In a report published last week, Oliver Patel assesses the EU’s institutional and strategic approach to the Brexit negotiations, and considers what the EU wants from the process. Here, he summarises the core points of the paper and outlines how the UK has been outflanked by the EU’s negotiating tactics thus far.
October’s European Council summit represented ‘more of the same’ for the Brexit process. Although EU leaders were more cordial than in Salzburg, their fundamental position hasn’t changed: there must be some form of backstop which ties Northern Ireland to the Customs Union and Internal Market for goods, and it can’t be time-limited. Without this, there will be no withdrawal agreement. The ball is now in the UK’s court, they say.
Doris cleaner to the chattering classes
A new UCL European Institute series of cartoons by Ros Asquith featuring Doris, a cleaning lady that witnesses the divides of a society shaken by Brexit. This series will be composed of a monthly cartoon shedding light on a particular issue around the British society and Brexit from July 2018 till the departure of the UK from the EU in March 2019.
In this post, Eleni Frantziou tell us about the danger of making an exception with the removal of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in the Withdrawal Act, while the rest of the European “acquis” is translated into British law. Besides the legal implications, this questions what the British society see as “fundamental” and what should be excluded from the day-to-day agenda of Westminster. Brexit could be the opportunity for the UK to draft its own set of rights, but this outright rejection threatens an important democratic safeguard.
With the Withdrawal Act having finally entered the lawbooks back in June, the focus of the Brexit conversation has, naturally, shifted towards other matters (including issues of perhaps greater urgency, such as the grounding of planes, the availability of medication, and general contingency planning in case of a no-deal Brexit). Rallying to the problems of legislation which was already vastly criticised academically and in the House of Lords before its adoption may now be seen as a lost cause. Nevertheless, at the risk of staying within the ivory tower, in this post, I will try to formulate a critique of one of the Withdrawal Act’s most significant problems: the removal of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Luis González García considers the specificity of the EU trade policy to explain the perceived rigidity of the EU negotiators on Brexit. The EU applies two approaches to its trade policy through either integration (strong regulatory alignment and strong market access) or liberalisation (looser arrangements): this explains why an ad hoc model which offers full market access but does not ensure a level playing field cannot be accepted by the European Union.
Does the EU want to “punish” the UK?
Shortly after the EU summit in Salzburg the Prime Minister of the UK, Theresa May, said that negotiations on the UK’s exit from the EU were at an “impasse”.  Days later, the UK Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, characterised the EU’s negotiating stance uncompromising, suggested that the Union wanted to “punish” the UK for leaving the EU, and appeared to compare the EU to the Soviet Union.
This “impasse” in the Brexit negotiations is hardly surprising from a trade negotiation perspective. In any negotiation, the ability to see the situation as the other side sees it is key. Negotiating trade is hard and time-consuming. Where trade is concerned, even a small mistake in diagnosing a negotiating situation is likely to prolong talks and complicate mutually acceptable solutions. To talk of the EU’s desire to punish the UK therefore not only misidentifies the cause of the impasse; it also makes the negotiations themselves more challenging.
Michael Grubb discusses how to go beyond the recent obstacles in the negotiations and the negative rhetoric by focusing on key sectors where interests are aligned. In his view, energy, climate and transport are the logical sectors from which to start the writing of a new positive relationship.
So: at Salzburg the unstoppable force of Brexit finally met the immovable object of EU concerns about the integrity of its single market, and its insistence that the UK must be “either in or out”. Teresa May is emphatic: she has made a proposal; the EU must respond not with rejection but with suggestions.
As it considers options, the EU’s core dilemma is that what it may see as legitimate defence of the EU’s interests risks being perceived and spun in sections of the UK as an attempt to punish. And one great lesson of history speaks to the EU’s conundrum: punishing countries, however tempting, is a road to disaster. The 1919 Treaty of Paris that imposed devastating reparations payment on Germany after the First World War – which led to enduring European and international crises culminating in the Second World War – is the classic, if extreme, example. In an increasingly fragile world, the UK and the EU need each other.