The Triggering of Article 50: A European Perspective

Over the past few weeks and months, the preparations being made by the UK to exit the European Union have dominated the countries news and media outlets. It has bred an environment where high profile court cases, large scale protests, parliamentary headaches and a seemingly divided nation have become the norm.

The debate will take a new dimension on Wednesday when Prime Minister Theresa May officially triggers Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon and starts the Brexit process.

She will send a letter to the EU in Brussels informing them of the UK’s desire to leave the European Union as defined in the treaty signed by Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2007 and begin a round of intense diplomatic negotiations.

Article 50

Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon

The Treaty itself provides for a two-year timetable for the perspective member state to leave the EU but many believe that negotiating Britain’s exit will take a lot longer than two years.

While much of the focus of the debate has been on what the UK will do, the European Union has been preparing its negotiating position and determining what is required to ensure an exit which keeps both parties happy.

The EU’s Three Musketeers

Key to the success of the negotiations will be the EU’s negotiating team, made up of the following individuals, representing the different parts of the EU legislative body:

VerhofstadtGuy Verhofstadt, European Parliament chief negotiator on Brexit

An ardent federalist whose appointment made headlines around the EU, Mr Verhofstadt will lead the negotiations on behalf of the European Parliament and can be a very charismatic and good orator.

However, he’s not the most popular figure amongst the Brexit camp, with UKIP’s former leader MEP Nigel Farage once claiming that “Guy Verhofstadt hates everything we stand for, which should mean a much shorter renegotiation.”

The European Parliament are keen to set up a special taskforce on Brexit, which Mr Verhofstadt is hotly tipped to lead and with his reputation for being a strong personality both politically and personally, the EU are making an aggressive statement by appointing him.

BarnierMichel Barnier, European Commission Chief Brexit Negotiator

Former French Minister and Commission Vice-President Michel Barnier will lead the European Commission’s Taskforce for the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the UK.

Mr Barnier previously served as Single Market Commissioner (2010-2014), during which time he brought forward several legislative initiatives for the financial sector, such as the establishment of the new banking union as a response to the financial crisis.

A man of significant political connections in both the EU itself and the remaining 27 member states, Mr Barnier was appointed by European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker and will be under intense pressure to keep a tough line in the negotiations.

SeeuwsDidier Seeuws, European Council Special Taskforce Chief Negotiator

The final member of the EU’s three musketeers, Mr Seeuws is a diplomat who served as Chief of Staff to former European Council President Herman Van Rompuy (2011-2014) and his appointment to this post has been seen by many as a power grab by the European Council as it looks to take a leading role in the Brexit negotiations.

Mr Seeuws serves as the Director of Transport, Telecommunications and Energy in the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union.

Each of these individuals works for a specific arm of the EU machine, each with its own agenda and objectives in the negotiating process. However, there will be significant pressure from both inside the EU and out to maintain a collective voice during negotiations, as this will ensure an efficient and timely Brexit.

Turning 27 into 1

Differing voices, aims and objectives across the 27 remaining states make it harder to maintain this collective voice especially as the UK has many political and economic allies amongst the less influential member states.

Additionally, general elections in many of the member states occurring over the two-year period will make it difficult to maintain a consistent consensus with potentially adversarial politicians coming into the fray.

While the EU will be keen to keep these voices together, the UK will undoubtedly improve its chances of getting what it wants by keeping the voices separate and thereby increasing the political pressure on the EU to acquiesce to their demands.

ires

Public relations vs popular perception

The Brexit vote was a watershed moment in European politics, as it is the first instance of a member state choosing to leave the perceptually safe and stable EU.

Let’s think about that for a moment from a public relations standpoint: an organisation which is itself designed to engender cooperation and union is now being left by one of its most important member states.

PR wise it’s a disaster, because of two things: the British voice still carries a lot of weight in Europe and more importantly the EU has failed in its objective of keeping a member state happy.

Press coverage of the negotiations over the next two years will vary from positive to negative and a perceptually tough or overly harsh negotiation process can make the EU seem like a petulant parent disciplining its wayward child.

Negativity in negotiation will be seen by European member states and will colour public opinion of the EU in those countries still within the Union.

