A Messy Divorce
On Brexit’s Anniversary, Brussels Rebuffs May

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, but the passage of time has still not brought clarity on what Brexit will look like—and European leaders remain seriously unimpressed by the divorce terms offered by Theresa May. Financial Times reports on the latest squabble:

Theresa May’s “fair and serious” offer to guarantee the rights of 3m EU citizens living in Britain has been given a cool reception in Brussels, as Brexit was pushed into the margins of an EU summit.

Donald Tusk, European Council president, said the proposals were “below our expectations”, while German chancellor Angela Merkel said they were “not a breakthrough”. […]

Although the UK proposals are viewed by EU negotiators as the basis for a possible deal, one diplomat said: “The idea that we should be grateful she isn’t going to deport people in 2019 is a bit strange.”

An important point of difference is the EU’s demand that European citizens should be able to uphold their rights in the European Court of Justice after Brexit, a position rejected outright by Mrs May.

The dispute here about the ECJ’s jurisdiction is not a mere detail; it is tied to a deeply rooted British resistance to foreign judicial authority. There is no easy middle ground on this issue, so it could turn into an intense game of chicken between London and Brussels.

Since the two sides first started butting heads on the issue, though, the power dynamics have seemingly shifted in the EU’s favor. With Theresa May’s election gamble having backfired in spectacular fashion, the Prime Minister is seen as severely weakened, with no clear mandate for the Hard Brexit she campaigned on. Indeed, public opinion in the UK seems to be shifting toward a softer divorce, even as two-thirds of Europeans are urging Brussels to take a hard line against the UK.

It’s a delicate dance: the UK is now sounding more open to staying inside the single market, but that runs counter to the goal of many European officials to impose a harsh and punitive divorce settlement that will scare off others from following Britain to the exits. At the same time, one of the main areas where the EU wants to preserve ties with the UK—the aforementioned preservation of the ECJ’s jurisdiction—could be a deal breaker for London. If Brussels overplays its hand and the two sides fail to reach a divorce agreement, the resulting “no deal” exit would be a disruptive disaster for all involved.

The dynamics are not pretty. At the moment we have an emboldened EU seeking to extract concessions (and a hefty bill) from a weakened UK, a Prime Minister hobbled by her electoral drubbing and lacking a clear mandate to pursue the hard Brexit she campaigned on, and publics in the UK and Europe whose visions for a departure are operating at cross purposes.

One year after the Brexit shock, there is still little evidence that Leavers regret their vote by any significant margin—but that doesn’t mean that finalizing the divorce won’t get ugly.

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