UK-EU talks: What can possibly go wrong?

UK-EU talks: What can possibly go wrong?

The late Mario Cuomo, governor of New York, coined the phrase that you campaign in poetry and govern in prose. In a week’s time the electoral poetry will be all over and the professionals will sit down to the prosaic task of hammering out a deal on British withdrawal. The first serious meeting will probably take place on 19th June.

Former MEP Andrew Duff reckons it will probably not go well. In a discussion paper for the European Policy Centre he writes that UK minister David Davis has already rejected the opening positions of the EU.

” Taken together, the area of disagreement is vast. … the first phase of the negotiations will comprise three big problematic items: citizens’ rights, money and the Irish question. The second and more useful phase of Brexit will begin only after the European Council (of 27) has judged that “sufficient progress” has been made on the first phase.”

Everything that the British want will come in the second phase: “arrangements for the financial services industry, the framework for the future relationship involving a comprehensive free trade agreement and security cooperation – as well as transitional arrangements which will build a bridge between membership, via Brexit, to a new form of association.

So logically, the key British interest should lie in moving through the first phase as easily as possible. Duff has some advice for Theresa May and David Davis on how to go about that, but he admits it would require a big change of tune:  …Above all, Mr Davis … should drop the bluff and bluster that has characterised his performance so far.”

It is pretty obvious that Duff thinks the British side is out of its depth, still preparing to negotiate in Daily Mail poetry. “The self-confidence of the EU side with its well-marshalled troops contrasts sharply with the appearance of demoralised shambles on the side of the British. … The EU has every political capacity and legal base it needs in order to negotiate any kind of commercial and political agreement with the UK as a third country. The Commission is already scoping such a Plan B exercise. The options range from a mere commercial pact under Article 207 TFEU to a full-blown association agreement under Article 217 TFEU, including intensive intergovernmental cooperation on matters of security and defence. And once the dust has settled, the door will always remain open for the UK to launch a fresh application to re-join the EU under Article 49 TEU.  Such a Plan B would be much more costly than a secession treaty hammered out under the terms of Article 50 within the context of an agreed future framework of ‘deep and special partnership’. And a completely new start for Britain in Europe would be longer in the making over a period stretching way beyond Mrs May’s next tryst with the voters in 2022. But the time to start thinking about Plan B is now.”