Brexit talks: Today the world to hear of a predictable failure

Michel Barnier, Chief Negotiator and Head of the taskforce of the EC for the conduct of the negotiations with the United Kingdom under Article 50 of the TEU (on the right) receives David Davis, British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Date: 17/07/2017 Reference: P-034995/00-01 Location: Brussels – EC/Berlaymont. © European Union. Source: EC – Audiovisual Service / Photo: Lukasz Kobus.

Last Monday’s events in Brussels were very characteristic of how perilously the Brits take the Brexit or more precisely how unripe they are to discuss this precarious question. When the two negotiating teams sat down for the first time to produce some tangible progress, the leader of the UK side, Brexit Secretary David Davis and his two aides appeared with no papers in their hands. Another indication about the British attitude or rather stupefaction in confronting Brexit is that the BBC’s internet home page carried no news about it.

The public British news group preferred to inform its world readership about a “Baboon who caused mass power cuts in Zambia”, but didn’t spare any space in the opening page for a title about the Brexit game. Readers had to search for it in the UK page and again it was not the first story, just the third or the fourth title there. In view of all that, no wonder if a lot of people say that PM Theresa May has no concrete plan to negotiate the most important problem Britain has to confront in the last decades.

What about the citizens?

The first subjects to be discussed and hopefully but not very probably to make some progress are the citizens’ rights, the financial obligations of Britain and the borders between the Republic of Ireland (the Eyre) and Northern Ireland. After those issues are settled, London and Brussels can start discussing trade a future trade deal. The citizen’s rights refer to the position after the Brexit of the 3.5 million of mainland Europeans who live and work in Britain and the 1 million Brits who are settled across the English Channel. The financial obligations of Britain are related to the cost the country has to pay for getting the divorce. For example, thousands of British nationals who worked for the European Union and now retire will continue to get their pensions from the EU.

This cost has to be borne by the UK, along with other major EU projects that Britain has approved and will continue being financed by Brussels. The third urgent issue that has to be tackled is the border dividing the Eyre and Northern Ireland. It’s politically too risky for Ireland to be divided by real borders enacted suddenly after the Brexit in the middle of the island. Today there exists nothing like a boundary between the two parts, Northern Ireland a part of UK, and the Irish Republic in the south. Both as members of the EU have long ago forgotten there is something like a frontier line between them.

The Irish question

This unification has in practice helped Northern Ireland overcome three decades bloody civil war and to get along peacefully with the Eyre during the last ten years. After the Brexit, Northern Ireland and the Eyre must continue be interconnected as today, despite the northern part having abandoned the EU and the Eyre still being a member of the Union. Both sides Brussels and London have recognized this necessity, but the legal and the trade questions which arise are of paramount difficulty to settle.

Those key three questions then have to be tackled first, despite Downing Street’s insistence that the future trade deal should be negotiated in parallel. The European Union’s persistence prevailed, and the future trade agreement between the UK and the EU will be addressed only after the Brexit topics are more or less agreed. Obviously, EU’s determination won this first confrontation. At this point it must be mentioned that the negotiations are conducted in English, after a large number of EU countries rejected a proposal about the use of French. In any case the ‘lingua franca’ in Brussels will most probably continue to be English even after the Brexit, because it suits very many EU country members as well as the translation and the interpretation functions.

The negotiations table

Coming back to the negations table, it was very interesting to watch David Davis returning to London in haste, after meeting Michel Barnier, his EU counterpart and chief Brexit negotiator for the Union, for less than an hour. Of course, some tens of British officials stayed in Brussels and sat down with around 40 EU bureaucrats to tackle a number of subjects. The two teams are expected to work for three days, divided in a number of groups, each addressing a main issue. The largest assemblage is the one to tackle the many and troublesome legal matters, arising with the Brexit.

Barmier and Davis are to hold today, Thursday 19 July, a joint Press conference in Brussels to report about the progress made. However, the fact that until yesterday afternoon there was no news or leaks coming out from the 13rd floor of the Commission’s headquarters, the famous Berlaymont building, is not a good omen about the advancement of the talks.

Strong opposition in Britain

The opposition parties in Britain accuse May’s government of having no clear directions in the Brexit talks, because of the internal divisions haunting the Tories. The fact that Davis met Barnier for just 40 minutes, with no papers in hand was greatly mocked in Britain, and was interpreted as a strong indication of paralysis in 10 Downing Street. As things stand now, the most that can be expected today from Barnier and Davis is an approach to settle the Irish question. Also a few good words for citizen’s rights may be uttered but nothing more. Last but not least, any information today for the world on the details of the method to estimate the divorce cost for Britain is out of question.

 

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Comments

  1. Anthony Chambers says:

    Complete garbage opinion piece. Maybe put some facts in next time.

  2. An estimate based on facts

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