Britain, EU take edgy steps to unlock Brexit talks as the war of words rages

The British Prime Minister Theresa May on 9 October 2017 gave a statement to the British Parliament on leaving the European Union . (UK government work).

Last Monday the British Prime Minister Theresa May told the lower house of the Parliament, The Commons a no-deal Brexit is not ruled out. She clarified also that the government ‘is planning for all eventualities”, including the possibility the UK sails after Brexit as an “independent trading nation”. Then she concluded “The ball is in their court, but I am optimistic we will receive a positive response”. The EU’s reply was instant and tough. The European Commission head spokesman Margaritis Schinas reacted directly and strongly ,”the ball is entirely in UK court for the rest to happen”, he said.

If these are not utterly hostile exchanges between London and Brussels, then words have lost their meaning. However, apart the heavy artillery, both sides had aired some positive tracers. May, from the same Parliamentary tribune, when asked by a Eurosceptic Conservative MP, offered adequate clarifications about the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. The question was what happens during the interim period of around two years, she proposed last week from Florence, Italy. May said “achieving no disruption (of trade) in that period may mean we will start off with the ECJ still governing the rules we’re part of for that period”.

Positive signs

She even went further and stated the UK will be obliged to apply all the new legislation the European Union may produce during that time. This is a major step forward and a friendly tracer by 10 Downing Street, solemnly accepting in Parliament the jurisdiction of the ECJ on the British soil after the exit. Until now this issue was a major obstacle in the Brexit negotiations.

By the way, the fifth round of talks in Brussels was in principle expected to start last Monday. No breakthroughs were expected from it. Actually it started badly, with the EU team accusing the Brits of not showing up in time at the ‘rendezvous’’. The chief Brit negotiator David Davis didn’t travel to Brussels for the customary Monday Press Conference with his EU counterpart Michel Barnier at the Commission building, ‘Le Berlaymont’. Davis flew to Brussels the next day Tuesday and summoned Barnier at the seat of the British mission in Brussels for…lunch. No statements were made afterwards.

Judging jurisdictions

Coming back to the jurisdiction of the ECJ and the application of the EU legislation in Britain after March 2019, it’s an anathema for the hard Brexiteers. Their atypical leader, the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in a 4,000 words article, has termed the authority of the ECJ in Britain as a ‘red line’ for the likes of him. Boris has lately promoted himself as an aspiring successor of May, if his party chooses to take the hard no-deal way out from the EU. During the annual conference their Party held in Manchester last week, he more or less was accepting congratulations, as the next Prime Minister of the UK, God forbid. In view of all that, May’s statement about the jurisdiction of the ECJ was a brave step and an important concession the EU must greatly value.

A vague promise

However, from the Brussels side, the positive pointer is much less visible to the untrained eye, compared to the clear acceptance of the ECJ jurisdiction. It was all about rumors. According to a Reuters report, some anonymous “EU negotiators say that while they see no big breakthrough at the summit next week, they may offer May a hand by offering hope of a shift at the next scheduled meeting in mid-December”. Trying to decipher this ‘opening’, the sure thing remains that the 19 October EU Summit of the 27 European leaders will do nothing to ease the pressures on May.

On the contrary, Schinas asserted the Brexit negotiations have a set agenda. He said “There is a clear sequencing to these talks and there has been so far no solution found on step one, which is the divorce proceedings”. Even before the Brexit negotiations talks started late in August, Brussels had insisted about the agenda; first the terms and the cost of the divorce and then the future trade relations. London demands the two subjects to be negotiated in parallel.

They may strengthen May

On this issue, the European Sting wrote on October 2 “Obviously, London counts on tough bargaining for a future more or less full access to the EU internal market, against a least costly Brexit for Britain in money and political terms”. As things stand now, a major help to May from the 27 EU leaders can only be an opening, smaller or wider about a parallel negotiation of the exit terms and future relations. If the 27 EU leaders offer the slightest hint on that, May’s position will be greatly strengthened in the British political chaotic universe. She will possibly at last be able to shush Boris Johnson. This is definitely not to happen though at the 19 October Summit but rather in the next one of mid December.

In this way Brussels and more precisely Berlin and Paris have a strong leverage on British politics. A positive sign from the Commission about easing the Brexit terms may stabilize the unbelievable shakiness of the British political scenery. By the same token, Brussels can also calm down the financial markets. The growing uncertainties of the past weeks and months about the future position of Britain in the world have perplexed investors and destabilized the money exchanges.

In conclusion, the possibility of a collapse in the Brexit talks and a disorderly UK exit from the EU still haunt the political and financial cosmos. Nevertheless, this week is producing some evidence that both sides will do their best to avoid that…but will it be enough?

 

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