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An Update on Brexit Negotiations

Jake Belsten, University of Warwick

The UK government’s lack of coherent Brexit strategy is a circus performance, but the EU are not much better. The EU27 want to appear united behind the steely gaze of Michel Barnier but fractures in their position are apparent. The EU’s inability to move on such significant talks, with some estimates placing the value of EU trade at over $500 billion [1], is a clear sign of their lack of unity.

It is fantasy to suggest that 27 economically and politically different countries can have a common vision for Brexit talks. Inevitably Germany will have different requirements to Greece; France to Slovenia and Portugal to Bulgaria. Homogeneity is not a feature of the EU. Their previous attempt at a homogenous approach, the eurozone, benefited the Northern countries but was damaging to the Southern states, leaving them in an economic quagmire. These circumstances are a struggle when you need unanimous agreement.

The UK is Germany’s third largest export market and so will want a trade deal, to suggest otherwise is ridiculous. Germany is well renowned for its corporatist government style, meaning that the car manufacturers have a strong sway in German policy. The German government will face massive pressure to ensure beneficial trade ties with the UK. Furthermore, many European states have large numbers of UK citizens as residents and vice versa. Why would Poland not want to seek co-operation with the UK when Polish is our second language (according to the 2011 census)?  Finally, the UK has a lot to offer Europe, being the corner stone of the anglosphere and containing the powerful ‘city’.   

On top of this there is an element of disagreement within European nations. Germany, according to is facing an ‘unprecedented political crisis’ and there are major divides within Spain over The Catalonian crisis. Constitutional crises and weak minority governments, are distractions for some member states who understandably are preoccupied by internal rather than external affairs; they need to create stability for themselves, and this requires the governing party’s full efforts. These fragile coalitions are the nature of the majority of European governments. Thus, the concerns of foreign policy are placed on the back burner, until a government emerges. It is a government’s responsibility to put its domestic policies first, to protect their citizen’s interests. Thus, it is clear to see how this creates problems for the negotiations.

Therefore I believe the negotiations are not moving forward. The lack of a coherent EU position beyond wanting as much money as possible, means that Michel Barnier has little room for manoeuvre. There will probably even be division on the European side as to the exact amount the UK supposedly ‘owes’ the EU. This divorce bill is officially being hidden from the public, and I believe that this is to try and repress public opposition to the EU within the UK. Preventing the growth in political opposition within the UK reduces calls for Her Majesty’s Government to walk away from the table, especially among MPs, who believe that they are being kept in the dark (so much so that they are threatening legal challenges).

Whilst progress is being made, it has been painfully slow. This is a fundamental decision which will affect over 450 million Europeans, and our international partners; yet the EU continues to play games and attempts to blame the UK. The UK has published many position papers. Even if critics point to a lack of detail, it doesn’t mean that the UK isn’t attempting progress. It is clear that both sides need to sit down seriously and resolve the issues. To do this, the EU needs to offer positions and solutions not threats and demands.  


[1] With £236 billion of UK exports, to the EU and £318 billion of UK imports; according to the ONS Pink Book, 2017