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The Brexit negotiating environment

by Frank Schnittger Mon Apr 10th, 2017 at 05:06:22 PM EST

Colman has initiated an interesting debate on the likely outcomes to the Brexit negotiations, but I am far more interested in the negotiating process which I have already discussed here. The possible outcomes, both short and long term, seem pretty variable to me, effected by all sorts of difficult to predict external and internal factors. Speculation as to outcomes is fun, but based on all sorts of assumptions which require elucidation if circumstances change. So what are the factors which are likely to impact on the outcome of the negotiations? I discuss some below, but would welcome the input of those closer to the evolving political dynamics in other member states of the EU.

The first factor is the composition of the respective negotiation teams: A consensus appears to be emerging, even amongst quite conservative business correspondents, that the UK negotiating team is incredibly stupid and unfit for purpose. For instance:

The clearest example of a group of seemingly educated but actually inauthentic, unserious people is to be found in the current British cabinet. With Oxford and Cambridge degrees in abundance, Brexiteers are, on a daily basis, displaying their superficial approach to everything, incapable of paying attention to detail, clearly don't read anything and are not devoting any thought to what happens when they fail to deliver on their promises. Instead, they mouth platitudes; they promise that crashing out of the EU with no deal will be a good outcome; and they threaten war with Spain over Gibraltar.

I don't claim any especial insight into the composition of Michel Barnier's negotiating team, but they seem very well equipped to deal with the many complex issues which may arise. Moreover, they are mostly skilled technocrats, who don't have to look over their shoulders at whatever atrocities against the truth the British tabloids may commit. Some have actually negotiated previous deals with Switzerland or Norway, and others have extensive experience of actual trade negotiations. You would have to say the current score is already One to Nil to the EU before the negotiations have even started.

Secondly, the May government has committed all sorts of miss-steps in the lead up to these negotiations - from ousting the British ambassador to the EU, to appointing the bête noire of the EU, Boris Johnson, as Foreign Secretary. He can be guaranteed to raise hackles just when feathers need to be smoothed to reach agreement. Fox and Davies don't have any friends in the EU either, and successful negotiations are still largely a matter of trust and mutual respect.

Thirdly, May's A50 letter to the EU didn't do her any favours either, threatening a dis-improvement in security cooperation between the UK and EU if no favourable agreement is forthcoming, just when further terrorist incidents are happening throughout Europe. Nothing can be guaranteed to further distance the UK from the EU elite and populace than such a tactless threat. The subsequent threat to "go to war over Gibraltar" would provoke laughter all around, if it were not such a serious indication of the state of mind in Brexit circles in the UK. If you can be so easily trolled, your grip on reality must be limited indeed.

Fourthly, May's position appears to be entirely that of a hostage to the extreme right Brexit wing of her party. There is little indication that she could make the compromises required to achieve an agreement and survive as leader of her party and government. Perhaps she could go "to the country" and win a general election on a compromise agreement if her hard right voted against her and caused her defeat in parliament; but could she prevail if the tabloids, Labour, Lib Dems, Scottish Nationalists, UKIP and the hard right of her own party were all arraigned against her? It seems likely that her own "No deal is better than a bad deal" mantra would return to haunt her.

Fifthly, none of this takes any account of the emerging political dynamics within Europe and the wider world. Relationships between Brexit ally Trump and the EU seem likely to be volatile at best - given the chilly reception given to Merkel on her Washington visit. I am not close enough to the French and German election campaigns to make a comment, but would be surprised if the major pro-EU candidates - Macron, Merkel and Schultz did not advocate a hard line in defence of "European Values" - values which May's A50 letter claimed to espouse - and yet which Brexit attempts to destroy.

Two years is a very long time in politics, and much may change in that time frame. Trump could lose the mid-terms, and with it much scope to direct US foreign policy. Marcron could be elected on a pro-EU platform, and Merkel could be replaced by Schultz. Further terrorist incidents could enhance pan European solidarity against external threats, and the UK economy could see a start of a long decline associated with disinvestment by firms requiring direct access to the Single Market.

All in all, I don't see a propitious environment for a successful negotiation. Expectations are too far apart, and national political dynamics may drive them further apart in the meantime. But I am open to correction on this: How do you see the negotiating environment developing in the next two years? The EU has a long history of "muddling though" complex negotiations and coming up with a surprisingly wide consensus at the end. Do you see the pragmatists or the nationalist ideologues winning in the end?

Personally I am a pessimist. Despite the clear national interest Ireland has in a comprehensive agreement covering trade, customs, mutual regulatory recognition, and an orderly disengagement of mutual contractual obligations, I just think a successful outcome is unlikely. Theresa May is desperately trying to keep an increasingly fractious UK together, and the EU needs to demonstrate the benefits of continued membership as clearly as possible. Why stay within the EU, if many of the benefits are available outside?

As the collective memory of World War II recedes, the EU needs a coherent vision of what it will be about in the future. Mere reliance on past benefits will not be sufficient, as they will be taken for granted. At some point in the Brexit negotiations, May will appeal above the heads of the Commission negotiators to the national leaders of Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Poland et al for a better deal. I suspect she will meet with a cold response. Europe knows that any attempt to divide it will call into question all that has been achieved, and derail any plans they might have for the future.

