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Analysis

France’s rule-taking demands show deal will get even worse

by Luke Lythgoe | 20.11.2018

Any MPs uncertain about backing the prime minister’s miserable Brexit deal need to realise that, if they do, our final relationship with the EU could eventually look much worse. That’s already becoming clear thanks to interventions from EU countries seeking quick wins in the “future relationship” part of the talks. If we leave with May’s blindfold deal, with no clarity or guarantees over where we’ll end up, our negotiating position going into the next stage of talks will be very weak indeed.

The future relationship is to be outlined in a “political declaration” document which accompanies the withdrawal agreement. This is being finalised this week ahead of a special EU summit expected on Sunday.

The political declaration is expected to be vague, which is bad news in itself because the British people still won’t know what Brexit looks like when we leave. But some EU countries want to make “side declarations” setting out what they want from future talks, reports the FT. While these statements aren’t part of the agreement, they give a steer on how the EU might interpret a deal.

The EU is warning countries against making strong side declarations. But whether they do or not, it is now clear what other member states want. And if May’s deal is left open-ended, they will be able to push for it.

France is seeking “level playing field” rules to prevent UK companies undercutting EU rivals. Paris wants tough safeguards on environment, competition, taxation and labour policy as the condition for a trade deal with the UK. That will probably amount to the UK following EU standards. This kind of rule-taking is already part of the “backstop” agreement, an emergency mechanism to insure the Irish border stays open come what may after Brexit. But demands for rule-taking could be even tougher if the UK wants a good trade deal with the other 27 EU countries.

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France also wants guaranteed access to UK fishing waters. Expect the Netherlands and other countries with large fishing interests in the North Sea to back them.

Then there is Spain’s claims to Gibraltar. While Madrid isn’t pushing aggressively for more control over the Rock, it is insisting that the political declaration being drafted now doesn’t lock down Gibraltar’s status indefinitely. It wants more detailed negotiations during the post-Brexit transition period. Nor does Spain like the idea that Gibraltar will be automatically included in any agreement to extend the post-Brexit transition period beyond 2020. This is already written into the draft deal, but Spain is looking to alter it.

Although Spain isn’t playing hardball on Gibraltar right now, the noises coming out of Madrid are a reaction from the centre-left government to pressure from the centre-right opposition. If that opposition were to take power in the coming months, we could expect Spain’s stance to be rather stronger.

Anything May gives away now will be hard to defend later on. Anything she doesn’t agree will simply be kicked down the road into the transition period, when our negotiating hand will be even weaker. Unlike this first stage of the Brexit deal, which only requires a qualified majority of EU members states to approve it, any future trade deal will require the unanimous support of all 27 EU countries. That gives each one much more power to push its interests.

And thanks to May’s deal, the UK will be scrambling for a trade agreement in order to avoid ending up in a miserable rule-taking “backstop” arrangement. The irony is that, since the next stage of negotiations would be so stacked against us, the deal we ultimately get with the EU could see us taking even more rules. That’s why May’s deal must be voted down now and Parliament should call a People’s Vote.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

3 Responses to “France’s rule-taking demands show deal will get even worse”

  • The EU have concentrated on damage limitation and self protection, rather than more actively trying to prevent Brexit. Though understandable this is a shame as we are still EU citizens here after all.

    A blind Brexit will sadly not terrify people like it should and is more likely to induce a yawn in the large numbers suffering from Brexit burnout.

    Finally a plea for some variation in the prose. ‘miserable’ appears in every post I have seen as a routine description of the deal and though correct it is getting a bit worn out and monotonous. How about horrible, dreadful, terrible, ghastly or plain unacceptable ? No shortage of adjectives to describe the abominable thing, and get the point across.

  • From an EU point of view: Britain chose to leave. It’s a sovereign decision not something for EU to tamper with. EU has to respect the UK decision.

    As EU citizens, brits chose to leave, they are exercising their fundamental liberties. They are a free people within a rules-based system.

    Brexit referendum is only a UK thing, not under EU’s responsability or purview. You’re living in a democracy, so please assume your national votes

  • To Guinet

    it’s well recognised that a majority of Brits did not choose to leave, only 37%, in a corrupt and vote for which people are now up on criminal charges. The EU is an upholder of high ethical standards and should have had nothing to do with Brexit negotiations because the minute they do so, they are effectively colluding in a despicable injustice.