Friday, 27 October 2017

Nothing’s agreed until everything’s agreed

Much of the hoo-ha about David Davis’ suggestion that Parliament might not get its vote on the EU deal until after the UK has left was based on a real and fair assessment of normal EU practice.  The same applies to the mantra of May and her not-so-merry band for some time that ‘nothing’s agreed until everything is agreed’.  Both of these are a quintessential part of the normal modus operandi of the EU.  Lengthy discussions, give and take, and an eventual agreement at one minute to midnight (even if the clocks have to be stopped to prevent midnight arriving before they’re ready) is a long-standing feature of discussions amongst the member states.  So I can understand, up to a point, why some Brexiteers think that the same should apply to the UK’s exit and trade deal negotiations, and expect everything to be tied up at once.
They’re forgetting something very important though.  The exit part of the negotiations is indeed akin to the discussions amongst members over the years and decades.  And in those internal discussions, it is entirely normal to agree that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.  But that’s only part of the process.
The negotiations on a future trade deal are something entirely different; they aren’t internal discussions between members, they are discussions between the EU as a bloc and a former member state which has decided to make itself a ‘third party’.  Trying to create dependencies between a set of internal treaty-mandated negotiations amongst members and another set between members and an external third party is a wholly unrealistic expectation, yet it is at the core of the UK’s stance.
I really don’t understand why the Brexiteers cannot understand that finalising the negotiations which the EU is required to conduct under article 50 of its own formal treaty is very different from conducting negotiations to which the EU has no treaty obligation whatsoever with a third party country seeking favourable access to EU markets.  The problem here isn’t Brussels’ intransigence, but the expectation by the UK that it can demand a special and unique status, and that it can threaten to walk away, not just from that second set of negotiations, but also from its formal treaty obligations, if it doesn’t get what it wants.
From an EU perspective, the very fact that it has agreed in principle at least to start the second set of negotiations in parallel, once sufficient progress has been made on the contractual part of the discussions, is a huge concession to a departing member.  It is only that extraordinary sense of British exceptionalism which seeks to portray a significant concession as being so inadequate as to constitute some form of punishment or bullying.  And, perhaps, a desire to be able to blame someone else.

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