Author Mark Fairlie
At the end of March 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May invoked Article 50. With its triggering, a two-year countdown to the UK formally leaving the European Union had begun. What has happened in the intervening months, such as conversations on the single market and what’s still to come?
At the general election in June, despite Theresa May losing her majority, more than 80% of the votes cast went to the Conservatives and the Labour Party, both of which are committed to “respecting the result of the referendum” by taking Britain out of the trading bloc and its associated bodies.
Differences of opinion about Brexit, trade, and immigration
There is much disagreement at the cabinet and shadow cabinet levels about the type of Brexit to pursue. Both manifestos committed the main parties to leave not only the European Union but also the Single Market and the Customs Union.
However, leading figures like the Chancellor Philip Hammond and Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer want a softer Brexit involving a form of membership of the Single Market and a watering down of the commitment to end the free movement of people from the EU to the UK.
While both parties attempt to settle the final positions on Brexit that they will adopt, here is a brief rundown of what lies ahead for negotiators from Britain and the EU27.
The single market and divorce bill
UK officials involved in the process have “privately told senior bankers that the Brexit divorce bill will be close to £50bn”, according to BuzzFeed.
This is at odds with the official government position on the amount the UK will pay to the EU, famously summed up by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson when he told the House of Commons that the sums being mentioned were “extortionate” and that European leaders could “go whistle” if they were expecting that type of settlement.
The general expectation is that the UK will pay a multi-billion Euro sum when it leaves the EU in order to help it negotiate the most favourable access conditions to the Single Market when it has finally left.
EU residents in the UK and transitional arrangements
On 27th July, Home Secretary Amber Rudd commissioned a study of the benefits and costs of EU migration to the UK. Areas the inquiry will consider are the effects on British businesses and the public sector if immigration was made more difficult and a study into whether British workers are put at a disadvantage with large influxes of cheap competitive labour from poorer countries in the EU.
There are fears among business owners that a new immigration system cannot be made ready for March 2019, the month of Britain’s departure. This has led to a reported increased acceptance at cabinet level that a transitional period of up to 3 years may be required to provide the time needed to put new immigration arrangements and computer systems into place.
There has been much political commentary around the subject of the status of EU nationals living in the UK (and UK nationals living in the EU). In late June, the Prime Minister made what she called a “fair and serious” offer to EU nationals living in the UK after the EU complained of a lack of clarity from the British government on the subject. After the speech, the European Parliament’s chief negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, condemned the offer accusing Mrs May of casting a “cloud of vagueness” over millions of people’s lives.
Once the divorce bill and immigration have been agreed…
There is still some way to go before Britain and the EU come to a compromise on the issues of the level of the divorce pay-out from the UK to Europe and on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. Another important area where agreement must be reached is on the border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Once this has happened, talks on future trading relations can begin. Both sides expressed a keenness to avoid a cliff edge where no deal is reached.
However, on 26th July, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, told ambassadors from the other 27 EU governments that “the slow pace of Brexit negotiations means that sufficient progress is unlikely to be achieved by October to allow for discussions to start on the future relationship between the EU and Britain”, according to Bloomberg.
The next set of talks are due to start on August 28th, with a further round on September 18th, and a final scheduled round on October 9th.