EU prepares for Brexit hardball after Johnson win

“Friday the 13th really has lived up to its hype,” an European Union (EU) diplomat texted me this morning. The same diplomat who mournfully noted as soon as the first exit polls were published: “This means bye-bye to our British friends.”

There was a heaviness of heart about Europe’s leaders as they gathered in Brussels for the second day of an EU summit. They have never hidden their sadness at the UK vote to leave.

But at the same time, there was a distinct sense of European relief. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte noted the election result meant “on the British side they can speed up the process (of Brexit)”.

Three years of Brexit uncertainty has been corrosive – not just in the UK, but in the EU too. It has overshadowed the workings of the bloc and been costly for European business.

EU leaders’ sigh of relief at a comfortable majority for Boris Johnson has nothing to do with their political affiliations and a lot to do with “getting Brexit done”, as the prime minister has so loved to repeat on a loop.

Except that – as Brussels is all too aware – Mr Johnson’s intention to ratify the Brexit divorce deal in parliament next month, legally ending the UK’s EU membership, only means getting Phase One of Brexit done.

Phase Two will see the arduous task of agreeing the future relationship between the two sides. Something Boris Johnson promised voters would be signed, sealed and delivered by this time next year.

EU leaders were expected to call later on Friday for a broad, ambitious, comprehensive trade deal with post-Brexit UK. But I’ve not met anyone in EU circles who believes that that will be possible by December 2020.

The hope in Europe is that Boris Johnson’s strong majority in parliament will allow him room to manoeuvre.

He will no longer be beholden to any particular faction of his party, including hardline Brexiteers, so fingers are crossed in Brussels that Mr Johnson will use that political freedom to work towards a softer Brexit – a closer relationship with the EU – carefully negotiated over time, rather than in haste over the next few months. -BBC

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