Rethinking Europe

Theresa May’s Very Iffy Brexit Strategy

What can actually be agreed before the UK leaves the EU?

Credit: Cristian Ferronato www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • The UK wants to come to a "comprehensive agreement" on a post-Brexit partnership alongside settling the divorce terms.
  • Even if the Brexit talks go well, Britain cannot have a new deal with the EU27 fully in place by March 29, 2019.
  • The separate deal on post-Brexit trade will most likely need to be approved by all parliaments in the EU.

Even in the best case, the uncertainty over the UK’s post-Brexit access to the EU27 market won’t be over when Britain leaves the EU on 29 March 2019.

The two-year divorce process from the EU27 may be starting with a little misunderstanding as to what exactly the two sides can achieve until then:

1. According to Theresa May’s letter of March 29, the UK wants to come to a “comprehensive agreement” on a post-Brexit partnership alongside settling the terms of divorce.

2. However, according to EU Council president Tusk’s draft guidelines for negotiations of March 31, any deal on post-Brexit relations can only be “finalized and concluded once the United Kingdom is no longer a Member State” of the EU.

3. According to Tusk, before the UK has left on March 29, 2019, the two sides can only identify “an overall understanding on the framework for the future relationship.”

The EU stands ready to “engage in preliminary and preparatory discussions” about such a framework “as soon as sufficient progress has been made” towards settling the terms of divorce.

4. Thus, even if the Brexit talks go well – a VERY BIG IF given the likely row about the exit bill which the EU27 wants to largely settle before talking future trade – Britain thus cannot have a new deal with the EU27 fully in place by March 29, 2019.

5. Instead, the two sides could have “transitional arrangements” to “provide for bridges towards the foreseeable framework for the future relationship.”

6. And even if the agreement about the future “framework” is so detailed that not much has to be negotiated after March 2019 – also a big if – the long and difficult process of ratifying the final deal on post-Brexit relations can only start once the UK is out.

7. It is also important to note that, unlike the agreement on the divorce terms including the size of the exit bill, which the EU can ratify with a qualified majority subject to a veto by the EU parliament, the separate deal on post-Brexit trade will most likely need to be approved by all parliaments in the EU (including that of Wallonia; remember CETA?).

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About Holger Schmieding

Holger Schmieding is chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London. [United Kingdom] Follow him @Berenberg_Econ

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