Often in PR, it’s a case of turning a negative into a positive and the same is true in this case. The EU will be keen to turn the adversity of Brexit into an opportunity to bring the remaining nations of the EU together.

Most likely there will be a period of sustained EU glad-handing and summits designed to keep member states onside and ensure that the British exit remains an isolated incident. Brexit may force the EU to be more accommodating to the remaining 27 states.

Separation Anxiety?

Britain is the fifth largest economy in the world and despite many attempts by the press to belittle it, still a major player in global politics.  A British exit from the European Union is a big event in global politics and casts a significant shadow on the EU.

World powers not in the EU such as China, the U.S and Russia could see the failure of the EU to retain Britain as a signal that it is no longer an effective political entity and can be ignored.

The current American administration seems to prove this point, with President Trump seemingly keener to engage with Theresa May than with Angela Merkel and her European compatriots.

Retaining relevance and importance in global affairs will need to be a by-product of the negotiating position adopted by the EU in its dealings with Britain as it leaves.

Creating a new identity for the EU post Brexit will be key to this, with the reinvention of the EU putting the failure of the EU to retain Britain behind it.

First to leave: Not the last to go?

Many European nations, particularly in the southern European states which have been so severely affected by the migrant crisis and the economic crash may be keen to follow Britain’s lead.

The rising tide of populism that has pervaded Europe over the last year has placed many so called populist politicians in positions of power where they can legislate for a similar sort of exit for their own country.

While these exits may be popular in their respective countries they are catastrophic for the EU.

Public opinion has never been more volatile towards the European Union and more exits would likely signal the end of the European Union as an effective political entity.

eight_col_01-Header-Exit-Door

Financial Market Turmoil?

As we saw in the immediate aftermath of the UK’s referendum result, political developments can have a significant effect on the course and stability of financial markets.

Even though UK financial markets have gained ground in the months following the Brexit vote, the financial damage was evident and the UK has yet to regain the strong financial position that it had prior to the voting result.

An argument can be made that the Euro is more volatile than the Pound and could suffer significant economic and financial damage as a result of a protracted negotiation with Britain.

With the damage from the financial crisis still fresh in the minds of many European politicians, the EU will be keen to ensure that no significant damage is done to European economies by Brexit.

This mitigation could colour the EU’s negotiating position towards a non-punitive and speedy Brexit.

There has been significant speculation that the EU will exert a punishment levy on Britain, with figures bandied about in the press of anything up to 50 billion pounds.

With access to the single market being a key concern for Britain, there is scope in the negotiations for specialised access to be granted after financial reparations are made.

However, there is a need to keep British pounds flowing into the EU, a need which could reduce this potential figure to ensure that British money still flows into the EU and vice versa. Any punitive financial measure taken by the EU against Britain could jeopardise this precarious economic balance.

0EC931AE00000578-0-image-a-1_1452868627739

Seeds of the future

Britain will leave the EU, whether it be in two years or ten- that much is not in doubt. What the EU does in its dealings with the newly independent Britain will sow the seeds of any future relationship between the two entities.

A strong relationship between the two, which seems the most likely will greatly benefit both and if at some point in the future Britain chooses to reapply to join the EU then they will probably be welcomed back with open arms.

A punitive and unfriendly exit for Britain could result in a soured relationship between the two, leading to unrest and enmity between the two entities. In this case a country scorned could be extremely detrimental to the EU’s political, economic and social success as an entity.

Brexit could be the start of the end of the EU or it could signal the beginning of a reformed and reorganised EU, which was the overall objective of the Cameron administration when it sought to renegotiate Britain’s role within the Union itself.  Reform of this sort could ensure longer term stability and prevent more countries going through the exit door.

 Article 50 6

Theresa May: Government to publish white paper on Brexit

Prime Minister Theresa May has today confirmed that the government will set out its Brexit plans in a formal government policy document- known as a white paper.

white-paper-1

Mrs May said she recognised an “appetite” for a white paper on her “bold” negotiations on exiting the EU

The move comes after pressure from the Labour party for greater clarity on the governments Brexit plans, initially set out in the Prime Ministers speech a week ago and after speculation that many in her own party (including some ex-ministers) wanted a white paper.

