The EU wants to avoid a ‘no deal’ Brexit – here’s how it could achieve that

Tusk and Juncker: nearly there. Image: Oliver Hoslet / EPA

Nieves Perez-Solorzano, University of Bristol

Before the Brexit negotiations had officially started, back in June 2017, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told journalists what he needed on the other side of the table:

A head of the British delegation that is stable, accountable and that has a mandate.

Less than a year before Brexit day, scheduled for March 29, 2019, Barnier may feel he is still waiting for those conditions to be met, especially as the EU now finds itself with a new head of the British delegation, Dominic Raab. Raab’s negotiating position for the next round of talks, starting on July 16, results from Theresa May’s attempt to hold her cabinet and the Conservative Party together at a meeting at Chequers. In doing so, the prime minister provoked yet another domestic Brexit crisis with a spate of resignations, including those of the Brexit secretary, David Davis – who Raab has replaced – and foreign secretary, Boris Johnson.

In the face of such uncertainty, the reaction of the 27 remaining EU member states (EU27) to the UK’s new vision for a future UK-EU relationship has been cautious but unenthusiastic. European leaders from Barnier to German chancellor Angela Merkel, and from Irish premier Leo Varadkar to Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor whose country holds the EU Council presidency, have spoken with one voice. They have all welcomed the British government’s attempt to define a negotiating position on the framework for the future UK-EU relationship, but have asked for further detail.

Read more:
The Brexit plan that could bring down the British government – explained#

As one EU diplomat recently put it: “We will try to receive it as well as possible but from what we understand it is still a carve-out of the single market.” The diplomat added that May’s proposed single market for goods is, “A lot of fudge with a cherry on top.”

The final stretch

European leaders are also concerned that time is running out for a deal to be finalised – even as Barnier indicated: “After 12 months of negotiations we have agreed on 80% of the negotiations.” This may be read as a reminder to the UK government not to divert too much from what has been achieved at the negotiating table so far – and an expectation of more clarity, soon.

Some have seen a recent tweet from Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, in the wake of the UK cabinet resignations, as an opportunity to reverse Brexit altogether.

The EU’s reaction to the detail of the British position will be shaped by the challenge of having to negotiate with an increasingly unstable British government while trying to avoid a “no deal” scenario. Even though European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has confirmed that the EU has started preparations for this eventuality, the EU is committed to an orderly British withdrawal that avoids uncertainty and protects citizens and businesses.

On a frenetic day at Westminster, May found time to meet Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, at Downing Street. Rick Findler/EPA

And while the EU27 will not do this at any price, it’s in this commitment to a final Withdrawal Agreement that the member states may find the political will to work constructively with the UK’s current vision for a future relationship even if there are fears that May’s government could fall at any point.

Extend the Article 50 deadline

So how might the EU do this? First, it can agree to extend the Brexit negotiation process. This might not have been a preferred outcome at the start of the negotiations, but if extending the negotiation period ensures that there is an agreed solution that avoids a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and thus UK agreement on the Withdrawal Agreement, the EU27 are perfectly justified in drawing on this flexibility tool. The terms of Article 50, which govern the procedural requirements for a member state to be able to exercise its right to leave the EU, allow for the deadline to be extended beyond the initial two years.

Read more:
What is Article 50 – the law that governs exiting the EU – and how does it work?

The UK and all EU member states must agree to the extension. Given its internal crisis, the UK government might welcome a softening of the ticking Brexit clock pressure. Even though Brexit day is enshrined in the EU Withdrawal Act, ministers can change it if necessary. May confirmed that this would only happen in “exceptional circumstances” and “for the shortest possible time”.

For their part, the EU27 need to unanimously agree to the extension. The experience of other highly politicised negotiations such as the accession of new countries, has shown that the member states are able to leave aside their egoistic national preferences to pursue the collective EU interest – namely avoiding a disorderly Brexit.

Softening red lines

Second, the EU may decide to soften some of its red lines for the purpose of finalising a Withdrawal Agreement. Barnier hinted at this in a speech on July 6, stating “I am ready to adapt our offer should the UK red lines change”, but making it clear that the integrity of the single market had to be protected.

