Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London, May 23, 2017. Picture: REUTERS
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London, May 23, 2017. Picture: REUTERS

London/Brussels — Prime Minister Theresa May will try to make progress in Brexit talks, telling European negotiators the next move is theirs, even as Tory plots dim the chances she will survive long enough to cut the final deal.

May appeared on Sunday to have survived a concerted attempt to remove her, and fought back with a veiled threat to demote her rebellious foreign secretary, Boris Johnson. As negotiators head back to Brussels for more divorce talks, May will update Parliament on the concessions she offered last month in her Florence speech.

"The ball is in their court," May will say in her statement, at about 3.30pm London time, according to her office. "So while … progress will not always be smooth, by approaching these negotiations in a constructive way — in a spirit of friendship and co-operation and with our sights firmly set on the future — I believe we can prove the doomsayers wrong."

In an effort to get back to work after a week that came close to ending her premiership, May will also meet business leaders on Monday. Even as government infighting risks disconcerting EU negotiators, there are signs May might be able to deliver some progress: EU diplomats say leaders may be forced to give ground to the UK before the end of the year to prevent splits opening up between the other 27 governments.

The pound fell almost 3% last week as investors worried that the campaign to oust May would succeed, ushering in months of uncertainty and the possibility of another general election, which the opposition Labour Party could win.

Supporters of a hard Brexit meanwhile turned their fire on the Treasury, with Tory legislator Bernard Jenkin writing in the Guardian newspaper that it was "legitimising EU threats of economic disruption".

Nadine Dorries, another Tory, went further. She told ITV that Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond should be sacked for trying to "stall" and obstruct Brexit talks. Hammond has advocated a long transition period after Brexit to allow businesses to adapt, and has been keen to get those arrangements in place quickly, to reduce uncertainty for business.

EU splits?

With political intrigue overshadowing the fact Britain has just 18 months to get a Brexit deal, the fifth round of negotiations starts in Brussels on Monday. The EU has all but ruled out moving on to trade talks at a summit next week, as not enough progress has been made on issues such as how much the UK owes the bloc when it leaves. Some governments are also blocking proposals to allow discussion of the two-year transition deal that May asked for in Florence, according to diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity.

While the 27 governments have been united so far, that consensus may not hold if trade talks are postponed beyond December, according to the diplomats. Countries including the Netherlands and Denmark are keen to open trade talks as soon as possible.

"In any political negotiations, there is not enough time, not enough money, not enough this, not enough that," Danish Finance Minister Kristian Jensen told the Guardian. "This is part of the game. In my view it is rather important we get into a more close and more speedy process on concluding some of the issues."

UK and EU officials will hold talks about issues including the controversial bill on Monday and Tuesday, then take a break on Wednesday. Brexit Secretary David Davis is not due to attend on Monday as he has done in past rounds but will appear at a news conference on Thursday with his counterpart Michel Barnier.

May’s position seemed to have stabilised at the weekend, even as it was clear that her political lifespan is limited. The Sunday Times reported that three members of her Cabinet had last week discussed ejecting her. It suggested that she might be moved out early next year, once this phase of the Brexit talks was completed.

In an interview with the same newspaper, May pushed back. Asked what she would do about Johnson, who has repeatedly undermined her in recent weeks, she replied: "It has never been my style to hide from a challenge and I’m not going to start now."

Royal Bank of Scotland chairman Howard Davies added to warnings on Sunday that Brexit would cost London jobs, and could do great harm if mishandled. "The game is, can we provide an outcome which minimises that cost? It will not remove it, it will definitely be a cost and the question is can we negotiate enough market access so that that cost is at the margin, is a few thousand people and not tens of thousands."


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