EU diplomats are expecting official Brexit negotiations to begin on the week beginning 19 June, says EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier. However, an official date will not be confirmed until after the UK’s snap general election on 8 June.
Article 50 indicates that there will be a two-year time frame in which negotiations should take place from the date of notification which was triggered 29 March. This time frame may be extended beyond the scheduled leave date of 29 March 2019 if all member states involved are in agreement. Besides this, new legislations cannot be implemented until the UK has officially withdrawn from the EU post Brexit negotiations, and becomes a third country.
Both the UK and the Union ‘talk a good talk’ and have put their best position forward in preparation of the Brexit negotiations. The Union released their negotiating directives on 3 May which look to divide the process into two phases when the Brexit negotiations begin. Michel Barnier has said that key issues in the Union’s negotiations position including expatriate’s rights, Ireland’s land border with the EU and the Brexit bill must be settled before the Union will begin trade talks in the second phase. ‘We shouldn’t start the second phase in a climate of mistrust and uncertainty,’ he said. The EU have been firm in their position that the UK cannot pick and choose which of the four freedoms—the movement of goods, capital, services and labour—they still wish to enjoy.
The British government, on the other hand, intend to begin Brexit negotiations with trade talks immediately in order to give UK businesses as much time as possible to integrate new legislations. Mrs May hopes to agree upon a new customs deal with the Union whereby participating countries will not impose tariffs on each other’s’ goods. The prime minister has been strong in her position, saying that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ when it comes to new free-trade agreements. She is expected to respond to the EU’s negotiating directives in a speech, accusing the Union of ‘adopting an aggressive negotiating position’.
However stark the differences between the UK government and the EU 27 on their negotiations stance, the likelihood is that the EU will agree with the UK on a new version of a free-trade agreement. Not to do so would be extremely self-harming for all involved; to trade underneath World Trade Organisation rules would boost tariff rates and slow down trade not just for British companies, but for corporations in all member states, too. From an economical perspective, a free trade deal with the UK is in the interest of Germany, for example, who export over €50 billion in cars, machinery and chemicals to the UK very year. Similarly, lobbyists in Spain and Italy are likely to push for a free-trade agreement with Britain who currently run a trade surplus with the island. The French government have particular invested interests in the British transport and nuclear sectors. UK rail have teamed up with France’s SNCF to deliver High Speed Rail 2, and with the French government having invested heavily in the project, companies will likely want ensure they can trade on good terms with their British clients.
Preserving good relations with the UK is ultimately in the best interest of the companies of the 27 member states. This is not to say that these negotiations will be plain sailing for either party—in fact, the very opposite will be true. The Brexit negotiations are bound to be extremely complex in nature and some economists have argued that such agreements could take years to achieve in what the EU and Britain hope to achieve in 24 months.
Further reading: THERESA MAY’S CALL FOR SNAP ELECTION GOOD FOR BREXIT