Sunday

18th Feb 2018

Column / Brexit Briefing

Brexit: Between a rock and a hard place

  • A messy and expensive divorce because of pig-headed nationalism on both sides of the Channel would stymie the interests of millions. (Photo: CGP Grey)

The average divorce is expensive in both cash and emotional terms. Neither side wants to show any sign of weakness or compromise. The first few days of the post-Article 50 suggest that Brexit will follow the pattern.

The first impasse is over who pays. The EU says the Brexit bill must be settled before any talks can begin on a new trade agreement. The European Parliament’s resolution contends that Britain should not be given a free-trade deal by the EU in the next two years, while any transitional arrangement to cushion the UK’s exit after 2019 could last no longer than three years.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

For their part, hard Brexiteers have been cheered by a House of Lords committee report in March, which argued that the UK would not be "legally obliged" to pay a penny to cover any post-2019 liabilities.

Until Article 50 talks formally begin everything and nothing is on the table, which partly explains this week’s pointless furore over the potential status of Gibraltar.

The reference to Gibraltar in EU draft negotiating guidelines was apparently added at the 11th hour after the Spanish government noticed that the status of the Rock had not been mentioned in Theresa May’s Article 50 letter.

Michael Howard, a former Conservative Party leader, compared the potential dispute over Gibraltar with the 1982 Falklands War.

“I can see no harm in reminding them what kind of people we are,” Howard told Channel 4 news.

The chances of the British navy sending a few gun boats to fight a 21st century Armada are, fortunately, rather slim, although no kind of neo-colonial revivalism can be completely ruled out from a government in which Boris Johnson is foreign minister.

Even so, this kind of talk is going to be a constant frustration to serious people for the next two years.

Provocation from hard-core Brexiteers doesn’t help May’s ministers in their bid to make allies. ‘Gibraltar-gate’ has already derailed a visit to Spain by Brexit minister David Davis.

No accident

But let’s not make the mistake of thinking that Howard’s rhetoric was an accident. 

He is part of the group of eurosceptics who wanted the UK to fall back on a World Trade Organisation (WTO) arrangement with the EU. Inflammatory rhetoric which provokes one country or more in the EU-27, reduces the chances of an amicable divorce and makes it more likely that EU leaders will mothball any talks on a successor trade agreement. 

Having spent a generation blaming "eurocrats" for the ills of the world, the Conservative right wants to be able to pin the blame for a "punishment" Brexit on its old foe.

A majority of Conservative MPs would be quite comfortable with talks collapsing, and are already preparing the media ground for trade on WTO terms. Five Tory MPs on the cross-party Brexit committee in the UK Parliament disowned its latest report which demanded that the government provide some economic evidence to back up its assertion that "no deal is better than a bad deal". 

Faced with this, EU politicians must decide if they are going to rise above the bravado or respond in kind.

Manfred Weber, the EPP group leader in the European Parliament, appears to have chosen the latter, issuing dark threats of the UK financial services sector losing its status as a euro-clearing house.

“From now on we will have the interests of the EU27 in mind and not anymore of the British side,” said Weber in Strasbourg this week. “Leaving the EU … means to be alone.”

The problem when negotiations descend into a shouting match is that the voices of moderation get drowned out. If that happens, Brexit will be expensive. 

At their distinctly low-key meeting in Downing Street on Thursday, May and European Council president Donald Tusk agreed to "lower tensions" - a welcome return to sanity.

No winners

Frustrating as Brexit Britain is to the rest of Europe, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker was correct in his assessment on Wednesday that “no deal would be the worst-case scenario. There would be no winners.”

When you sweep aside the hyperbole, UK ministers and civil servants are correct when they insist that there is an obvious trade and political agreement to be struck with the EU.

The EU relies on access to London’s financial services, just as the UK cannot really afford to fall back on import and export tariffs with its largest trading partner.

Obtaining this will require political will and compromise on both sides - but would be mutually beneficial.

A messy and expensive divorce because of pig-headed nationalism on both sides of the Channel would stymie the interests of millions. As Juncker put it, “everybody will lose.”

Benjamin Fox, a former reporter for EUobserver, is a consultant with Sovereign Strategy, a London-based PR firm, and a freelance writer 

EU rounds wagons in Gibraltar dispute

Spectacle of EU institutions and 27 remaining member states taking a common line against an outgoing member is a first in EU history.

EU guidelines set out two-phase Brexit talks

According to the draft negotiating guidelines, the EU-27 would open negotiations on future EU-UK relations when "sufficient progress" has been made on citizens' rights, the British financial bill and the status of the border in Ireland.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Don't copy us, we're British

The havoc caused by the unexpected referendum result on June 23 could serve as a stark warning to the EU-27: fail to prepare - prepare to fail.

Column / Brexit Briefing

May's drive for one-party Brexit state

Snap election will kill off attempts to reopen debate on second referendum and inflict further damaged on confused opposition.

Juncker to visit May in London next week

The British prime minister invited the European Commission president for a discussion about the upcoming EU exit negotiations, while she prepares for general elections on 8 June with a "hard" Brexit agenda.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel: Nord Stream 2 pipeline poses 'no danger'
  2. Spanish king in Barcelona next week
  3. Turkey jails journalists for life
  4. Make budget cuts in farm and regional funds, the Dutch say
  5. UN: Hungary's anti-migration bill is 'assault on human rights'
  6. Journalist Deniz Yucel freed in Turkey
  7. New organic farming bill not ready until late spring
  8. Commissioner: Western Balkans in EU is 'obvious'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  2. EPSUMovie Premiere: 'Up to The Last Drop' - 22 February, Brussels
  3. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  4. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  6. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  7. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name
  8. Dialogue PlatformBeyond the Errors in the War on Terror: How to Fight Global Militarism - 22 February
  9. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  10. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  11. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  12. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections

Latest News

  1. EU asks charities to explain anti-abuse measures
  2. ECB, Budget, EU elections This WEEK
  3. EU states stay mute on implementation of mercury bill
  4. Baltic states demand bigger EU budget
  5. Germany raises concerns over Hungary's 'Stop Soros' bills
  6. EU ties Brexit transition talks to divorce agreement
  7. EU divided over Western Balkan enlargement
  8. Facebook and Twitter weak on protecting users, says EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  2. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  3. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  4. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  6. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission
  8. Dialogue PlatformWhat Can Christians Learn from a Global Islamic Movement?
  9. European Jewish CongressEJC President Warns Europe as Holocaust Memory Fades
  10. European Free AlllianceNo Justice From the Spanish Supreme Court Ruling
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  12. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%