EU presses Britain to get its act together for Brexit talks

BRUSSELS (AP) — For years it seemed Britain could not get out of the European Union fast enough. Now that it decided to jump ship, it seems it can’t get its act together to actually leave.

EU states are getting impatient about the delays in the Brexit talks, with some warning Friday after Britain’s inconclusive election that the country should not be given more than the allotted two years to settle its divorce.

“I hope the U.K. will soon have a stable government to start negotiations,” Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s top Brexit official said. “It is not only about the U.K., but also about the future of Europe,” he told The Associated Press.

On June 23 it will be a full year since Britain voted to leave the EU. Yet with the result from Thursday’s U.K. election, which left no single party with a majority, it is anyone’s guess when and how the country will be ready to start the talks.

The Czech prime minister said Friday that Britain should not be granted any extension on the two-year deadline for the Brexit talks. Bohuslav Sobotka said that too much time had already been wasted.

“I don’t think we should talk about some prolongation of the deadline,” he said in Prague. “We should clearly come to terms with the British to start as quickly as possible.”

In the wake of last year’s Brexit referendum, called and lost by Prime Minister David Cameron, Britain’s Conservative party took a long time to reorganize itself before it finally triggered the Brexit negotiations on March 29.

Then in April the next Conservative prime minister, Theresa May, called an early election that she hoped would give her a bigger majority in parliament and a stronger negotiating position in the Brexit talks. She instead not only failed to build up her position but lost the majority altogether.

“I thought surrealism was a Belgian invention,” quipped Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister.

The decision of Britain to leave was a shocking and cathartic moment in the 60-year history of the bloc, whose member states want to keep Britain as a close partner once it is out. That is why the EU wants the talks to go smoothly.

But until a government emerges in London, it is unclear how the talks can start. EU Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said that “with a weak negotiating partner, there’s the danger that the negotiations will go badly for both sides.” Oettinger added that “without a government, there’s no negotiation.”

The talks were set to officially begin on June 19. Now, all remains unclear.

Within the two years of talks, Britain wants to not only agree on the terms of its exit but also negotiate a new relationship on things like trade and security. The risk of having no deal worries some in Britain, particularly businesses.

EU Council President Donald Tusk told Britain in a Tweet: “Do your best to avoid a ‘no deal’ as result of ‘no negotiations’.”

“We don’t know when Brexit talks start. We know when they must end,” he said, referring to the March 2019 deadline.

Steven Blockmans of the Center for European Policy Studies said that because of the current chaos, “it is questionable whether that period of time will be sufficient in order to strike a good deal.”