“It was a bit of a surprise but I’m incredibly delighted,” said Ben Howlett, the Conservative MP for Bath who had been calling for a white paper. “We haven’t discussed what amendments might or might not be put in. We’d been focusing our attention on getting a white paper.”

Speaking at Prime Ministers questions earlier today Mrs May said “I recognise that there is an appetite in this House to see that plan set out in a White Paper. I can confirm to the House that our plan will be set out in a White Paper published in this House.”

What is a White Paper?

white-paper-2Simply put, a white paper is a document or guide that informs readers concisely about a complex issue and presents the issuing body’s position on the matter. It is meant to help readers understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision. In this case the government is setting out it’s Brexit position in a way that is clear, concise and can be debated openly in Parliament.

Mrs May was quick to confirm that the white paper would be a completely separate issue to the article 50 debate, an action which will give the government much needed space to focus its efforts on the upcoming parliamentary debate on triggering article 50.

The Prime Minister said that the white paper would be “a bold vision for Britain for the future”.

Labour MP’s have called upon the government to have the white paper document ready in time for the parliamentary debates on the triggering of Article 50, scheduled in Parliament over the next few weeks in the run up to March 31st.

White Paper 3.jpg

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, speaking at Prime Ministers Questions earlier today

A Labour spokesman said: “We now want to see the timing and it is clear the white paper needs to come to parliament in time for the debate … MPs have a right to be able to see what the government’s plan of action is. The speech is not adequate. It set out a wish-list of options.

“As we’ve said many times, Labour respects the decision of the British people to leave the EU and therefore will not frustrate the will of the British people. But respecting the will of the British people is very different from respecting the will of the British government. We need to see the plan and make sure the process is held to account in parliament at every stage.”

 

Breaking Whispers- Theresa May gives speech confirming the Governments position on Brexit

Prime Minister Theresa May has today outlined her strategy for Britain’s exit from the European Union in a speech at Lancaster House in London.

may-1

Prime Minister Theresa May spoke about the desire to create “A Global Britain”

The Conservative leader made clear that she would look to pursue a ‘Hard Brexit’ from the EU and that there would be no compromising on things like immigration, access to markets and parliamentary sovereignty.

Mrs May said “We do not seek to adopt a model already enjoyed by other countries. We do not seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave. The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. My job is to get the right deal for Britain as we do.”

In a conciliatory but firm statement, the Prime Minister confirmed the following:

Britain will not remain a part of the single market

With speculation that her government would not look to stay in the single market, Mrs May confirmed that Britain would not be staying  within the single market but would instead look to sign a new free trade agreement with the EU.

This proposed agreement would allow the UK to have access to the single market but without membership of it. Membership of the single market required accepting free movement of goods,services, capital and people. In her words retaining membership of the single market “would in all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU.”

Britain will remain a member of the customs union

Trade formed a large part of the Prime Ministers speech and she confirmed that Britain would look to remain a member of the customs union with Europe. However she was keen to specify that Britain would not look to be subject to the common external tariff (a tax on all goods coming into the union from outside it).

The prime minister would not be drawn on whether the custom’s union’s policy of no member country negotiating trade deals on its own would be something that Britain would look to avoid.

The phased approach to Brexit

The Prime Minister underlined the requirement of any exit strategy from the EU to be phased in rather than having what she called a “cliff edge” point, which could cause irreparable harm to the UK economy.

Phasing arrangements would allow the economy, industry and public institutions to make necessary preparations for life outside of the European Union.

Mrs May confirmed that she would look to conclude negotiations with the EU within the two year timescale provided for by Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon.

Controlling Immigration to the UK

The control of Britain’s borders was a crucial part of the decision to leave the EU and the Prime Minister reiterated her desire to enforce this policy.

However, she affirmed that Britain wants to continue to attract “the brightest and best to study and work in Britain”.

Referring to her time as Home secretary, Mrs May said “You cannot control immigration overall when there is free movement from Europe … Brexit must mean control of number of people coming to Britain from Europe.”

