Reuters — Theresa May has won the battle to be Britain’s prime minister but will face a much tougher struggle once in power — overseeing her country’s divorce from the European Union.
May backed the “Remain” camp during the campaign for Britain’s referendum on EU membership on June 23 but has made clear since then that it must now go ahead, saying: “Brexit means Brexit.”
But she has also said Britain should not trigger the exit proceedings until London is ready to start negotiations.
Invoking Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty would begin those talks but lawyers and politicians differ over who has the authority to trigger the clause and whether it is irreversible.
“There should be no decision to invoke Article 50 until the British negotiating strategy is agreed and clear — which means Article 50 should not be invoked before the end of this year,” May, 59, said late last month when she launched her campaign to succeed Prime Minister David Cameron.
That potentially puts May on a collision course with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is often portrayed as the EU’s most influential politician as leader of its strongest economy.
Merkel said on Monday talks with Britain would “not be easy” and has said she expects London to begin the formal process of leaving as soon as it picks a new prime minister.
But May has been described as a politician who isn’t easily ” pushed aside or pushed about.”
Cameron said he plans to tender his resignation to Queen Elizabeth on Wednesday. May will take office the same day.
May has made clear she will respect the will of the British people, expressed in the referendum last month.
“There will be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it by the back door, and no second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union and as Prime Minister I will make sure that we leave the European Union,” she said during a speech on Monday.
May has said she plans to appoint a minister for Brexit and that a priority will be to win the right for British companies to trade with the EU’s single market in goods and services after it leaves the bloc, though freedom of movement will have to be curbed.
“The Brexit vote was also a message that we need to bring control to free movement. Free movement cannot continue as it has up to now,” she said on Monday.
Merkel has said there can be no “cherry picking” of what it wants to keep from its EU membership while jettisoning aspects of the relationship that it does not like.
The EU wants Britain to commit to leaving by early 2019 and has said there can be no negotiation before Article 50 is triggered. It has no clear legal power to hold Britain to an exit schedule but has some levers against disruptive members.