The authoritative source for independent research on UK-EU relations

22 Sep 2017

Relationship with the EU

Tone positive, problems unresolved, says Professors Anand Menon and Jonathan Portes, The UK in a Changing Europe.

Tone positive, problems unresolved: The speech marked a shift in tone from the PM towards the EU and indeed EU citizens in the UK. And her words on the so-called ‘Brexit bill’ may open the way to progress on this issue. But on the longer term substance we have little but good intentions. On the way UK courts ‘take account’ of the ECJ; on the modalities of security cooperation; and on what dispute resolution mechanisms will underpin any new trade deal, to take but a few examples,  we know no more than we did yesterday.

Was the speech a success? Only in a negative sense. The Prime Minister has avoided both an open Cabinet split and a breakdown in negotiations with the EU27. But the price is is that progress in those negotiations will be painfully slow. And ultimately, averting a chaotic “No Deal” Brexit – let alone reaching a “deep and comprehensive” agreement on our post-Brexit relationship – will require difficult and painful compromises, and it is as yet unclear whether Theresa May, let alone her colleagues, are prepared to make them. “

What does the speech mean for the negotiations? The UK has a weak hand and every day that goes by makes it weaker.  But to more forward requires more than fuzzy assurances or warm words – not just on money, but on citizens’ rights and Northern Ireland. On citizens’ rights, good progress has been made on some issues but not on the key sticking points; on Northern Ireland the EU is still waiting for the UK to make a serious proposal.  And on the “exit bill”, paying for a transition is a start – but only one item on a long list. Overall, there’s enough to avert any early breakdown – but if the UK really wants meaningful progress, it will have to follow it up with detailed technical offers on all of these issues.

What does the “transition” period look like? Theresa May has, grudgingly, secured the backing of her own Cabinet to a status quo transition where the UK will continue to pay its share of the EU’s bills and will remain a member of the Single Market and customs union. Michel Barnier pre-emptively  pointed out that – as the EU-27 has said all along – this will mean that the UK will have to fully abide by all the EU’s rules, including freedom of movement and the Court of Justice of the European Union, but will have no vote or voice.  You could call it membership without the privileges.


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