If the forthcoming white paper can offer sufficient detail and some realistic substance for the EU negotiating team to work with, and if the UK and EU can find sufficient common ground on such detail, this might afford some leeway to get the negotiations over the hurdle of completing a Withdrawal Agreement. As Franklin Dehousse, a former judge at the EU General Court has put it:

There are no serious legal reasons to exclude a Brexit deal with single market on goods and partial free movement of people (but with the proper institutional guarantees). Obstacles are political, and if people want to create them, they should justify them as such.

The Brexit challenge is no longer an existential threat to the EU but rather to the Conservative government. However, the future of the EU depends on the success of the Brexit process and this requires a degree of ingenuity and political will that allows it to consider Brexit scenarios that protect the integrity of the bloc and its member states, without marginalising the UK.

Nieves Perez-Solorzano, Senior Lecturer in European Politics, University of Bristol

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Furthering Women’s Democracy in a Brexit Environment

Image credit: Jeff Djevdet

“We need a new gender contract for the UK.” Thus surmised Professor Yvonne Galligan Queens University Belfast at the end of the WIDEN symposium that took place in the University of Bristol in May 2018. With the 4 UK nations represented, the 3 sponsoring universities of Bristol, West of England and Bath, and 16 speakers from women’s and anti-discrimination organisations, universities, and trade unions, this was a day of knowledge sharing from practitioner, activist and interdisciplinary research perspectives. Continue reading

Brexit negotiations phase two – here’s what happens next

Image: EPA/ Eric Vidal

Nieves Perez-Solorzano, University of Bristol 

The European Commission will advise the leaders of the 27 EU member states meeting at the European Council on December 15 to proceed with the second phase of Brexit negotiations. It judges there has been sufficient progress on the three key issues that it insisted should constitute the first phase of talks. Those are citizens’ rights, the Irish border and the UK’s financial settlement.

That doesn’t mean that a final solution has been achieved on any of these issues – just that there is enough common understanding between the EU27 and the British government to continue to the next phase of negotiations.

So, what next? Expect more of the same: time pressures, a well-choreographed approach from the EU leadership and a weak British government gradually converging with the European position. Continue reading

Brexit and Public Procurement Reform: What Next?

Eight months ago, by giving formal notice under Article 50 TEU, the United Kingdom formally started the process of leaving the European Union (so called Brexit). This has immersed the UK Government and EU Institutions in a two-year period of negotiations to disentangle the UK from EU law by the end of March 2019, and to devise a new legal framework for UK-EU trade afterwards. The UK will thereafter be adjusting its trading arrangements with the rest of the world, and the Government has recently stated its intention for the UK to remain a member of the World Trade Organisation Government Procurement Agreement (GPA). Continue reading

To break Brexit talks deadlock the EU must agree ‘sufficient progress’ has been made – what does that mean?

The next stage of the Brexit negotiations hinges upon two words: “sufficient progress”.

European Council meeting, 20-21 October 2016. European Council Flickr  CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

At the European Council meeting on October 19 and 20, leaders of the EU27 will review developments in the Brexit negotiations and establish whether they believe enough progress has been made in the first phase of talks to move on to the second phase. That would allow discussions to begin on the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

The term “sufficient progress” is embedded within the European Council’s negotiating guidelines for Article 50 – the part of the EU treaty which governs how a state leaves the bloc. It is born out of the EU’s phased approach to the Brexit negotiations, which was later confirmed by both the EU and the UK in June 2017.

The ongoing first phase of Brexit negotiations is focused on finding solutions to three key issues: the status of UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the settlement of the UK’s financial obligations.

Agreeing whether there has been been sufficient progress means solving these three key problems. What the agreed solution ought to look like, however, is more elusive. Continue reading

North-South Free trade Agreements – Trade, Policy and Europe

At the University of Bristol Law School, we are investigating the dynamics of negotiation, implementation, and enforcement of North-South trade agreements.

