Brexit effect: Now, spotlight on UK-EU dialogue

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 27, 2018

Britain aims for ‘smooth and orderly Brexit’ within 2 years

With events now set in motion to take Britain out of the European Union (EU), the spotlight will fall on the negotiating process, the terms agreed, and the ways in which Britain will attempt to construct its post-EU future.

While Prime Minister May has insisted that the government aims to deliver a “smooth and orderly Brexit” and reach an agreement within the two year period, followed by a phased process of implementation, many have been skeptical of this — pointing to, for example, the seven years that it has taken the EU and Canada to reach a free trade deal.

The EU has indicated in the past that a deal would have to be agreed within less than two years to give enough time to all the relevant EU bodies and national Parliament’s time to get on board.

Deal or no deal?

In the past, May had indicated that Britain would prefer to leave the EU with no deal rather than a bad deal, though critics have pointed to past analysis by the Treasury Department that leaving the EU just on World Trade Organisation’s terms — an eventuality should a deal not be reached within that timetable and no extension agreed — could knock as much as 7.5 per cent off the GDP.

In her letter to the President of the EU Donald Tusk, May emphasized her eagerness to get the deal. “We must therefore work hard to avoid this outcome,” she wrote.

“The Commission’s approach will be detailed, painstaking and business-like…Britain’s priority should not be the divorce bill but the future trade deal, getting the former as quickly as possible so as to concentrate on the latter,” said Lord Peter Mandelson, a former EU trade commissioner and Chair at Global Counsel.

“The government should seek to secure a trade deal with the EU that ensures reciprocal market access and is as close as possible to our existing arrangements,” said Mark Boleat, the policy Chairman of the City of London corporation, adding that a transitional deal was needed early in the negotiations to provide businesses with clarity and reassurance.

Rights and laws

The government will also face a battle going forward over issues such as the right of EU citizens, already in the UK, to remain in the country: it battled successfully to keep an obligation to maintain these rights out of its negotiating agenda in the legislation that went through Parliament, in a move condemned by many, including some in her own political party. In her letter to Tusk, May called for Britain and Europe to strike an “early agreement” on the rights of EU citizens in Britain, and UK citizens across Europe.

There will also be a domestic battle over what EU laws Britain chooses to apply to itself once it leaves the union, as well as other policy changes Britain will bring in to further the trade deals it hopes to make outside the EU.

On Wednesday, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party called on the Prime Minister to “listen, consult and represent” the whole country, accusing the government of wanting to change it to a “tax dodgers paradise.”

“Labour will not give this government a freehand,” he said. May said that she would “represent every person in the whole United Kingdom” to create a “fairer…truly Global Britain that gets out and builds relationships with old friends and new allies.”

Rift in the UK?

The triggering of Brexit has also brought to the fore questions about the future of the countries that make up the United Kingdom. In a heated session just before May’s historic announcement, she battled questions on pledges made earlier to consult with members of the devolved governments on the terms of what will be negotiated. May shot back saying she had always been clear that the negotiations will be conducted on behalf of a united nation, and that now was not a time for questioning the nation’s unity.

However, the issue is unlikely to go away following Tuesday’s vote by the Scottish Parliament to back calls for a second referendum on independence. In her letter to Tusk, May said the government expected that the Brexit process will result in “a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved administration.” She added that the government will be looking to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland (the EU member state) and Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom).

“We can choose to say the task ahead is too great. We can choose to turn our face to the past and believe it can’t be done. Or, we can look forward with optimism and hope, and to believe in the enduring power of the British spirit,” said May. She also emphasized the government’s determination to forge stronger trade relations outside the union, and stand up against the “protectionist instincts” that were on the rise in many parts of the world.

The biggest challenge may now prove to be uniting the country, with many in the Remain and Leave camps entrenched in their views about the future and each other. However, according to recent polling by YouGov only 21 per cent of people want to see the result of the referendum overturned or ignored.

Published on March 29, 2017

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