LONDON – The UK seems so badly prepared for Brexit negotiations that some EU diplomats are starting to believe that it must be some form of elaborate trap.
The apparent chaos on the British side has alarmed diplomats from European countries who are used to British governments being organised and prepared, according to Politico.
One European diplomat told the site: “I think it’s tactics: They are playing for time on purpose, under the pretext of chaos in London.
“In September they’re going to swamp us with [position] papers on the fault lines – exactly the issues where they know we [the EU27 countries] are divided”
Another diplomat added: “Do they have a strategy? Or are they playing a bluff with the European Union? … It could be a strategy because the British are always so organized.”
The UK government’s position on Brexit has seemed chaotic in recent weeks, with Conservative splits over a transition period after leaving the European Union, the possibility of importing chlorinated chicken from the USA and continued membership of Euratom.
A former UK diplomat to the European Union told Business Insider last month that May’s government is handling Brexit talks in the “absolute worst way” possible.
“If someone had asked me… ‘okay what would be the absolute worst way to approach this?’ I don’t think I could have done it as badly as government ministers are right now,” Steven Bullock said.
The apparent chaos has bemused other EU leaders who have come to expect a certain level of British preparedness.
Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat said last week: “People who say the Brits don’t know what they are doing are wrong. I have lived in Britain, I know the British mentality. A non-prepared British government official simply doesn’t exist.”
The EU’s fear is that a stall for time from the British side of the negotiations would leave the EU team pushed into agreeing on a future trade deal rather than a “cliff edge” Brexit.
A diplomat told Politico: “I think Ollie Robbins [Theresa May’s EU adviser and the head of the Brexit department] knows very well what he is doing, he is telling Davis to wait … By the end of the year, the tables will have turned.”
An EU official involved in the Brexit negotiations said that thoughts of a trap were untrue: “It seems to me, based on what I read, there is no clarity on the direction in which they want to move and it’s very difficult to implement a negotiating strategy if you don’t have that clarity.”
The next round of negotiations are scheduled to commence between August 28 and September 1 in Brussels, when progress will need to be made on the divorce bill, EU citizens’ rights and the Irish border.