News analysis: British elections spur uncertainty over Brexit talks: Dutch experts

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by Maria Vasileiou

THE HAGUE, June 9 (Xinhua) -- With no clear winner emerging from the British parliamentary election, negotiations on Britain's departure from the European Union (EU) are likely to be delayed, while uncertainty looms over the direction Brexit would take, according to Dutch experts.

"The election outcome is casting uncertainty on how the Brexit negotiations process will unfold and what the British position will be, while the clock is ticking as the deadline for the conclusion of the talks moves ever-closer," said Rem Korteweg, head of unit "Europe in the World" at Clingendael, the Dutch institute for international relations.

"It is uncertain how long it will take until the next government takes office and what stance it will follow on the Brexit negotiations," the political expert told Xinhua, warning though that "one should avoid jumping into conclusions that a softer line on Brexit will be adopted."

The snap election called by Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May seven weeks ago was meant to give her a strong mandate to start Brexit negotiations with the EU. But instead her Conservative Party suffered a major blow falling behind securing the 326-mark of seats needed to command a parliamentary majority.

The voters left no party with a majority in parliament with the Conservatives winning 318 seats, but managing to remain the biggest single winner, while the Labour party won 261 seats out of the 650 parliamentary seats.

"The question is now whether a coalition government will make Britain a more constructive negotiating partner, perhaps moving away from the 'hard Brexit' posturing of the past months, which does not seem to be the case," said Joris Larik, senior researcher at The Hague Institute for Global Justice.

"The Tories are supported by Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the British nationalist party from Northern Ireland to form the next government. They will push against a special status for Northern Ireland to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which is one of the red lines for the EU. It is this turn of events which could provide the most worrisome for future negotiations, in which many if not all players stand to lose with a hard border across Ireland and no trade agreement between the EU and UK," Larik told Xinhua.

"It is difficult to say at this moment which line Britain will follow on the Brexit negotiations," said Stefaan Van den Bogaert, professor of European Law and Director of the Europa Institute at Leiden University. "May did not manage to get the strong mandate she was asking for to conduct the negotiations, but it is not clear whether people did not share her stance on Brexit or whether they dealt her a devastating blow because they simply don't trust her to lead the divorce talks with the EU."

But the Leiden University professor did not rule out the possibility of "a more reconciliatory approach than the one supported by May before the elections and a reassessment of the hard line stance." So far May had followed a strong position, signaling a hard line Brexit along the reasoning "better no deal than a bad deal" with the EU.

Planned to start on June 19, Brexit talks risk being delayed causing additional uncertainties as the window of time available to strike a deal before a March 2019 deadline is narrowing. "The clock will pause and time is a crucial factor in the Brexit negotiations," said Clingendael's Korteweg, who ruled out EU's intention to extend the negotiations time frame.

"We don't know when Brexit talks start. We know when they must end," tweeted European Council President Donald Tusk, also the EU summit chair overseeing the negotiations. In a similar tone, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted that Brexit negotiations should start when the UK is ready, stressing that "timetable and EU positions are clear."

As Larik explained Brussels is not willing to proceed to concessions. "The logic for the EU remains the same and will continue to demand that the UK settles its outstanding payments, that EU citizens' rights are protected, and that an agreeable arrangement for Northern Ireland is found. Before these issues are resolved, the EU will not start discussing a new post-Brexit trade agreement with the UK."

"Time pressure might be a reason to influence the British stance," argued Bogaert. The professor of European Law did not rule out an extension of the negotiations period, a possibility given by Article 50, the EU's exit clause "if all parties agree." Enditem

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