The UK’s immigration system post-Brexit has not been announced and the Prime Minister made no reference on how policing immigration from the EU would occur.

An end to the legal authority of the European Court of Justice in the UK

The authority of the European Court of Justice in the UK legal system will cease after the Brexit negotiations are concluded, the Prime Minister has confirmed.

Leaving the EU meant leaving all the institutions of it, with the Prime Minister arguing “We will not have truly left the European Union if we are not in control of our own laws.”

It is widely expected that the Supreme Court will assume all the legal responsibilities currently being undertaken by the European Court of Justice.

The final Brexit deal will be put before both Houses of Parliament

In a move that will appease both remainers and opposition parties alike, Mrs May has confirmed that any final Brexit deal committed to by the UK will be the subject of a vote in both the Houses of Parliament and the Lords.

This move will allow MP’s and Lords to block the plans, but is a vital move in confirming the sovereignty of Parliament in the Brexit negotiations after the recent Supreme Court case involving campaigners led by Gina Miller.

The timeframe for the Brexit deal to be put to the House will be confirmed shortly.

Cautious friends with Europe?

Mrs May stated that “I must be clear. Britain wants to remain a good friend and neightbour to Europe but I know there are some voices calling for a punitive deal. That would be a case of calamitous self-harm for the countries of Europe and it would not be the act of a friend. Britain could not, indeed we would not, accept such an approach.”

The Prime Minister said she believed that this would not occur but said that “no deal would be better than a bad deal”, warning that Britain would be free to set competitive tax rates, echoing earlier comments by the Chancellor Phillip Hammond.

However she also called for a close relationship with Europe after Brexit- ““Our vote to leave the European Union was no rejection of the values we share. The decision to leave the EU represents no desire to become more distant to you, our friends and neighbours. We will continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends,” she said.

Cards on the Table?

By confirming the sort of deal that Britain wants from Brexit, the Prime Minister has placed Britain in the metaphorical driving seat of the Brexit negotiations. Much will be made of what the Prime Minister did not say and the lack of specificity on certain points but this is an important step on the road to Britain’s exit from the EU in two years time.

View From the Green Seats: Theresa May’s Brexit plan finally revealed?

After months of speculation, press articles and speeches Theresa May has confirmed that she will reveal the Governments plans for Brexit in a speech to take place on Tuesday at Lancaster House, London.

The audience will comprise top level diplomats, ambassadors, high commissioners and the governments EU negotiating team. It is a move that will appease hard line Euroskeptics and remainers alike.

Widespread reports suggest that the government will pursue a so called ‘Hard’ Brexit, completely severing all ties with the European Union, but what does that mean?

Free Movement

The crux of the referendum campaign, immigration and free movement will form a cornerstone of the governments strategy and its negotiating position. While looking to impose restrictions on who can enter the UK, the government has to counterbalance the needs of those UK nationals abroad and to ensure that their rights are protected.

It is a position that will require a great deal of negotiation and compromise on both sides.

Restrictions imposed must allow for the necessary flow of foreign workers which are an increasingly vital part of the UK economy and by virtue essential to economic success.

You can expect a tough line from the government on this key issue, with the government likely to outline a changed immigration system which will take effect once the Article 50 negotiations are concluded.

Access to the Single Market

A market of over 500 million consumers, the European Union forms the largest economic market for the UK and our largest trading partner. However, it is a market that comes with certain constraints in both access and usage.

Constraint number one: All workers within the European Economic Area must be allowed to move freely between member states, with no one state imposing restrictions on movement of any kind.

Obviously this falls under the domain of the aforementioned immigration issue and with the government pursuing a harder line on immigration, this will form the crux of the decision on whether the UK chooses to remain within the single market. It is possible that a deal could be reached which would allow the UK to impose legitimate restrictions on immigration whilst retaining access to the single market, but such a deal does not fall into the Hard Brexit line that the government is keen to pursue.

Constraint number two: No member state may enter into trade agreement or compact independently of the European Union. All trade deals must be made with the agreement of all 28 states.

Despite the obvious advantages of allowing individual member states to sign trade agreements with other nations in the world, the EU has pursued a unified trade policy and as a consequence has been slowed down in its deal making process. As we have seen from the last few months, the number of nations wanting to sign individual trade deals with the UK is increasing at a substantive rate.

