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16 October 2017

Theresa May’s on an EU charm offensive – but will it work?

The PM is not trusted by her European partners after blowing hot and cold throughout Brexit talks.

By Stephen Bush

And you thought PPI claims were bad. European heads of government are getting a robo-call of their own, as Theresa May picks up the phone to woo her counterparts in the EU27 in a bid to a persuade them that sufficient progress has been made on the terms of separation to move on to the “future relationship” stage of the talks.

And her and David Davis will be getting out the posh cutlery as they host Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier for the first time since that awkward dinner which ended up leaking to the German press.

Will it work? The PM’s problem is that she is not trusted by her European partners after blowing hot and cold throughout the Brexit talks: first talking up the need for a close partnership, then accusing them of plotting to elect Jeremy Corbyn, committing to paying the UK’s outstanding liabilities before going wobbly, and guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens before saying that, actually, they will have fewer rights than they do now.

Adding to the problem, after the inconclusive election, it’s not clear that the PM can make guarantees on the UK’s behalf. The freelancing from members of her cabinet adds to the uncertainty.

Which is why there are two things to watch out for if May can’t succeed in her charm offensive. The first, and by far the biggest, is what it means for the United Kingdom’s chances of making it out of Brexit without suffering a severe economic shock. But the second is that, as it stands, the PM’s survival hinges on the idea that she will “do Brexit” and then someone else will take over. If it becomes clear that her weakness means that she can’t do Brexit, the next attempt to remove her may come from a more dangerous opponent than Grant Shapps. 

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