Britain begins its Brexit negotiations this week in a much weaker position than it was just a month or so ago, though it was weaker than it seemed to imagine. Back then, Prime Minister Theresa May was still talking as though Britain held all the cards. In March, giving formal notice it was leaving, she even warned that unless Britain received favourable terms there could be consequences for security and counter-intelligence co-operation.

Britain believed its negotiating arm was strengthened at that time by anti-EU sentiment in other member countries. That sentiment has ben faced down in France by Emmanuel Macron. He won its presidency last month as a committed EU supporter and his party is poised to win a majority in the National Assembly this morning.

Meanwhile, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel appears likely to be re-elected in September. EU negotiators need no longer be as worried that Britain's departure might inspire others to follow. They do not need to do a soft deal to try to preserve the union in a weaker form, they have more reason now to get tough on Britain to show others what they could lose.

But the greatest damage to Britain's position has been done by May herself. Having called an election on the pretext of needing a stronger mandate for the Brexit negotiations, she cannot now claim she has one. While her approach to Brexit was not an issue in the campaign, the result hardly vindicated it. She has lost the Conservatives' majority and relies on Ulster Unionist MPs to stay in office. Northern Ireland does not want a Brexit that puts customs posts on its border with the Irish Republic, an EU member.


The Prime Minister's uncompromising approach to the negotiations might not be the one her Government now follows. If she manages to remain in Downing St at all, it will be with a Cabinet demanding more collegial decisions.

The main issue to be negotiated is the dues Britain owes by the time it leaves in March 2019. But the most delicate issue is the future of EU citizens already living in Britain and British in Europe. Immigration was the main concern of "leave" voters at the referendum and May treated it as non-negotiable. But she may have to give some ground on residency rights to have any hope of a trade deal.

Brussels has been insistent that a new trade deal cannot be discussed until after Britain has left the existing one. Britain wants its future trade access agreed before it leaves.

Britain faces the hard fact that the community has more pressing matters to discuss than Britain's parting wishes. The euro problems remain and European financial institutions are now disagreeing about the terms they have imposed on Greece for its bail-outs. European leaders also have to discuss their collective security with an erratic US President whose commitment to Nato is equivocal at best.

It is a year ago on Friday since the UK referendum. The EU is already impatient to move on. Its negotiators may present Britain with an acceptable bill and say, "Since you are going, just go".