The Brexit showdown continues

Muhammad Zamir | Published: June 19, 2018 21:10:41 | Updated: June 19, 2018 21:21:21

On June 12, British Prime Minister Theresa May defeated a rebellion in the British Parliament over her Brexit plans. This was only possible after having to compromise and hand lawmakers more control over Britain's departure from the European Union. This means that lawmakers will have more rights in making changes in a 'future meaningful vote' with regard to the final agreement.

This connotes that May's decision with regard to Brexit continues. However this means that there will probably now be a softer approach towards the divorce. Brexit campaigners have responded to this latest development with some anxiety. They think that the concession may open the door to the EU trying to force Britain into retaining the closest possible ties with the bloc by weakening the government's hands in the on-going talks. The  British Pound has traded higher against the Euro and the US Dollar after this vote.

Andrew Duff, an eminent European analyst has taken the opportunity to point out some vital aspects of Brexit that are largely not receiving the required attention before the next critical meeting of the European Council on 28-29 June this month.

The Brexit process appears to have fallen into "a vicious circle". This paradigm includes the difficult issues of Ireland and customs which cannot be resolved unless there is clarity about the nature of the UK's final relationship with the EU. Lack of clarity on those two issues is indirectly also impairing the capacity of the European Council to work out the long-term implications. In fact, the heads of government of some European countries are still waiting from London a proposal that is detailed and substantive.

It is true that Theresa May has outlined her wish to achieve a "deep and special partnership" with the European Union after the UK ceases to be a member state.  However several questions still remain unresolved with regard to some red lines related to trade and questions of governance.

Under the terms of Article 50(2) the Withdrawal Agreement must take account of the framework for the future relationship between Britain and the UK. The framework will be inscribed in a formal Political Declaration, the drafting of which cannot be put off much longer. The European Council is hoping to finalize the document at its meeting on 18-19 October.

It needs to be noted that the Political Declaration will have legal effect. It is meant to bind the 27 leaders directly, and will constitute the basis of the mandate eventually to be given by the Council to the Commission to open negotiations with the UK on the final relationship. This document will need to be detailed and also be able to take care of contentious trade issues. The importance of the Political Declaration lies in the fact that it will be binding not only for the current UK government and parliament but also for their successors.

There is also anxiety in EU with regard to the UK efforts pertaining to suitable amendment of the EU Withdrawal Bill which is now under consideration in the British Parliament. MPs and peers over there appear to be in disagreement over defining a coherent prospectus for Britain's future as a European country.

Strategic dimensions demand that those involved should give emphasis on certain factors. The British version of the Political Declaration could start by coming to an agreement on Britain's problematical relations with its neighbours in mainland Europe and the challenge of future relations with regard to Ireland. Britain has to remember that Brexit should not efface the memory of the shared experience of integration, pooled sovereignty, common institutions and citizenship.

It is this future potential that will be targeted through the implementation of an Association agreement involving reciprocal rights and obligations and establishing the possibility of undertaking jointly a wide range of activities (Article 8(2) TEU and Article 217 TFEU). The European Council has already stated its intention to establish a close partnership with the UK across a broad spectrum, including trade and economic cooperation, the fight against terrorism and international crime, as well as security, defence and foreign policy. In its most recent guidelines (March 23), the heads of government have also indicated that they are ready to evolve their position should the UK soften its red lines. Such an evolution in future partnership can be facilitated through Britain suggesting through a written draft which factors need to be included in the Political Declaration. This will facilitate subsequent inter-dependent economic and security partnership and also horizontal ties regarding governance and data protection. Agreement on such a dynamics could result in the UK and the EU undertaking not to impose tariffs on goods traded across the English Channel or in the erection of non-tariff barriers.

 Britain should also try to incorporate within the Association Agreement facilitation, on a fully reciprocal basis and respecting fundamental rights, the visa-free movement of people between the UK and the EU. Terms and conditions about social security, employment rights and family law also need to be agreed. The UK, it may be remembered is already committed under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement to respect the rights of EU citizens resident in Britain. EU citizens lawfully resident in the UK will then continue to enjoy the right to vote and stand in municipal elections. The UK can then expect the EU to respond in kind in its treatment of British citizens resident across the EU.

It would be pertinent to mention that discussions with the EU have already clarified that the UK in matters of environmental policy will adhere to the goals of the Paris Treaty on climate change, retain a leading role in the promotion of sustainable development and in the tackling of cross-border pollution.

UK has already also conveyed to the EU that they recognise the need for the European Union to safeguard its financial stability and will be ready to contribute financially to costs incurred on an on-going basis as a result of Britain's selective participation in EU programmes, missions and common activities jointly agreed. The UK is also willing to cooperate with the EU on tax collection and on measures to combat tax evasion.

The geo-strategic paradigm also appears to have been generally worked out. Britain has conveyed that after Brexit, its geopolitical stance and strategic alliances will continue as in the past. UK membership of G7, NATO and the UN Security Council will be unaffected by Brexit. Britain expects to continue to collaborate closely with EU institutions and EU member states in all matters of international diplomacy. The UK is also willing to offer a military and intelligence contribution on a selective basis to EU common security and defence policy missions and continue to operate the European Arrest Warrant. 

The factors mentioned above imply that governance will remain an important element within the evolving matrix. Analysts agree that governance of the Association Agreement will have to reflect the scope, depth and ambition of the post-Brexit relationship.

Both sides consequently will need to complete negotiations, sooner the better, on formation of joint institutions of a political, technical, parliamentary and juridical type. This institutional apparatus should be able to facilitate a relationship that might evolve as circumstances and political objectives change.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.


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