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.


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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

‘Land grab’ on hurricane-hit Barbuda could leave the island almost entirely owned by banks

File 20180522 51130 gt391p.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Bennylin / wiki, CC BY-SA

Tomaso Ferrando, University of Bristol

Hurricane Irma passed directly over the tiny Caribbean island of Barbuda in September 2017. Irma was the fifth strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic, and it reached peak intensity just before landfall, when 180mph winds damaged almost every structure on the island, flattening many of them. 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

Reforming modern employment: have the Conservatives done enough to become the party of workers?

Credit: Pixabay/Public Domain.


Have the Conservatives fulfilled Theresa May’s pledge to become Britain’s workers’ party? Not as it currently stands, writes Tonia Novitz. She explains what the actual plight of British workers is, what steps have been taken by May’s government to address it, and why they fall short of what is needed.

Can the Tories can become ‘the workers’ party’? This was the latest ambition of Robert Halfon, a Conservative MP. Observing the decline in support from women and those under 30, he sought a rebranding to revitalize Conservative popularity. His pitch for a ‘workers’ charter’ might be equated with what is currently envisaged in the Taylor Review initiated by the government, but if so such a charter would be hollow and inadequate. Much more would need to be done. Continue reading

‘People like us just shouldn’t fall in love’: how British immigration rules are separating fathers from their families

Image: Shutterstock.com

Melanie Griffiths, University of Bristol and Candice Morgan, University of Bristol

Couples are being subjected to painful separations, uncertainty about their future and financial hardship by the UK’s strict immigration rules, according to our new research.

Between 2014 and 2017, we followed nearly 30 couples where the man had irregular or insecure immigration status in the UK but his partner or children were citizens of Britain or the European Economic Area (EEA). 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

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Phil Syrpis, Professor of EU Law, University of Bristol Law School

Brexit will present the UK with a vast number of political, economic, social, and legal challenges and opportunities in the months and years ahead. In this short piece, Professor Phil Syrpis reflects on the steps taken within the University of Bristol to begin to tackle the challenges and exploit the opportunities.

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The Turkish referendum thwarts civil rights struggles – in Europe and in Turkey

Dr Bahar Baser, Research Fellow at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations (Coventry University) and Associate Fellow at the Security Institute for Governance and Leadership in Africa (SIGLA) at Stellenbosch University.

Dr Aleksandra Lewicki, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Free University of Berlin and a member of the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at the University of Bristol.

On Sunday, 16th April 2017, Turkish citizens are to decide in a referendum whether Turkey’s parliamentary republic will be turned into a presidential system. Representatives of the Turkish Government have been campaigning in favour of this constitutional reform in Turkey, and have also organized rallies in European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands. Although absentee voter turnout lingered at less than 10% in previous elections, the large diaspora vote can still have a detrimental impact on the results.

Some of the rallies in Europe were cancelled due to security concerns. President Erdoğan immediately associated these reactions with mounting Islamophobia across Europe. He accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of ‘Nazi methods’ and suggested that ‘the spirit of fascism’ was ‘running rampant in Europe’. His ‘Yes’ Campaign appeals to anti-European sentiments and nourishes the “Sevres Syndrome”, whereby Erdoğan and the AKP present themselves as the alternative to those who threaten Turkey’s citizens’ interests and rights.

Chancellor Merkel, who relies on a deal with Turkey to keep the number of refugees arriving in Germany at its current low, rebuked such crude comparisons rather mildly as ‘unjustifiable’ and condemned the instrumentation of the victims of the National Socialist Regime. As national elections are coming up in September 2017, German political parties are worried of losing their voters to the right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which successfully mobilized Islamophobic sentiments in 2016. Therefore, although anti-Muslim attitudes are indeed gaining in influence in Germany, initiatives to address Islamophobia hardly feature on the current Government’s political agenda or the election campaign. Continue reading