European Union leaders have unanimously agreed the negotiating guidelines for Brexit talks with UK will be "firm and fair," and will begin on June 8th after the UK general election. As The BBC reports, EU officials said leaders burst into applause as the negotiating stance was waved through, with the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, proudly proclaiming: "we are ready... we are together."
"Unity in action," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Twitter as he announced the 27 EU governments - UK PM Theresa May was not present - rubber-stamped the negotiating strategy in less than 15 minutes at a summit in Brussels.
Policy makers arrived declaring that they were united in their approach to Brexit and that Britain wouldn’t be allowed to be better off outside the bloc than inside it. Prime Minister Theresa May’s government was told it will have to agree to pay a financial settlement and resolve the rights of citizens before the EU allows discussions to turn to a future trade deal.
French President Francois Hollande said there would inevitably be "a price and a cost for the UK - it's the choice that was made".
"We must not be punitive, but at the same time it's clear that Europe knows how to defend its interests, and that Britain the UK will have a less good position tomorrow outside the EU than today in the EU."
Which is very ironic given AFP reported German Chancellor Merkel earlier commented: "no one is allied against Britain."
The UK response was quick - Brexit Secretary David Davis emailed that:
“There is no doubt that these negotiations are the most complex the U.K. has faced in our lifetimes. They will be tough and, at times even confrontational,”
And, as Bloomberg reports, to Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of May’s Conservative Party who campaigned for Brexit, Europe’s approach is nothing more than posturing anyway:
"People go: ‘Oh look they are showing resolve and their strength.’ Well, what would you expect?" he told Bloomberg.
“They are about to head in to a negotiation. You know, I have been in business. You always start in your firm position."
So what happens next?
- 29 April - EU leaders (excluding the UK) meet in Brussels to adopt Brexit negotiating guidelines
- 7 May - French voters decide between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen as their next president
- 8 June - UK parliamentary election - Brexit talks to start soon after the vote
- 24 September - German parliamentary election, with Mrs Merkel seeking a fourth term
- 29 March 2019 - Deadline for ending talks on UK exit terms (any extension requires agreement of all member states)
- May or June 2019 - European Parliament election (without UK)
- Ratification - Any Brexit deal requires ratification by all EU's national parliaments and European Parliament
Of course, this whole charade raises a crucial question - as MishTalk's Mike Shedlock asks "Brexit Negotiations - Why Bother?"
I keep asking the same question on Brexit and keep coming up with the same answer: Why bother? There is absolutely no reason the UK should start a negotiation given the repeated EU demands. Once again, on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel repeated the EU’s “not reversible” position.
I have read many articles in the Financial Times and on Eurointelligence expressing optimism on these talks. I fail to see why. Sure, we have been through countless 11th-hour deals with Greece. But the UK is not Greece.
In regards to NAFTA, a reader on my blog commented the other day “You would be surprised at how often parties could have reached a win-win agreement only to part ways fighting instead.”
I responded “I agree with you fully. A critical Brexit opportunity is coming up and I expect it to fail. There is an easy win-win compromise but the desire to punish the UK and set rules in the name of solidarity is too great.”
The EU’s first position is the UK has more to lose. The EU’s second position is that the time factor is on the EU’s side. Both are Fantasyland positions.
This is not a divorce where a one-sided judge sets alimony. This is a treaty that can be canceled at any time by walking away. Unless and until Theresa May lets it be known she will walk away, the EU has the upper hand.
The proper response from UK prime minister Theresa May is to inform the EU there will be no discussion as long as the EU insists on a divorce bill negotiated first.
Only by walking away – showing a willingness to let time expire – does the UK have a chance at reasonable negotiations. Even then, I am not sure what the chance is because the “EU’s desire to punish the UK and set rules in the name of solidarity” likely exceeds the desire to walk away with a win-win situation.