If the UK wants to go it alone, so be it. But on its own it will be.

I suspect some schizophrenia in the debate around this in Ireland.  On the one hand, a hard Brexit will clearly be damaging to trade with the UK, still our largest single national trading partner, and could cause all sorts of delays and problems along the Northern Ireland boarder.

On the other hand, a clearly disastrous hard Brexit could result in a significant movement towards a united Ireland in N. Ireland political sentiment, exacerbated if the UK government decided it could no longer afford the c. £10 Billion p.a. exchequer subsidy to N. Ireland.

Sinn Fein and perhaps Fianna Fail will lean towards the latter sentiment, whilst the guardians of the status quo in Fine Gael and Labour will tend to favour the former.

Long term, whatever outcome results will probably be driven more by London and Brussels than Dublin and Belfast. After all, its big money that counts, not difficult people in awkward communities.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Apr 10th, 2017 at 06:45:47 PM EST
Maybe a majority in NI as a whole, but I would suspect almost certainly a very significant minority in the Unionist community so it is not going to happen. I think there is an over-emphasis on the importance of economic impact relative to emotional drivers. Arguably if the majority of voters tend to vote their economic best interest, then Brexit would not be happening.

In any case, no one in Ireland should be under any illusions regarding the amount of trouble a motivated minority can cause.

by det on Mon Apr 10th, 2017 at 07:03:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Agreed, but the emotional drivers are changing as well, for a lot of partially unrelated reasons. But only London can break the link with N.Ireland, and it may ultimately do so for largely economic and partially strategic reasons. The emotional ties between London and N. Ireland are surprisingly small.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Apr 10th, 2017 at 07:22:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As far as I can tell, the emotional tie to England is minimal. The tie is to the Queen, the United Kingdom and maybe (in practice) Scotland. If the Union shatters, who are the Unionists trying to maintain Union with? Almost no-one likes England. Keep the Queen as some sort of joint sovereign, pass the abortion referendum down south and give the Church a kicking on schools and shouting about Rome Rule loses some of its potency - you'll end up with the religious nuts claiming the South isn't ruled enough by Rome. And the Irish constitution is set up precisely to try and allow a minority a significant voice in the Dáil. A little fiddling with the Senate electoral panels and it shouldn't be too bad.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Apr 11th, 2017 at 11:47:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In terms of emotions, I was more thinking in terms of who they hate rather than who they love: namely all them Taigs and pope-ridden southerner. Who you are against is often far more powerful than who you are for.
by det on Tue Apr 11th, 2017 at 02:15:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Dunno. With increasing post-Brexit austerity and withdrawal of EU support funds, it's possible that their minds may be concentrated.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Apr 11th, 2017 at 02:36:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Economist is keeping tabs on which of the EU27 can be classified as "soft" or "hard" vis a vis the Brexit negotiating position.

However, the British government keeps antagonizing even those central European countries whose support it may need the most (h/t gk); not a smart move. Then again, incredible arrogance seems to be one of the most defining feature of this crowd.

by Bernard on Mon Apr 10th, 2017 at 08:33:41 PM EST
The Economist lists 8 countries as favouring a "soft Brexit" - Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, Poland - who make up 8/27 = 30% of continuing members and 13% of total EU population. A blocking minority of 45% of member states or 35% of EU population is required to block an agreement.  They would not therefore be sufficient to prevent the European Council approving a "hard Brexit" negotiating stance and/or agreement.

However the 7 counties identified by the Economist as Hard Core hard Brexit proponents - France, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Romania, Slovakia - make up 39% of the EU population and could thus block any Brexit deal not to their liking. To get a deal approved by the Council, the UK would have to persuade either Germany or France to approve it, or failing that two or 3 of the smaller countries in this "hard core" list of 7. A tall order.  Achieving the required simple majority in the European Parliament should be simple by comparison.

Article 50 states that "the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it" - which I take to mean that the UK cannot participate in the Council vote on any Brexit deal, as stated in a Commission press briefing, which would have the effect of reducing the number of countries required to block a deal slightly.

The voting procedure is defined by Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union which further requires that any proposal requires the support of the Commission or of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, failing which only 28% of member states (comprising at least 65% of the EU's population) could block an agreement. The Commission Press Briefing somewhat bizarrely appears to assume that that will be the case.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Apr 11th, 2017 at 12:33:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Personally I am a pessimist.

Me too!

You reference an interesting view "from abroad" by the Irish Times.

David Aaronovitch in The Times had some pertinent comments on the right wing Tories.

If you were an EU leader, would you trust us? [Paywall but a free sign up]

To quote selectively:

If you were an EU leader, would you trust us?

We reported here [The Times] in February the importance of the European Research Group [ERG], describing this collection of MPs and others as "the most powerful opposition force in British politics".


The aim of the group is what has been called "a hard Brexit": little or no severance money to the EU, little or no jurisdiction from the European Court, a gung-ho up-yours stance concerning relationships with the single market, and a corresponding impatience with those who raise objections to their vision.


