Brexit: Sufficient Unto the Day

3 October 2017
Andrew Duff (President of the Spinelli Group; Former Member of the European Parliament 1999-2014)

Following Theresa’s speech in Florence and the fourth round of talks, last week, Andrew Duff takes stock of the progress made and the prospects for the October meeting of the European Council. In this discussion paper, he argues that:
1. Theresa May delivered what she had to in her Florence speech: She asked for a two-year transitional period. She changed her tone. And she made an explicit first offer on the financial settlement. As for the future relationship, Mrs May wishes the Union well in its endeavours and wants Britain to be Europe’s “strongest friend and partner”. But she sees the UK as a co-equal partner, working “hand in hand with the EU”.
2. Although Florence had given Brexit new impetus, the fourth round of the negotiations (25-28 September) was not an unqualified success. Agreement was closest on citizens’ rights. Discussions about Northern Ireland have scarcely moved beyond principles, on which at least there seems to be broad agreement. Theresa May’s financial concession (about €20bn) is not the end of the matter. Commitments made by the UK during the whole period of its membership are contained in the outstanding RAL (reste à liquider) of which the British share is about 14%, as well as in certain other contingent liabilities, including pensions, that may or may not be needed.
3. The fifth round of the exit talks is due to start on 9 October. The UK government should insist that talks start on the transition period. It should offer something substantial to meet the UK’s full budgetary commitments, to be spread over several years. It should make a proposal for the longer-term governance with respect to a joint judicial tribunal. It should argue that there is no realistic chance for progress on Ireland without an opening of trade and customs talks. These moves would put the ball firmly in the court of the European Council when it assembles on 19-20 October to decide, after hearing the advice of Barnier, if “sufficient progress” has been made to proceed to phase two. 
4. The European Council should agree to start talks on the transition and respond positively to any British initiative on governance issues. The heads of government should get prepared to deepen their own reflection on the future of Europe. And they should avoid a snub that would weaken May’s position even further, with a risk of a Johnson premiership. In short, the heads of government should, at the very least, trigger talks on the transitional period.

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