Publications

Brexit: Dealing with withdrawal symptoms

5 September 2017
Andrew Duff (Visiting Fellow at the European Policy Centre and President of the Spinelli Group; former MEP)



Andrew Duff reviews the problematic first phase of the Brexit negotiations and suggests ways to make progress on the three key issues: citizens’ rights, finance and Ireland. He also previews Theresa May’s expected speech on Europe:

  • Both parties pay lip service to the idea of reciprocity of citizens’ rights. The idea that EU citizens living in the UK will be treated in the same way as UK citizens staying on in the EU is a neat conceit, but not in fact deliverable. However, divergences on the remaining technical aspects of this part of the Article 50 negotiation may be overcome, if both parties are willing to compromise and a solid agreement on issues of governance can be found. Duff makes the case for the creation of a new judicial authority, neither wholly British nor wholly European: a joint UK-EU tribunal with strong powers to oversee the application of the secession treaty with respect to citizens’ rights, to resolve disputes and to provide national courts with appropriate remedies.
  • A second major disagreement in the Article 50 talks persists over the financial settlement. According to Duff, it would be better for the UK to agree to stay in the Multiannual Financial Framework until 2021. He argues against exaggerating the scale of the budgetary problem, and recommends doing a quick deal that can be justified in a number of ways, with payments spread over several years. 
  • Finally, the Irish dilemma reinforces the already strong argument for the UK to try to retain membership of the existing customs union and single market arrangements during a transition period that must last until a new association agreement enters into force. Here again, there is room for compromise, but unrealistic demands must not be made of any party in seeking to impose the EU’s new border in Northern Ireland. 

Theresa May’s speech in the run-up to her party conference is her last chance to repair the damage. How it is received in Brussels will inform the decision of the European Council on 19-20 October about whether to move to the next phase of the Article 50 negotiations. The prime minister needs to display pragmatism, flexibility and imagination and point the way through an orderly departure of the UK from the EU towards a serious association agreement beyond. Another display of tactical incompetence, snared by delusion, will assuredly ruin Britain and cause deep collateral damage to the rest of Europe.

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