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EU worried about Truss as UK leader

  • EU countries say Brexit battle is last thing they need
  • Macron’s comment taken badly, Truss’ team minimizes the “joke”
  • Europeans are preparing for the confrontation of Article 16

PARIS/LONDON/BERLIN, Sept 2 (Reuters) – Europe is anticipating the prospect of Liz Truss as Britain’s next prime minister with a mixture of irritation and unease: Diplomats say that with the war in Ukraine and inflation rampant, the last thing they need is another Brexit battle.

A leader in a ruling Conservative Party contest to succeed Boris Johnson, Truss has few admirers in the 27-nation European Union to begin with.

As foreign secretary, she championed legislation that would unilaterally tear up part of Britain’s divorce deal with the EU and promised, as prime minister, to push it through – a move which would put London on a collision course with Brussels. Read more

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His rhetoric during the leadership campaign, although aimed at members of his party who like to talk badly about France and the EU in general, will not have helped much.

When asked last month whether French President Emmanuel Macron was a “friend or foe” of Britain, she replied: “The jury is out.” Read more

“In the current context, it’s disconcerting that she thinks she can afford to make such remarks,” said a Brussels-based diplomat. “We are 200% focused on the war in Ukraine, the general inflation. We have no time to waste on this.”

Truss campaign officials said the comments were a “joke” and were unlikely to have a lasting impact on Franco-British relations.

Still, a French government source said the comments underscored the lack of trust between Paris and London, which has been fueled by accusations that Macron has not done enough to stem the flow of migrants crossing by boat to English shores. .

BRACING FOR A TOUGH ROAD

In Germany, members of the ruling coalition have been unimpressed with Truss and lament what they see as an attack on the EU to distract from Britain’s growing domestic problems.

“We also have to give the new prime minister a chance,” said Nils Schmid, foreign policy spokesman for the ruling Social Democratic Party. “But everyone who believed things couldn’t get worse after Johnson got it wrong. Many of Ms. Truss’ statements are unfortunate or untrue.”

EU diplomats say that although Truss was originally opposed to Britain leaving the bloc before the 2016 Brexit referendum, she backed him wholeheartedly as a member of the cabinet of Johnson, so she is unlikely to bring a more conciliatory approach to thorny post-Brexit issues.

Britain left the bloc on January 31, 2020, but has since been mired in a dispute over rules it agreed on trade deals for the province of Northern Ireland.

Under the Northern Ireland Protocol to the Brexit deal, the province remained in the EU’s single market for goods and customs union, preserving its open border with Ireland, a member of the EU.

Britain says this arrangement, which effectively places a customs boundary in the Irish Sea, is unworkable and the bill now before parliament would destroy it.

The EU has already taken legal action for breaching what it considers a binding treaty.

However, Truss appears determined to push the Bill forward and – according to some reports – could trigger a so-called ‘Article 16’ emergency provision to take unilateral action against Northern Ireland within days of its entry. in operation next week.

This would increase tensions with the EU executive, the European Commission, and could ultimately lead to a trade war, with the EU imposing tariffs on UK goods.

“The Commission will be on the front line and would have a very strong response,” said the Brussels-based diplomat. “Europeans are all on the same hard line.”

A member of Truss’s campaign team said she hoped a change of government would bring about a reset with Europe, but while she would prefer a negotiated settlement of the impasse in Northern Ireland, going the route of “article 16” was an option.

“It won’t be the default option, but we won’t shy away from making tough decisions,” the official said.

A veteran ambassador from Brussels said the Europeans were preparing for a tough race: “It’s going to be rock and roll,” he said.

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Reporting by Michel Rose and Elizabeth Pineau in Paris; Andrew MacAskill in London; Andreas Rinke in Berlin; Belen Carreno in Madrid; Editing by John Chalmers

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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