Brexit: the path ahead

The President of the European Council Donald Tusk and the Maltese Prime Minister Muscat have today given a press conference on the guidelines that will govern the exit of the UK from the EU.

Roughly speaking these are the main priorities:

  • EU citizens position post-Brexit (this will be the first point to debate)
  • Certainty for businesses on applicable law post-Brexit
  • EU border between Ireland and Northern Ireland in a way that preserves the peace process
  • Financial liabilities of the UK as entered into while it is a “Member State”.

It was clearly stated that there will be no parallel negotiations on trade or future relationship EU-UK until sufficient progress is achieved on the above-mentioned four main points. “Sufficient progress” needed will be judged/assessed by the European Council i.e. EU27 and as too optimistic Tusk mentions autumn for commencement of the “trade” negotiations.

Asked about “a transition period” by the media, the EU representatives mentioned that should one be agreed it will be as the UK being a Member State meaning the EU institutions and EU law will be applicable while such arrangement is in force. This is definitely not something the UK will want to happen as it only means it will have to adhere to EU law while most certainly it will not participate in its adoption.

On security cooperation, the EU is “choosing” to understand May’s statement in the Art 50 letter as being ¬†misunderstood and not to be used as a bargaining chip as otherwise it will mean both sides are not entering into negotiations as “decent” partners.

The EU27 remains committed to act as a bloc when dealing with Brexit-related matters and it will not be pleased if it finds out the UK is approaching individual Member¬† States with the view of “divide and conquer”. This is quite frankly not in the UK’s best interest to do as the whole deal needs to be agreed by all 27 Member States so the divide and conquer approach is a waste of time.

Summarising, there will be no trade discussions until the main four points have been tackled (even if the words sufficient progress are used). This is a clear response to the not-so-veiled threat in the Art 50 letter on cooperation in security matters. Essentially, the EU27 has shown it has the upper hand and the most power – as presently seen – in the upcoming negotiations.

It is up to the UK now to set up the pace of the “phase 1” negotiations (“phase 2” being the future relationship EU-UK which is the most important to the UK).

Despite the friendly tone both EU representatives have tried to use in the press conference the reality is that the clock is ticking but the only one interested in “how much time remains” is the UK. Why is that? well, quite simply because the UK cannot afford reaching 29 March 2019 with no certainty for business on the applicable legal framework (and even if the Great Repeal Bill is passed and in force then it means EU law has just been internalised in the UK so there will be, in reality, more EU law than less in the UK statutes!) or a “transitional arrangement” may be put in place but that only will perpetuate the status quo i.e. all EU institutions and law will remain applicable while it lasts.

The divorce proceedings are about to begin and it is fully understood, by both sides, that confrontation lies ahead. All eyes are now set on the tone and statements with which the UK will kick-start those discussions.

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