The extraordinary outcome of the UK general election and the uncertain domestic political climate has led to calls by Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon for a “short pause” in the Brexit process. Despite this, Brexit negotiations are now scheduled to begin on June 19.
There are no advantages for the EU in delaying or pausing Brexit negotiations. It is ready and waiting to negotiate an orderly British withdrawal – and keen to press ahead to limit the uncertainty caused by Brexit.
Delaying the negotiation process would only prolong uncertainty about the direction of Brexit. Meanwhile, the EU is eager to address other challenges such as the refugee crisis or an increasingly unpredictable international environment. A pause would also increase legal uncertainty: there is no agreement on whether it is legally possible to stop the Article 50 process, so the Court of Justice of the EU might have to intervene.
The UK’s negotiating position outlined before the election appears under pressure as the prime minister, Theresa May, no longer has a parliamentary majority to sustain it. The outcome of the election has increased the influence of those within the Conservative Party, such as leader of the Conservatives in Scotland, Ruth Davidson, who favour membership of the single market, continuation of free movement and building cross-party consensus over the direction of Brexit.
The expected controversial “supply and confidence” agreement with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has knocked May’s “no deal is better than a bad deal” mantra on the head. A solution to the Irish border issue – which requires a deal – has moved top of the agenda.
But until the UK government sits at the table and outlines its negotiating position, the EU is hostage to the partisan interests of the Conservative government. As Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator put it, talks should start when the “UK is ready”, but that: “I can’t negotiate with myself”.