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.
As the EU and UK are gearing up for Article 50 negotiations, there has been a noticeable uptick in verbal skirmishes between the two parties. The latest comments that raised eyebrows in the UK were made by Angela Merkel in her statement on the upcoming EU27 Council summit; “the UK should not have illusions on the country’s future relationship with the EU. That will merely squander time.” The statement reflects the widely held belief in Berlin and Brussels that Brexit was an economically irrational decision made on false populist promises. This perspective maintains that Brexit will damage the UK, the EU and the relationship between the two in a myriad of ways, and the next years must therefore focus on damage limitation. In short, any belief that Brexit will provide the UK with a better deal with the EU is an ‘illusion’.
Merkel emphasised that the UK will be a third country once Brexit is realised. A free trade agreement that allows broad access to the Single Market with little shared sovereignty will not be on the cards. In her words, there will have to be a “balanced relationship between rights and responsibilities”. Theresa May has on multiple occasions shown that she is aware of the trade-off, but there is a frustration when politicians declare that “no deal will be better than a bad deal”, or that Brexit is an opportunity to achieve a fundamentally better relationship with the EU. Europeans follow UK politics closely these days, and politicians will need to be aware that statements made in the heat of the election campaign will resonate on the continent.
A view often heard in the UK is that one has to adopt a demanding starting position to have the ability to make the right compromises, but the UK will have to be careful not to reduce goodwill by making demands that are seen as unreasonable. Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech struck many of the right notes in this respect, aside from the ill-perceived comments on defence and security. The UK has built itself a reputation for being a realistic, pragmatic and constructive partner in Europe but will still need to prove that it will exhibit these same qualities when it sits on the other side of the negotiation table.
Senior Account Executive
Parliament prorogued yesterday ahead of dissolution on Wednesday; the moment that signifies we will then be 25 working days out from the election and when incumbent MPs lose their formal status as Members of Parliament. There is no denying that the major issue of the campaign is Brexit and many people are hoping the Tory manifesto (expected wc 8 May) will add a little more colour on issues such as the ECHR and the Great Repeal Bill. We can expect the latter to be published soon after the “dressed down” State Opening of Parliament on 19 June.
Meanwhile, those clever folks at Electoral Calculus have been crunching the numbers and have determined that the Tories are “sucking in votes like a right wing Dyson on steroids” from those who supported Leave last June. Perhaps not surprising; however, they’ve also determined – contrary to logic – that Remain voters are moving in the same direction. Electoral Calculus’s analysis has also concluded that the Tories could achieve a majority in excess of 190 (11 more than Blair achieved in 1997), cutting Labour down to around 150 seats, reducing the number of Lib Dems by a third, and crucifying UKIP. As ever, all the usual health warnings about polling apply.
Despite not knowing what the political world will actually look like after 8 June, politicos are already playing ‘reshuffle speculation’. This academic exercise is enormous fun but when it comes to the major Brexiteers don’t worry too much. Davis and Fox are extremely unlikely to go anywhere. Boris’ future is less certain, with this week witnessing a mixture of pro and anti-briefings. A good performance during the campaign will protect his position as Foreign Secretary but a huge majority will give Theresa May the flexibility to jettison him. In addition to some churn at ministerial level, there will almost certainly be some big cabinet surprises unless fortunes are reversed.
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