EU Is Unreceptive To Britain's Plan To Stay In Europe's Single Market

Sep 21, 2018
Originally published on September 22, 2018 1:40 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The U.K. keeps trying and the EU keeps saying no. British Prime Minister Theresa May presented a plan this week to her peers in the European Union aiming to keep the U.K. in Europe's single market. They weren't so receptive, though. President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, told reporters that May's suggested framework for economic cooperation will not work.

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JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER: No deal is not my working assumption, but would it happen, then we are prepared because the commission has prepared, in detail, all the elements of - consequences of a no deal - which could be entailed by a no deal. So don't worry. Be happy, don't worry.

MARTIN: Be happy, don't worry - quoting Bobby McFerrin there. Time's running out, though. European officials have set a deadline of mid-October. NPR's Frank Langfitt joins us now from London. Hey, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: A lot of people trying the same thing, getting the same answer, hoping for a different result here.

LANGFITT: Yeah. It - basically, it's been like covering a loop, where it just - it's this - it's a game of pingpong. It just goes back and forth with no real result. And what Prime Minister May is asking for here is frictionless access for goods into this market of over 500 million consumers, but still being outside of the EU. And, of course, what they're asking for - the U.K. is asking for is a big benefit of membership without actually being a member.

And after a while, understandably, Europe is kind of exasperated and also feels that the Brexiteers (ph) here in the United Kingdom may have sold a bill of goods to the British people. Emmanuel Macron - he's the president of France, of course - he said that, quote, "those who said that you can easily do without Europe, that it will all go very well and there will be lots of money are liars." So very strong words out of Salzburg yesterday.

MARTIN: So what does the U.K. do? I mean, do they have any leverage to extract any concessions from them?

LANGFITT: You know, Rachel, they don't have a lot. The U.K. is a proud country. It's the world's sixth-largest economy. But the EU is many times larger. And if you're in Germany, you're a car maker, you don't want to see new trade barriers. You want to be able to sell into the U.K. But so far, Europe is mostly unified in terms of its response to the U.K.

And, essentially, what the U.K. has is primarily what I would call negative in - negative leverage. They've basically been saying, if you don't give us what we want, we're going to crash out of the EU with no deal. That's going to hurt...

MARTIN: And they're like, fine, do that.

LANGFITT: Well, no, they're not, like, fine because it will hurt the European economies, but it's going to hurt the U.K. a lot worse.

MARTIN: Right.

LANGFITT: So that's not a really good negotiating position.

MARTIN: Theresa May's party conference is just over a week away.

LANGFITT: Yep.

MARTIN: I mean, it's impossible to ignore kind of the political repercussions of all this. She has been able to hold onto power thus far. Is that going to...

LANGFITT: Extraordinarily, yes.

MARTIN: ...Sustain?

LANGFITT: You know, I don't see her going any time immediately even though this was treated in the papers this morning as a humiliation for her. And there continues to be talk of dumping her as leader. The idea of changing horses in midstream in something so massively complex as Brexit seems crazy. She's also proved very durable, much more so than anybody really thought.

And if you have a leadership battle here, that would actually create more chaos in the sort of Brexit negotiations. It also could end up triggering a general election here. If the Conservative Party - they could lose that election. They could lose the government - their control the government. And then the Labour Party leader, his name is Jeremy Corbyn, he could become prime minister. He's a socialist, and that has to be the conservatives' worst nightmare. So, again, this sort of negative leverage that Prime Minister May has, you know? If you don't do this, things could get a lot worse.

MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Thanks so much, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.