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UK poll: Will May or Corbyn lead Brexit talks from June 19?

Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn offer vastly different visions of what shape they want Britain’s exit from the European Union to take.

world Updated: Jun 07, 2017 21:50 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn greets supporters as he leaves after attending a campaign visit in Colwyn Bay, north Wales, on June 7, 2017, on the eve of the general election. Britain on Wednesday headed into the final day of campaigning for a general election darkened and dominated by jihadi attacks in two cities, leaving forecasters struggling to predict an outcome on polling day.
Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn greets supporters as he leaves after attending a campaign visit in Colwyn Bay, north Wales, on June 7, 2017, on the eve of the general election. Britain on Wednesday headed into the final day of campaigning for a general election darkened and dominated by jihadi attacks in two cities, leaving forecasters struggling to predict an outcome on polling day. (AFP)

Who should be at the first round of talks in Brussels on June 19 beginning the two-year process to leave the European Union – Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn? May insists only she has the resoluteness and experience to face down tough EU negotiators.

May has been ridiculing the prospect of Corbyn representing the UK at Brexit talks though the fact is that at the first round it will not be the prime minister, but the “Secretary for Exiting the European Union” who will face EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. 

That secretary, of course, will be appointed by the new prime minister soon after the result of Thursday’s election is known. The identity of that secretary will be vital, since both May and Corbyn offer vastly different visions of what shape they want Brexit to take. 

May’s vision is dubbed “hard Brexit”, which means exiting the all-important European Single Market, which is Britain’s largest trading partner. Corbyn has committed his Labour Party to retaining membership of the market to ensure continued export revenues and benefits to UK business.

Another key difference in the two visions is the future of millions of EU nationals in the UK and British nationals in other countries of the EU. May wants to link the two - guarantee the EU nationals' indefinite stay only if British nationals get similar guarantees, to be agreed in talks. 

Corbyn has already announced that under his government, the future of the two groups of migrants will not be linked. He will guarantee the indefinite stay of EU nationals in the UK on his first day in office, even if the future of British nationals in EU is to be decided at a later date.

The future of EU nationals in the UK is of interest to India, since thousands of Goans have opted for Portuguese passports, settling in Swindon, London, Leicester and elsewhere. Portuguese passports make them EU citizens, and there is much uncertainty in the community about the future.

May’s three-member team for Brexit talks includes David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson. Corbyn unveiled his team at a campaign rally: Keir Starmer, Emily Thornberry and Barry Gardiner (known for his proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi since his days as the Gujarat chief minister).

Under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, any member seeking to leave the EU goes through a two-year process of talks, during which a so-called “divorce fee” (reflecting financial commitments, in billions of pounds) is negotiated.

If all phases of the exit process are completed on time – many believe this is most unlikely, since the terms of the exit will be closely negotiated and will need to be ratified by the parliaments of 27 EU member-states – Britain will formally leave the EU in mid-2019.