With a greater need to preserve increasingly fragile economic markets across Europe, there is a lot of wiggle room for the UK to achieve its goal of economic independence from the EU but retaining access to a necessary partner.

single-market-1

Parliamentary Issues

We live in a parliamentary democracy and openness is essential to the political process in the UK. However, the Brexit negotiations represent a unique occasion in British politics, where openness is ultimately counterproductive. Think of it as a game of Poker, if you go into the game with your cards face up then your opponent will know what you hold and will be able to beat you far quicker than if you held them close to your chest.

The same is true of Brexit, openness leads to the EU knowing what issues are vital to the future of the UK and gives them an unfair advantage in the negotiating process. We do not have access to the EU’s negotiating position and they are unlikely to give a full account of it before article 50 is triggered.

That being said, if the current supreme court case is anything to go by parliamentary consent and access will be a vital component of the UK’s negotiating position and essential to preserving the role of parliamentary democracy. A negotiation without the consent or input of Parliament would invalidate the whole idea of the parliamentary system.

It is therefore likely that the Prime Minister will use Tuesday’s speech to unveil how the UK’s negotiating position will be debated in parliament and what role it will play in determining the elements of the negotiation.

Economic strategy

With the financial markets a volatile place since the Brexit vote last June, Theresa May will be keen to steady the ship and to outline a viable plan for long term economic success post Brexit.

As with anything, it’s easier to say than to make happen and the final economic strategy of the UK post brexit will depend on how well the EU negotiations go. A key element of any plan is to keep existing businesses here and to encourage new businesses to make their home in the UK.

Keeping the UK an attractive, financially viable prospect is essential and we can expect the government to outline measures to do so, such as the reduction of corporation tax and the relaxation of certain restrictive trade laws.

Financial markets thrive on certainty, confidence and stability. They fail in conditions of instability and uncertainty. Although the FTSE 100 has never been as high as it has in years, the value of Sterling has decreased with the uncertainty of post-brexit Britain.

A clearer strategy should remedy this decrease in value and encourage business to plan for the future in the UK.

sterling-1

A government defined?

Theresa May’s speech on Tuesday will set the stage for the next five years of politics in the UK and will define her tenure as Prime Minister. Shaping the debate will show whether she can handle the task of taking the UK out of Europe or whether another should take her place.

With Labour on the skids, the Liberal Democrats a party in serious decline the opportunity to create a Conservative Brexit Britain is clear. Should she fail to deliver Brexit in the right way, it is highly likely that voters will turn to other political parties at the general election in 2020.

I for one am looking forward to hearing what she has to say.

 

 

 

Breaking Whispers- UK Ambassador to EU Resigns

Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s Ambassador to the European Union has today resigned from his position, a full ten months before his scheduled departure from the role in November 2017.

resignation-2

Sir Ivan Rogers, pictured here with the Chancellor Philip Hammond last month at a meeting with the EU

The resignation comes a month after making public comments that he felt a post-brexit trade deal could take as long as ten years to conclude, despite the two year limits imposed in Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon. Downing Street later refuted the comments as not reflecting the view of the British Government.

Mr Rogers was a part of former prime minister David Cameron’s negotiating team when he unsuccessfully attempted to renegotiate Britain’s position within the European Union. A failure which ultimately led to the EU referendum and Britain’s subsequent vote to leave.

resignation-1

Rogers, right pictured with former Prime Minister David Cameron in January 2016

Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who previously worked with Sir Ivan said “If the reports are true that he has been hounded out by hostile Brexiteers in government, it counts as a spectacular own goal. The government needs all the help it can get from good civil servants to deliver a workable Brexit.”

While the Government have yet to issue an official statement on Rogers resignation a source in Whitehall today said that it would not affect the governments proposed triggering of article 50 later on this year.

With preparations for this process to be made and significant ground still to be decided upon, the Government will come under significant pressure to appoint a new ambassador as quickly as possible.

article-50-2

However reports that Nigel Farage had already sent his CV in for the position were described as laughable by one government source.