Tuesday

25th Sep 2018

Column / Brexit Briefing

UK presses the Brexit pause button

  • Playing hard to get on the financial settlement is one of few trump cards available to Davis and his team. (Photo: European Commission)

Having spent the week playing a diplomatic game of ‘call my bluff’, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier’s frustration was palpable at Thursday’s (20 July) press conference that sounded the bell for Round Two of the Brexit talks.

“We make better progress when our respective positions are clear,” was Barnier’s scarcely coded warning to the UK government.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

It was telling, however, that UK Brexit minister David Davis and his team were far more sanguine about the achingly slow progress. If UK ministers were pursuing a ‘hard Brexit’ – prepared to walk away without any deal on single market access from March 2019 – there would be a greater sense of urgency in Whitehall and on the part of Davis.

EU negotiators had hoped that delaying talks on a successor trade deal until the divorce bill had been agreed would create that urgency. The UK, after all, does have more to lose from falling out of the EU in spring 2019 without any agreement on the future.

Instead, the position papers published so far by the Departing for Exiting the EU – on Euratom, citizens’ rights, and the role of the European Court of Justice – have been painfully thin on detail, while nothing has been committed to paper about the methodology for the divorce bill, let alone how much the UK is willing to hand over.

Blank canvas by design

When it comes to the financial settlement, the UK’s blank canvas approach is entirely by design. It will be difficult for ministers to explain why taxpayers have to fork out another €60-€80 billion to Brussels after the ‘Leave’ campaigners promised that exiting the EU would mean an instant £10 billion dividend for the UK economy.

Playing hard to get on the money is also one of few trump cards available to Davis and his team. It’s much better for them to wait for the EU to name a figure that can be haggled over.

In any case, decades of watching British prime ministers being at the centre of late-night haggling over EU budgets should have made us understand that agreeing on the Brexit divorce bill would be slow and painful.

If detail and clarity on the UK’s position is still in desperately short supply, one post-election development is that a consensus has formed among ministers that a 2-4 year transitional arrangement will be needed after the March 2019 cut-off date.

Anxious at the lack of clarity emanating from May’s ministers, particularly since the June 8 election, the business lobby has ramped up the pressure in recent weeks.

It appears to have borne fruit.

Business push-back

Following Thursday’s first meeting of the new business leaders’ council – including executives from Tesco, Unilever and BAE Systems – that is set to meet regularly with Theresa May to discuss the government's Brexit plans, the prime minister’s spokesperson told reporters that May had talked about the need to have a transitional period.

Having been given the green light from 10 Downing Street, ministers then briefed that single market access and freedom of movement would continue after 2019.

Deciding to give business and government extra time to adapt, in turn, reduces the pressure on Davis to make rapid progress on the trade component of the talks.

A UK-EU trade agreement “should be one of the easiest in human history”, said international trade minister Liam Fox on Thursday (20 July).

Fox – who met World Trade Organization (WTO) boss Roberto Azevedo to set out his plans on the trade deals he hopes to strike post-Brexit – had been one of the main government voices against a transitional deal, but now appears to have fallen in line with the new consensus.

One way that the EU could wrest back the initiative would be to set a strict limit of the transition period. The European Parliament’s resolution has suggested a three-year limit: that would re-set the "cliff edge" to 2022. A shorter transition would make the UK side less able to drag their feet on the finances and citizens’ rights.

"Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed" is a common refrain used by officials during so-called trilogue negotiations, between the three main law-making EU institutions, on regular EU directives and regulations.

It signifies that both ministers and MEPs know what the final deal will look like, but neither side is prepared to compromise yet on the major items.

That’s probably where Davis and Barnier are now and, much to the chagrin of the negotiators and reporters covering the talks, there’s precious little sign of a breakthrough any time soon.

Benjamin Fox, a former reporter for EUobserver, is a freelance writer.

EU urges UK to clarify its Brexit positions

EU and UK negotiators presented their Brexit positions to identify common grounds this week, but that was made difficult by the scarcity of UK position papers.

Britain and EU 'get to work' on Brexit

British and EU negotiators launched the first substantive round of negotiations on Brexit on Monday, with the UK still ambiguous about its position on the issue of financial settlement.

Brexit talks restart in sense of urgency

The first full round of Brexit talks on key issues kicks off on Monday, while infighting heats up in the UK government over its strategy.

UK and EU stuck on 'philosophy' of Brexit bill

The lack of a UK position on a financial settlement is becoming a crucial obstacle in Brexit talks, amid "philosophical" differences on what the money should pay for.

Column / Brexit Briefing

The return of the chlorinated chicken

Britain has only just started on the path towards a post-Brexit trade deal with the US, but you can already see the same all-too-familiar disagreements.

News in Brief

  1. ECB's Draghi set to clarify role in secretive G30 group
  2. Half of EU states at risk of missing recycling target
  3. Commission refers Poland to EU top court over rule of law
  4. Open Society Foundation takes Hungary to court
  5. EU court asked to rule on halting Brexit
  6. EU threatens Switzerland on stock trading
  7. Italy's new basic wage restricted to Italians
  8. UK tycoon offers to create pro-Brexit party

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. Missing signature gaffe for Azerbaijan gas pipeline
  2. Every major city in Europe is getting warmer
  3. No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected
  4. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK
  5. Wake-up call on European Day Against Islamophobia
  6. Sound of discord at 'Sound of Music' Salzburg summit
  7. Salzburg summit presses for bigger Frontex mandate
  8. UK's post-Brexit plan 'will not work', EU says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us