Keeping Brexit talks on schedule: A difficult mission

Tuesday, 2018-09-04 16:55:49
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The UK’s Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, Dominic Raab and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, brief the media after a meeting at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium August 21, 2018. (Reuters)
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NDO – Brexit talks are entering a sprint stage. Officials of the European Union (EU) and United Kingdom (UK) cited recent advances in the negotiation process, expressing their optimism that the two sides would soon reach a deal for the historic divorce this autumn. However, with the current barriers in negotiations, many analysts said that a bad scenario for a farewell without a deal reached between the UK and the EU is still likely to occur.

Last weekend, UK Brexit secretary Dominic Raab and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, met in Belgium to remove bottlenecks for the Brexit negotiation process. In his speech after the meeting, Barnier stated that the two sides could reach an agreement by the time of the EU Council summit on October 18-19. Meanwhile, Raab said he had a strong belief that the UK and the EU would soon reach a final deal on Brexit. European sources revealed that in the talks, the EU and UK officials discussed and reached a strong consensus on the issue of post-Brexit security cooperation. Barnier said that the EU was seeking an “ambitious partnership” on security issues with the UK after it left the EU. Earlier, Barnier said that the EU was willing to propose an unprecedented close relationship with the UK following its departure from the union.

However, the aforementioned move still cannot dispel the growing concerns in Europe about a scenario in which a Brexit deal is not reached before the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. Such concerns of analysts and the European people are quite justifiable, as there are just over six months left before the UK’s deadline for divorce from the EU, but the two sides still disagree about two important issues, the border between Northern Ireland (UK) and the Republic of Ireland, and bilateral trade relations in the future. The outlook for Brexit talks is still fuzzy. Regarding the issue of the Northern Ireland border, the government of the Republic of Ireland wants a contingency plan for the border issue contained in the Brexit agreement. Accordingly, a soft border must be secured if the future UK-EU trade deal does not include this condition. Meanwhile, the UK government does not want to approve any arrangements that would allow Northern Ireland to have different rules from those in other parts of the UK.

In terms of the market issue, ahead of his meeting with the UK representative last weekend, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator said that the UK must respect the basic principles of the EU and affirmed that “the single market must be a single market”. He emphasised that the UK could not approach the single market by only preserving the principles that it wants, instead of all the rules of this market. According to analysts, with the aforementioned statement, Barnier indirectly referred to UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit white paper which says that UK would apply principles of the single market for the trade of goods, but not for the service sector, while avoiding the compulsory conditions on free movement within the countries of the single market. Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas recently said that the EU would not give in concerning the issue of the single market with the UK.

Another signal from the EU and the UK prompting concerns among the European analysts is that despite being in the final stage of negotiations, both sides are urgently preparing for the scenario of a “no-deal Brexit”. UK PM May stated that it will be not the end of the world if a “divorce deal” with the EU is not reached by the time the UK leaves the bloc. Earlier, the UK government said it had prepared and would announce a plan of action in the event of a collapse of Brexit negotiations to avoid passivity and to mitigate damage for businesses. The EU has also taken similar moves, as the governments of many EU member countries have prepared solutions in response to such an unexpected situation. The French PM asked the ministers to prepare the necessary preventive measures in order to ease difficulties related to the unprecedented challenges in the event of failed Brexit talks. The measures to be taken by the French government will include facilitating the stay of UK citizens currently living in France and ensuring border control.

Even as the UK’s Brexit secretary and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator are optimistic about a “happy ending” for Brexit, there still remain signals from the two sides showing that the upcoming negotiating process is unlikely to go smoothly. Responding to an interview with the Sunday Telegraph on September 2, UK PM Theresa May affirmed that the UK will not give in to the EU. Meanwhile, Barnier also left open the possibility of extending a short period of time for negotiations to reach a deal with the UK, while underscoring that the agreements must be completed by mid-November.

It seems that keeping Brexit talks on schedule is becoming an increasingly difficult task for both the UK and the EU. As forecast by analysts, a scenario of a “no-deal Brexit” will be a catastrophe for both the UK economy and the EU economy.