Wednesday

18th Oct 2017

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.

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.

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.

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.

EU medicines agency reveals new home preferences

Staff said they preferred to move to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Milan, or Vienna. More than 70% said they would quit if the agency moved to Athens, Bratislava, Bucharest, Helsinki, Malta, Sofia, Warsaw, or Zagreb.

News in Brief

  1. Catalonia will 'not back down'
  2. New toxic incident in EU building ahead of summit
  3. Murdered Malta journalist's family invited to Parliament
  4. EU food safety chief denies keeping studies 'secret'
  5. EU states pledge 24,000 resettlement places so far
  6. US ready for arms sale to update Greece's F-16 fleet
  7. Austria's Green leaders step down following election failure
  8. Icelandic journalists protest ban on reporting PM's finances

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  2. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  5. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  6. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  7. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  8. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!
  9. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  10. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  12. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  2. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  3. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  4. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  6. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation
  8. UNICEFSocial Protection in the Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement
  9. CESIJoin CESI@Noon on October 18 and Debate On: 'European Defence Union: What Next?'
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Support Start-Ups
  11. ILGA EuropeInternational Attention Must Focus on LGBTI People in Azerbaijan After Police Raids
  12. European Jewish CongressStrong Results of Far Right AfD Party a Great Concern for Germans and European Jews