Theresa May walks into a Brexit trap

Gideon Rachman writes: Theresa May has one great advantage as a politician. She looks serious and responsible. But appearances can be deceptive. If you examine how the UK prime minister is handling Brexit, a different sort of politician emerges.

By announcing that she will start the formal negotiations for Britain to leave the EU by March 2017, the prime minister has walked into a trap. She has given away what little leverage Britain has in the negotiations — without receiving any of the assurances that she needs to achieve a successful outcome.

The announcement of the decision about when the UK will trigger Article 50 — the process by which Britain gives formal notice that it intends to leave the EU — was made in a statesmanlike fashion. But the actual content of the decision is reckless and driven by politics, rather than Britain’s national interest.

Once Mrs May triggers Article 50, she has precisely two years to negotiate a new deal with the EU. Senior civil servants have told the prime minister that it is highly unlikely that the UK will be able to negotiate both the terms of its divorce and a new trade deal with the EU within the two-year deadline. As a result, they warned the prime minister that she must have assurances on what an interim trade agreement with the EU would look like in the long period between the UK leaving the bloc and a definitive new deal being put into place.

Mrs May has chosen to ignore this advice. In doing so, she has knowingly placed Britain at a massive disadvantage in the forthcoming negotiations. [Continue reading…]

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