POLITICS
10/07/2018 14:43 BST | Updated 10/07/2018 18:00 BST

Europe To Theresa May: Don’t Expect An Easy Ride On Brexit After Cabinet Turmoil

Brussels holds its breath on Brexit as prime minister's future hangs in the balance

Stoyan Nenov / Reuters
MEPs have told Theresa May that she shouldn't expect an easier ride on Brexit negotiations in Europe after the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson from Cabinet.

As Theresa May faces down the biggest crisis in her premiership, the rest of Europe watches on, not sure whether it will be negotiating Brexit with her, or her successor.

But if May felt the sudden departure of two Brexit big beasts from her Cabinet would pave the way for an easier ride as she prepares to sell her plan to leave the EU to Brussels, she should think again.

In Europe, there has been little sympathy for May, at least publicly.

“I think there is absolutely no interest in the May government collapsing, especially since German Chancellor Angela Merkel is politically much closer to her than to the Brexit hardliners of her party,” HuffPost Germany’s Political Editor Lennart Pfahler says.

“But I doubt that there is going to be a change in policy towards the UK.”

Brussels is undoubtedly walking a tightrope, aware that May’s removal could result in her plans for a “semi-Brexit”, as Boris Johnson called it, being replaced with a plan for a hard Brexit by a new Eurosceptic prime minister.

Isabel Infantes - PA Images via Getty Images
Boris Johnson and his wife Marina Wheeler leave Carlton House Terrace in Westminster, London, after he resigned as Foreign Secretary.

But speaking after David Davis’s departure, Jens Geier, a German SDP member of the European Parliament, said it was too early for the EU to now offer May concessions in her Brexit plans.

“It’s not about helping [Theresa May]”, Geier told Deutschlandfunk radio.

“In the end, there must be something that works that is covered by the Treaties of the European Union, and I do not see that. In this respect, we cannot ignore the treaties on the EU side either. Nor can we ignore the foundations of cooperation between the 27 [countries of the EU]. Nor can we allow cherry picking.”

It’s an opinion that is seemingly popular in Brussels.

German MEP David McAllister, Chair of the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, claimed the political crisis in Westminster could risk the negotiations.

“London has to finally make some serious proposals to shape relations with the EU in future. For this we need a stable government, that’s capable of acting,” he told the Rhein Neckar newspaper.

“If they want free access to the [single] market they also have to guarantee free movement of people. One doesn’t work without the other,” McAllister added.

Merkel herself has been more upbeat, but clear the EU27 would present a common response to the UK’s White Paper on post-Brexit relations.

“We are looking forward to interesting discussions, but we will also have these discussions inspired by the spirit of friendship and the wish to have good relations in the future,” she told a London press conference on Tuesday. 

In Paris, governmental sources told HuffPost France that ministers wouldn’t comment on UK domestic affairs. A sign Europe’s governments don’t want interfere in internal issues during the Brexit negotiations - instead leaving the talking to Brussels.

That hasn’t stopped France’s media.

Le Monde
Le Monde speculated Johnson’s resignation could be the 'beginning of the end' for May... but could also end some of the PM's worries.

Le Monde speculated Johnson’s resignation could be the end of Theresa May’s worries... or the “beginning of the end” for her, while Le Figaro claimed a vote of no confidence now “looms” for the prime minister.

In Madrid, the Spanish government is also yet to comment, but the leader of the conservative Ciudadanos party, Albert Rivera, claimed the resignations of Johnson and Davis showed that “populism has very short legs” and called for a repeat of the Brexit referendum in the UK.

But those waiting for the EU speak up didn’t have to wait long.

European Council President Donald Tusk raised the idea that Brexit might be called off in a tweet after Johnson quit as foreign secretary.

Echoing a comment he made to reporters after Davis’s departure, Tusk tweeted: “Politicians come and go but the problems they have created for people remain. I can only regret that the idea of Brexit has not left with Davis and Johnson. But...who knows?”

Speaking to reporters earlier, Tusk said: “The mess caused by Brexit is the biggest problem in the history of the EU-UK relations and it is still very far from being solved, with or without Mr Davis.

“Unfortunately, the idea of Brexit has not left together with David Davis.”

With files from Lennart Pfahler in Berlin, Paul Akermann in Paris, Carolina Abellan in Madrid and Reuters.