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 EU team analyses the level of convergence between the EU and the UK as the Brexit negotiations kick off and the UK team looks at media reaction following the Article 50 trigger.
With the European Parliament in Green Week and all the other EU institutions hardly active due to Easter holiday, this week was supposed to provide a quieter week in the Eurobubble. However, the announcement of snap elections by Theresa May, the leak of a Commission non-paper on its draft negotiating directives and the circulation of the latest amendments to the Council’s Brexit guidelines has resulted in a busy Easter break. Adding to these are the tensions deriving from the approaching French elections, with Europhiles and investors fearing that last night’s attack in Paris will play in favour of Marine Le Pen on Sunday.
While at this stage of the negotiations Theresa May is seeking personal approval from British citizens to implement her Brexit mandate, the EU is projecting an image of unity, responding to her announcement that the elections on 8 June would not alter its own Brexit timeline although negotiations are now expected to begin in late, rather than early June. Proof of this post-Article 50 notification unity are the latest amendments to the Council’s negotiating guidelines, where Member States have toughened up the language with small but significant changes. Chief among these is a clarification that it will be for the European Council – EU leaders – to decide that “sufficient” progress has been made on withdrawal issues to allow for talks to begin on the trade deal.
The EU27 have added to Donald Tusk’s guidelines regarding the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, demanding the British government to make the administrative procedures to exercise those rights “smooth and simple”, which is seen as a response to the complex procedure that currently exists for gaining British residency rights. Sherpas in the Council of Ministers have also included stricter language on the jurisdiction of ECJ during a potential transitional period, which comes as a reminder that governments have little appetite to make special concessions in this regard. On top of this, new elements have been included on the already difficult negotiation of the financial settlement, with the EU27 demanding to include development cooperation, EIB and ECB expenses in the bill.
The Commission’s non-paper provides a more detailed overview of the issues within the withdrawal agreement and is closely aligned to the Council guidelines. With little detail on the content of the future relationship, Michel Barnier and his team make clear that the future trade agreement will be negotiated in a second phase of the talks. Although this is just an informal draft of what will be the Commission’s mandate to negotiate on behalf of the EU as a whole, it shows the level of preparation already being carried out by the Commission and that they will be a tough negotiator on protecting the rights of its citizens and the integrity of its budget.
This time last week it felt like the moment of maximum danger had passed. Then, only a matter of weeks after triggering Article 50, came Tuesday and Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement that she will be going to the country on 8th June.
Since then, many commentators have mapped out the various pros and cons but on balance, a general election is the sensible thing for the Prime Minister to do. By taking advantage of the EU Parliament/Council’s ‘Brexit mandate phase’ and the distraction of the French elections, Theresa May can use an otherwise stagnant time in politics – and the only viable opportunity – to secure her own mandate. While we’ve all been burned by the polls before and nothing should be taken for granted, all signs point to the Conservatives winning big and no one realistically expects otherwise.
But what does this mean for Brexit? Many things. But three are significant.
Firstly, a decent majority will ensure the Government’s agenda is not dictated by the whim of its backbench MPs leaving the Government free to carve, for right or wrong, its own path. Secondly, the manifesto (expected on or around 8 May) will doubtlessly include careful wording that ensures the Lords are bound by the Salisbury Convention and are unable to oppose legislation at Second and Third Reading. Thirdly, a 2017 election means that whatever happens to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act another isn’t likely to happen before 2022, which reduces the risk of a cliff-edge scenario and allows the Government to oversee any transitional implementation phase.
These three things – while not exhaustive examples – do demonstrate one clear theme and one clear choice for the country: a Conservative win will give the Government cart blanche to dictate policy but for that price, there will also be greater political stability and certainty.
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