Expert View

Spoiler alert: May’s delays mean no progress at EU summit

by David Hannay | 26.06.2018

David Hannay is a member of the House of Lords and former UK ambassador to the EU and UN.

This week’s European Council summit in Brussels, marks another Station of the Cross in the agonisingly slow Brexit negotiations. No progress will mean distinct signs of impatience, mingled with indifference, among the other 27 EU countries at the table.

It’s now more than a year after negotiations began. That’s more than six months after agreement in principle was reached on the divorce settlement, opening the way to the negotiation of the future UK/EU relationship including trade. And more than three months after settling on a clearly inadequate, standstill transitional period. Yet the government has still to reach agreement within its own ranks on the outline of trade arrangements to put on the negotiating table. Meanwhile the full detail of the backstop arrangements for trade across the border between the two parts of Ireland has still to be settled.

This is an astonishingly incompetent performance. No wonder the EU27 are under no pressure to display the flexibility which is built into their negotiating guidelines.

The latest variant in the government’s thinking on a border solution will not even be on the table this week, as it awaits the Cabinet’s endorsement, presumably in the context of ministers agreeing on the White Paper to be issued next month. This follows two earlier variants, both of which had been ruled out on the grounds of impracticality before even reaching the negotiating table.

The new proposal appears to envisage something close to a customs union and a single market in goods, while leaving trade in services hung out to dry – that’s 80% of our economy and includes our financial sector. Whether it will enjoy a better fate than the other two remains to be seen.

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Meanwhile negotiations on the prime minister’s proposed new security treaty, covering both external and internal security measures and including the crucial European Arrest Warrant, are limping along in their early stages, showing no real signs of progress. Discussion of the internal security measures is being snarled up by the government’s red line over a role for the European Court of Justice.

And there is no sign of progress on continued cooperation over scientific research and innovation. This will require the commitment of significant future budgetary resources – far from raking in a Brexit dividend.

So far, so bad for this week’s summit. But what about the subjects that will really be preoccupying the rest of the EU at the meeting? This includes future arrangements for the Eurozone and thrashing out the elements of an external migration policy. Both will affect us considerably over time but Theresa May will either be excluded from the discussion or be silent. This is one of the unintended consequences of setting off blithely down the road of “Brexit means Brexit” without any idea of where it was leading.

As the clock ticks on, it becomes ever more likely that the best that can be achieved in the autumn by way of agreement on the UK’s future relationship with the EU will be a sketchy and insubstantial outline. All the important details look likely to be left over for negotiation after we have left, when our negotiating position will be even weaker than it is now. And that could well be what, under the recently agreed legislation, parliament will be asked to approve – a pig in a poke.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

One Response to “Spoiler alert: May’s delays mean no progress at EU summit”

  • The minute our government decided to trigger Article 50’s notice period, the UK lost its main negotiating asset and almost the whole of the body politic was complicit in that. We have been mortally weakened ever since and have placed ourselves at the mercy of the EU for whatever settlement it decides to give us. (Never mind that we had the best deal possible already…)

    It seems quite Darwinian to me.

    All this was foreseeable, but our leaders were empty-headed and desperate. What was it the Oz scarecrow needed again? A heart or a brain?

    Ours needs both, but it’s too late now anyway.