as hollow and platitudinous. "Why is it that after 18 months since the referendum we have not got any closer with these issues?" the former-deputy PM asked. "The answer is simple: because no one has got any answer about how to do it."

Hestletine's intervention comes after his former boss, John Major, criticised May's handling of Brexit earlier in the week. Both men left office 21 years ago, but still reflect the views of a large swathe of Tory centrists who voted Remain and are appalled by May's plans to take the UK out of the EU.

May talked on Friday about the "hard facts", appearing to level with Britons about the consequences Brexit will have on their everyday lives and their country's international standing. But the speech still kept the country committed to the kind of hard Brexit - outside the single market and customs union - which the likes of Rees-Mogg are determined to see. And it offered no solution to the Irish border.

In Brussels, EU leaders have cautiously welcomed May's speech as a reality check for Britain's Brexit expectations. However, on Tuesday the EU will publish its proposals for a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK. It will reject pretty much all of the positions alluded to in May's speech and, once again, the stand-off between the two sides will resume, with the EU talking concrete proposals and the British government offering vague pipe-dreams.

May's speech was another exercise in buying time - against her enemies in her party, the British public that has little faith in her, and the EU leaders who, she knows, hold the real power in the Brexit negotiations.

Exchange layers are right to think Brexit will not be complete by the March 29 2019, making it [2.36], and to think May will be gone from office before this sorry mess is over.

Italians vote in wide-open election and Germany gets a government - finally

Voting is under way in the most unpredictable Italian election for decades - which is saying something in a country that's had more than 60 governments since WW2. The odds on Antonio Tanjani [2.5] being Italy's next president are narrowing but there is still plenty of scope for surprises.

The maverick Five Star Movement is [1.03] to be the largest party in the senate but they are expected to fall short of the seats required to win a majority. That could leave them out of power, as Italy's right-wing parties, including Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia, try to forge a coalition, with Tajani as its figurehead.

Putting together a coalition is rarely easy, as Germans know. Today, it's been confirmed that the Social Democrats will form another Grand Coalition with Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats. The announcement comes five months after Merkel's CDU failed to win a majority in September's general election.

It means Merkel gets a fourth term as German Chancellor. However, don't expect her to get everything her own way in this government. The events of the past five months have weakened Merkel's standing at home and abroad. Her fourth time will almost certainly be her last.

Join today View market

Discover the latest articles

Read past articles