The following is a record of the findings of the panels speaking at an event held on 4 October 2017. The first panel (Clair Gammage, Maria Garcia and Tonia Novitz, chaired by Phil Syrpis) examined the external policies of the European Union (EU) particularly in the context of regionalism and free trade agreements (FTAs). The second panel (Emily Jones, Sophie Hardefeldt and Gabriel Siles-Brügge, chaired by Tonia Novitz) examined how the UK could – in the event of Brexit – depart from or improve on the practices of the EU.

EU policy relating to North-South trade agreements

Clair Gammage (Bristol) discussed the transformation of the EU’s relationship with its trade partners across the African, Caribbean, and Pacific regions and was able to point to the surprising small victories that low-income countries in the Global South had achieved when negotiating trade agreements with the EU. Continue reading

Repeal bill paves the way for a removal of rights after Brexit

File 20170904 10777 ffrmia

Phil Syrpis, University of Bristol

One of the central planks of the British government’s legislative agenda ahead of Brexit, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, will begin its second reading on September 7 as MPs return from their summer recess.

The government’s aim for the bill, originally known as the “Great Repeal Bill”, was to “convert the body of existing EU law into domestic law”, so that parliament can decide what to keep or repeal once the UK leaves the bloc. This was to ensure that, “as a general rule, the same rules and laws will apply after we leave the EU as they did before”, so as to reassure citizens and businesses.

But the bill falls far short of providing citizens and businesses with clarity and certainty. Instead, it paves the way for the modification and removal of rights that currently exist under EU law. Continue reading

Scoping the impact of Brexit for NHS procurement

Dr Albert Sanchez Graells, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol Law School

Dr Albert Sanchez Graells, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol Law School

NHS England spends over £20 billion every year on goods and services. A significant part of the remainder of NHS non-salary budget involves the commissioning of health care services. This expenditure and commissioning is controlled by NHS procurement rules, which in part derive from EU law. NHS procurement rules are regularly criticised for imposing excessive red tape and compliance costs, and calls for NHS procurement reform to free it from such strictures are common.

In this context, Brexit could be seen as an opportunity to overhaul NHS procurement and to move away from the perceived excesses of EU law. This post concentrates on two issues. First, does EU law prevent significant reforms of NHS procurement and, if so, can Brexit suppress such constraints? Second, is the way Brexit is unfolding conducive to an improvement of NHS procurement? Continue reading

It’s in the EU’s interest to press ahead with Brexit negotiations

The extraordinary outcome of the UK general election and the uncertain domestic political climate has led to calls by Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon for a “short pause” in the Brexit process. Despite this, Brexit negotiations are now scheduled to begin on June 19.

Nieves Perez-Solorzano Borragan, Senior Lecturer in European Politics, University of Bristol

There are no advantages for the EU in delaying or pausing Brexit negotiations. It is ready and waiting to negotiate an orderly British withdrawal

Limiting the uncertainty caused by Brexit has been at the core of the EU’s narrative since the Brexit referendum. Delaying the negotiation process only prolongs uncertainty about the direction of Brexit. Meanwhile, the EU is eager to address other challenges such as the refugee crisis or an increasingly unpredictable international environment. A pause would also increase legal uncertainty: there is no agreement on whether it is legally possible to stop the Article 50 process, so the Court of Justice of the EU might have to intervene.

The UK Negotiating Position

The UK’s negotiating position outlined before the election appears under pressure as the prime minister, Theresa May, no longer has a parliamentary majority to sustain it. And as the negotiations start, the Government has not been forthcoming in making public its Brexit priorities after the general election, so the assumption is that they have not changed. Continue reading

The 2017 General Election: first thoughts

Dr Hugh Pemberton
Reader in Contemporary British History, University of Bristol, Department of History

Writing on the morning after the election, the fog of war has lifted to reveal a battlefield on which all sides are claiming victory but nobody has actually won.

Others more prescient than me wondered before the election if it did not have a whiff of another ‘snap election’ – 1974.

It turns out they were right.

Then Ted Heath went to the country to secure a strong mandate to deal with an issue of national importance (in those days, union power) but found that he ended up with fewer not more MPs.

Ted held on in No.10 for a while but eventually Labour formed a minority government.

But the arithmetic and the politics this time are not those of 1974.

Screenshot of UK General Election 207 results, taken from BBC News website.

Continue reading