Voting to leave the EU is much easier than negotiating with it—as Britain may discoverby Anand Menon / July 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Breaking up is hard to do. The British people voted to leave the European Union, yet how that departure might happen is unclear. Once we’ve sorted out who will negotiate for us, and a new Prime Minister is in place, a further dilemma, seemingly overlooked, awaits: will the remaining member states give us what we want? Even spelling out what we want is not straightforward. The “best of all worlds” scenario is clear enough: freedom of movement, full access to the single market, lighter regulation and more border controls. But it will not be down just to us.
One thing that has been made clear is that the other EU member states intend to deal with Brexit using Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Any hopes the “Leave” camp had of chatting amicably and informally with our partners on key issues before opening formal negotiations have vanished. While differing over the pace of negotiations, both Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, have said that there will be no informal talks. This position was formally adopted at a meeting of the 27 heads of state and government once David Cameron had left the EU summit which took place immediately after the referendum. Article 50 will be the basis of any deal. No negotiations can take place until the UK has formally notified its partners of its intention to trigger it.
Article 50, and the special procedure it entails, applies to talks on how to extricate the UK from the EU. It does not apply to negotiations over a deal to regulate relations in the future. The treaty text says that negotiations would lead to an agreement with the leaving state “setting out its arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.”
It is conceivable, even likely, that the two sets of negotiations will be carried out in parallel. Cecilia Malmström, the European Commissioner for Trade, was on legally solid ground when she argued in a Newsnight interview that there would have to be two separate sets of negotiations, one on the UK leaving and the other on terms for trading in the future. Yet, the treaty article contains enough wiggle room to suggest that talks will focus on the future as much as resolving relations from the past.