The Cicero Brexit Insights team is producing regular updates, comment and insight on both the broad themes and the technical detail of Brexit. We aim to give readers a clear view of the issues and challenges as they are seen in Brussels, London and Member States. This week, the UK team looks ahead to the Article 50 trigger and the legislative challenge of Brexit, and the EU team analyses the Brexit timeline following the triggering of Article 50 based on Michel Barnier’s speech earlier this week.
After being thwarted in her planned triggering of Article 50 by Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement calling for a second independence referendum, Theresa May has now declared she will invoke Article 50 on 29 March. After sending a letter to Donald Tusk notifying of the UK’s intention to leave the EU, it is expected that she will give a statement to the House following PMQs.
With the date of the Article 50 trigger now known, attention is turning to the legislative challenge that will follow. The Great Repeal Bill White Paper is expected to be published next week, possibly as early as Monday, with the Bill to be announced in the Queen’s Speech. It is now being speculated that somewhere between 7 to 15 additional Bills will be needed to pass primary legislation on substantive policy areas, such as agriculture and customs. The only two Bills the Government has confirmed it will bring forward are on Immigration and Trade.
These reports show just how significant the legislative challenges the Government has ahead of it are. With the Institute for Government pointing out that the average Queen’s Speech contains 20 Bills, legislative time for domestic policy is going to be very limited. In addition, Whitehall departments will be preoccupied with identifying areas of EU law that must be altered to ensure regulatory coherence after Brexit. As much as Theresa May does not want her legacy to be Brexit, it is starting to look very difficult for her Government to donate adequate time to much else.
This legislative challenge, as well as the small window of opportunity following the triggering of Article 50 but before negotiations get under way, has sparked increased speculation that the Prime Minister will look to hold an early general election, to increase her majority and ease the passage of the Brexit legislation. However, events this week may well have put this to bed for now.
Senior Account Executive
We learnt from Michel Barnier’s speech at the Committee of Regions on Wednesday that a high level of divergence exists between the EU and the UK over their approach to the negotiation. Their disagreement on fundamental issues including the UK’s financial liabilities, the scheduling of the withdrawal and trade talks, and the jurisdiction overseeing a potential transitional agreement indicates that the rapid progress and ‘quick wins’ should not be expected.
While these are already highly complex and time-consuming issues, the parties will not even be able to start discussing them until roughly two months after the UK triggers Article 50 because of procedural requirements to be completed on the EU side. Following May’s triggering of Article 50 next Wednesday, Donald Tusk will send his negotiating guidelines to Member States within 48 hours. These draft guidelines are expected to be first discussed by Member States’ representatives (or ‘Sherpas’) on 11 and 24 April, followed by a meeting of the General Affairs Council on 27 April, where EU Ministers will agree on a unified position ahead of the 29 April European Council. In addition to the Council’s procedural requirements, a second document with more detailed guidelines will have to be proposed by the Commission and adopted unanimously by the Council for Barnier to be able to sit at the negotiating table. All in all, substantive discussions on the UK-EU divorce are only likely to start in June.
If the proposed scenario holds true, the UK and the EU will have even less time than the initially estimated 18 months to negotiate the withdrawal agreement considering that the European Parliament and the Council will need five to six months to ratify the final withdrawal deal. It is increasingly clear that the actual negotiations will take place from June 2017 to October 2018, leaving negotiators with 16 months to reach a deal. In addition, Member States are likely to refrain from taking major political decisions before the new German government is installed in September this year. Should this be the case, the possibility of negotiating a Free Trade Agreement in parallel to the Article 50 deal seems increasingly unachievable.
To sign up for updates from Cicero Brexit Insights, or to arrange to speak to the team, please email Brexit.Insights@news.cicero-group.com.