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Latest (non-) developments on Brexit

Although there appears to have been a semblance of activity both in the UK and the rest of the EU concerning Brexit, very little (if anything) has happened of substance other than it appears that the Commission is getting ahead of the game writes Tim McNamara. David Davis’ appearance before the UK Parliament’s Lords EU Select Committee was a strong indication that the Brexit department has yet to take a single step on a very long journey.

The comments made after Liam Fox’s meeting last week with the Australian Trade Minister strongly indicate that Article 50 won’t be invoked before Easter 2017. The Australian Minister Steven Ciobo said it would most likely be at least two-and-a-half years before formal Australia-UK talks could begin

The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk’s meeting with the PM last week was largely symbolic. Tusk’s call for Article 50 to be invoked soon was to be expected, but was more rhetorical that substantive. Tusk represents the heads of the 28 Member States and has to be seen to be doing something even it is in reality nothing more than a holding position.

Whilst the appointment of Guy Verhofstadt MEP (former Belgian PM) as the Parliament’s chief negotiator on Brexit attracted a modicum of media coverage in the UK, he will be very much the junior partner in the negotiations. Parliament’s only significant role will be to vote on the final agreement between the EU and the UK. It should be noted that Verhofstadt is from the ALDE group of MEPs (the third largest grouping own the Parliament) and is a compromise choice between the two largest groups (the centre-right EPP and the centre-left S&D).

The actual negotiations will be dictated by the Political leaders of the 27 through the Council of Ministers (obviously heavily influence by Berlin and to a lesser degree Paris). Didier Seeuws (ex-Belgian diplomat will lead for the Council of Ministers), he is well connected being former chief of staff to former European council president Herman Van Rompuy and was the spokesperson for Guy Verhofstadt. De Seeuws will be responsible for the strategic side of the EU’s position regarding Brexit and will report to he Heads of Government and Ministers of the Member States.

The Commission will play a supporting role to the Council dealing with the thousands of devils in the detail.

The very recent appointment of Sabine Weyand as deputy chief negotiator (reporting to Michel Barnier) is an indication of the EU and global expertise the European Commission can call upon
Her CV is here; http://ec.europa.eu/civil_service/docs/directors_general/weyand_en.pdf

One of the main conclusions will be that when the negotiations get down to the detail, the UK will be at a significant disadvantage due to a lack of experience on the UK side. Just to repeat there is no UK civil servant of working age who has led an international trade negotiation. Neither are high-charging lawyers much use in this respect as negotiations normally take place between civil servants on both sides.

 

Tim McNamara is the editor of www.policyreview.eu

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