IIEA’s practical guide to the Brexit process

In the immediate aftermath of the British referendum last year a great deal of media attention was paid to the formal Brexit process and timeline. Since that process was formally launched with the triggering of Article 50 at the end of March, the focus shifted very much to the politics of Brexit and more specifically the British politics. In the heat of the UK parliamentary campaign the impression is sometimes given that the process itself is a matter of negotiation, capable of amendment by a tough British stance in the early talks.

A Guide to Brexit“, a paper issued last month by the Institute for International and European Affairs, is a timely reminder that the process exists and will be adhered to by the 27 continuing EU member states. It reiterates the timeline and sets out the main players who will be around the table some time in late June.

The practical work on behalf of the EU will be done by the Commission led by Michel Barnier.It is really acting on instructions, and those come from the European Council composed of the representatives of the 27 member governments. Council meetings of heads of state and government are necessary rare, so between times it has a special Brexit Task Force headed up by a Belgian diplomat, Didier Seeuws. The Council can amend its mandate to Barnier at any time.

The Council will vote to accept or reject the final deal offered to the UK, but so also will the European Parliament. It has its own mechanism for tracking progress in the talks, headed by Guy Verhofstadt.

Reading the UK media, one could get the impression that there will be an elected government on one side of the table and unelected officials  – also known as ‘faceless Eurocrats’ – on the other. In fact the whole process is constructed to give clear primacy to the elected leaders of the 27 member countries. It can be taken that they will speak and act as one on issues where the future cohesion and existence of the EU is at stake, but the paper notes that they have widely varying interests when it comes to the specific outcome and the terms of a deal with the UK. It concludes with quick snapshots of the likely position of each government. If the UK has still hopes of doing a classic divide and rule, there is no evidence here that it is working.