EU game-plans amid wait for new UK MP

Caught up in political turmoil (Italy and Germany) or scandal (Austria), in government-making (Denmark) or government dissolution (Greece), European Union (EU) leaders are keeping only half an eye on the dizzying spectacle of the Conservative Party leadership race.

But they are well aware that reality will come knocking soon enough on Brussels’ door.

The new UK prime minister will be hungry to make his or her name, to go down in history books as the one who “solved Brexit”.

Whatever solving Brexit looks like.

And therein lies the clue as to why EU leaders aren’t paying too much attention – yet.

It’s easy for Tory leadership hopefuls to promise a pain-free no deal Brexit, a thorough renegotiation with Brussels, a possible second referendum or a definite exit by 31 October (the date the current Brexit extension runs out).

Making good on those promises could prove rather more challenging. And the EU knows the next UK prime minister will have to be seen to be trying hard.

And so, inevitably, if desperately unwillingly, the minds of EU diplomats are slowly beginning to return to The Thorniest Brexit issue of all: the backstop.

If the new UK prime minister intends to leave with a deal, then he or she will very likely come to Brussels (as well as trying their luck in Berlin and Paris) asking for changes.

Now, the official EU response is well-rehearsed: “The Withdrawal Agreement (which includes the backstop) is closed. It was signed off by Theresa May and her cabinet. There will be no changes.”

But realpolitik means that, at the very least, EU leaders will feel obliged to listen politely to the Brexit proposals of the next occupant of no 10 Downing Street.

And they will want to listen IF they believe the new UK prime minister is serious and capable of triggering a no deal Brexit. All EU leaders – Emmanuel Macron included – want to avoid no deal.

And a new UK prime minister means new mathematics in parliament. The EU will be watching closely to see if he or she could reliably carry a parliamentary majority for a Brexit deal. –BBC

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