September 8, 2017 / 7:19 AM / 18 days ago

Stop fighting over Brexit and get real, Jim O'Neill tells UK

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Jim O'Neill speaks during the Twenty years of the Concession Law meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - The British government should stop dreaming about having its own way in Brexit negotiations and start to get more realistic about the likely outcome of divorce talks with the European Union, said Jim O‘Neill, a former Goldman Sachs economist.

Prime Minister Theresa May, who quietly opposed Brexit ahead of the referendum, has formally notified the bloc of Britain’s intention to leave and divorce talks are under way.

A botched gamble on a snap election in June undermined May’s authority inside her own Conservative Party and some EU diplomats say the British negotiating stance remains both unrealistic and unclear.

O‘Neill, who coined the term ‘BRIC’ in 2001 to describe how the economic clout of Brazil, Russia, India and China would challenge the West’s dominance, told BBC radio that divisions inside the Conservatives were driving Brexit policy.

“The divisions between our political parties, particularly inside the ruling Conservative one, continue to dominate the policy discussion and it is very unfortunate and I wish it would change,” said O‘Neill.

In the June 23, 2016 referendum, voters in the United Kingdom backed leaving the EU by a margin of 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent.

O‘Neill, who resigned from his job as a Treasury minister in May’s government a year ago, said that the British negotiators’ attempt to cherry pick an exit deal was unrealistic.

“The last thing the EU wants for a big country to leave and for there to be no consequences because at some point there would be others that might think: ‘Well if it’s that easy and you can get away from the worst bits but keep the good bits, then I’ll have some of that too’,” he said.

“It frequently seems our negotiators don’t seem to appreciate that,” O‘Neill said.

May says she will make Brexit a success and that she hopes the EU will agree to a deal that allows both sides to continue to trade as freely as possible.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Michael Holden

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