In the last week Tory MPs have been engaged in a kind of Monty Python sketch of competitive iteration, where one will say "we won't pay anything" and another will add "never mind paying nothing, they should pay us!". Bill Cash has even invoked German war debt as an argument regarding Britain's liabilities to the EU.

Perhaps once this could have been written off by level-headed Europeans as animal spirits. But not any more. This tail has already wagged the dog out of the union. And though these sentiments are not subtle, even the more sophisticated ERG people are busy having discussions with themselves about what a good position we are all in. No, said one influential ERGer on the Conservative Home website this week, the Euros won't really insist on getting their money before talking about trade.

He believes it and he is almost certainly (I am assured) wrong. But the Europeans know he thinks it, and they know also that many of his friends appear to have persuaded themselves not only that no deal is better than a bad deal, but that no deal is probably better than a good deal. They are on the branch busily sawing.

Germans think Britain would be mad to end up dealing with the EU on WTO terms. They think it would be disastrous for us. They even think Theresa May must agree. But she is now boxed. If she says that the WTO option is rubbish then everyone knows that she will do whatever she can to avoid it. But if she doesn't say so the ERGers' hubris goes unchallenged.

In a normal parliament a strong centre/centre left opposition could act as a corrective to this push from the fantasy right. [SNIPPED] Sensible Tories [are] terrified into silence for fear of getting what is now known as "the Nicky Morgan treatment".

This leaves May and the ERGs. With what confidence, if you were a European, would you negotiate with a Britain enduring that kind of political dynamic? Might you not begin to believe that until the prime minister publicly confronts and defeats the [ERG], it would be absurdly optimistic to expect any deal?

by oldremainmer48 on Tue Apr 11th, 2017 at 11:19:48 AM EST

British government realises Brexit is a mistake, official says
The British government is slowly realising Brexit is "an act of great self-harm" and that upcoming EU-UK negotiations must seek to limit the damage, the State's top Brexit official has said.

The official, John Callinan, said on Thursday: "I see signs in the contacts that we're having, both at EU level and with the UK, of a gradual realisation that Brexit in many ways is an act of great self-harm, and that the focus now is on minimising that self-harm."

The remarks by Mr Callinan, the second secretary-general at the Department of the Taoiseach, were delivered at a Brexit seminar organised by the trade unions Impact and Siptu.

Mr Callinan also highlighted the existence of internal divisions on the British side just weeks out from the start of formal withdrawal negotiations with the EU, saying it was clear there was "no single, settled position" on Brexit in London.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Apr 14th, 2017 at 09:28:51 PM EST
Another EU area that would be hit by a hard Brexit: Flanders.

Scarred by history, Flemish rally to avoid a hard Brexit - Politico

If any region knows the havoc that can be wrought by a disturbance in trade flows with Britain, it's Flanders, in northern Belgium. Since the Middle Ages, dependence on England has made Flanders rich. But whenever trade ties have run into trouble over the years, the Flemish have faced problems ranging from rebellion to a devastating 19th-century outbreak of cholera and typhus.

Given that history, it's little wonder that leading Flemish politicians are now pushing for the EU to go easy on Britain and start negotiating a trade deal at once. Commercial relations with the U.K. remain important. Of Belgium's exports to Britain, 87 percent come from this Dutch-speaking region. In total, 9 percent of Flemish exports head to the U.K.


After Ireland and the Netherlands, Flanders is the European region most heavily reliant on its trade partnership with the United Kingdom, the regional government says.

by Bernard on Sat Apr 15th, 2017 at 06:11:11 PM EST
Another couple of months shot.

Brexit: EU says 'real' negotiations will begin after UK general election

The president of the European Commission has confirmed "real talks" between the EU and UK can only begin after the general election on 8 June.

"Following their conversation, the president considers that the real political negotiations on Article 50 with the United Kingdom will start after the elections foreseen for the 8th of June," a spokesman for the Commission said, speaking before today's parliamentary vote which confirmed June 8 as the general election date.

Also the article reports EU institutions in the UK will be moving out of the UK to an EU member country to be named later and since the UK is leaving the EU they've got zero influence on the process.  (I note anyone with the brain of a retarded yak would have predicted this.)

Don't know who is making the decisions for the British government.  Whoever it is really needs to put down the crack pipe and return to reality.  They've only got 20 months (effectively) until Brexit and so far they've done nothing.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Wed Apr 19th, 2017 at 05:45:53 PM EST
Isn't this standard British practice? May seems to be doing nothing very well.
When Wellington thrashed Bonaparte,
As every child can tell,
The House of Peers, throughout the war,
Did nothing in particular,
And did it very well:
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Wed Apr 19th, 2017 at 05:49:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
For my money this is right up there with Chamberlain standing at a runway, holding a fluttering piece of paper, and proclaiming he achieved, "peace in our time."

But what do I know?  


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Wed Apr 19th, 2017 at 06:06:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Churchill also referred to a policy of "Masterly Inactivity" as being preferable to meddling in things when you don't fully understand the consequences...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Apr 19th, 2017 at 08:27:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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