Theresa May is heading for a “showdown” with the leaders of the other 27 EU members states, experts will warn today, as attitudes toward the UK “harden” in response to the Government’s approach to Brexit.
New research suggests many in continental Europe regard Britain as “living on Fantasy Island” over its hopes for its new relationship with the EU, and are frustrated by the country’s failure to spell out its plans.
The study warns this risks putting the UK on a collision course with the rest of the European Union, as the Prime Minister prepares to trigger Article 50 in March of next year.
But the findings have been dismissed by pro-Brexit campaign groups, who argue EU leaders are merely “talking tough” ahead of formal negotiations.
The report, published today by the independent research group UK in a changing Europe, sets out to provide a six month overview of the post-referendum political landscape.
Among its key findings is the evidence of a deepening divide between Britain and fellow EU member states, with leaders becoming increasingly unwilling to offer the UK any concessions on issues like trade and immigration.
According to author Sara Hagemann, this “hardened” attitude is largely down to the UK Government “[failing] to ease concerns over how it wishes to pursue Brexit”.
The London School of Economics professor says Britain is now seen “as working opportunistically” with little regard for European priorities, leading to a “significant” decline in support among friendly nations.
“Even Denmark, the UK’s ‘little brother’ which usually follows closely in its footsteps, has made clear that any concessions that do not benefit Copenhagen will simply be rejected,” she states. “The UK Government can take the tone and position of this small and like-minded ally as a signal of what is ahead when actual negotiations begin during 2017.”
Her conclusions are echoed by co-author Angus Armstrong, who says the key moment in the triggering of Article 50 will be the EU’s response. He claims that “if the continental consensus is that the UK is still living on Fantasy Island, we could be heading for a showdown sooner than anyone expects”.
But Jayne Adye, director of the Eurosceptic campaign group Get Britain Out, has dismissed the group’s suggestion that negotiations are already on the rocks.
Responding to the report, she said: “Of course the EU is talking tough at the moment, but this is the very nature of negotiation tactics. Both parties want to get the best deal for their citizens and therefore start with high opening bids.
“In reality, the UK and the EU have a mutual interest to agree a comprehensive free trade deal.”
Change Britain spokesperson Chloe Westley added: “We should not be blinkered by EU leaders playing hardball before formal talks begin. It is their version of Project Fear, and is a natural prequel to any negotiation.”