May’s Brexit

An interesting article in Foreign Affairs discusses Theresa May’s Brexit plan, “In the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum, in which 52 percent of Britons voted to leave the European Union, many among the British electorate felt that the lights of economic integration had been extinguished and that dark times lay ahead for the United Kingdom. The febrile, early post-referendum atmosphere in Westminster was infused with recriminations over the toxic referendum campaign and the divisions within the government. A basic negotiation principle is to have unity on your side, and this was sorely missing—an inauspicious basis for embarking on what will be the most important and complex negotiation in the country’s history. But amid the tumult, there were some positive signs. A new Conservative leader, Theresa May, emerged from the political chaos and quickly showed the sort of steel that many party members admired in the United Kingdom’s only previous female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. After assuming the prime ministership in July, May dismissed potentially discordant ministers and appointed a finely balanced new cabinet. Although she herself had favoured remaining in the EU, she coined the mantra “Brexit means Brexit” and wisely named a former minister of state for Europe and “leave” advocate, David Davis, as secretary of state for exiting the European Union. The new secretary of state for international trade, Liam Fox, is another Brexiteer, as is May’s most controversial appointment: Boris Johnson as foreign secretary”.

The writer notes that “his appointment may prove to be a smart move. Johnson, who successfully led the Brexit campaign, draws a distinction between opposing the hegemony of the Brussels bureaucracy and pursuing broader relations with European countries. “There’s a massive difference between leaving the EU and our relations with Europe,” he has said, “which, if anything, are going to be intensified and built up at an intergovernmental level.” He is a pragmatic politician who is not from the extreme “Eurosceptic” wing of his party and is immensely popular across a wide range of the population. (A May 2016 poll revealed that 52 percent of Londoners approved of his performance as mayor, although a post-referendum poll has shown a decline in his popularity.) May recognizes this and doubtless will be looking to him to engage thoughtfully with foreign leaders and, eventually, to help sell the final Brexit agreement domestically”.

The writer points of for the need for those with negotiating skills in the Civil Service across not just trade but a wide range of the areas. He adds that “Although it was reported at the time as an unpalatably harsh stance, the prime minister displayed her acuity as a negotiator by declining to assure European citizens already residing in the United Kingdom that they would be able to stay after the United Kingdom formally leaves the EU. She, unlike her rivals for the Conservative leadership, realised that this is a key negotiating point that should be yielded only in return for an equal or similar concession, possibly on an aspect of the free movement of people within the EU”.

He makes the point that “May has pledged not to invoke Article 50 until she has secured a “UK-wide approach” that addresses concerns in Northern Ireland and Scotland. The two regions voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and Scotland has threatened to hold its own “leave the United Kingdom” vote. May visited Edinburgh in mid-July and then ten days later traveled to Belfast, sending a clear signal of her commitment to include the concerns of the devolved administrations in the negotiations. Another issue is that no less than 11 national elections are scheduled in EU member countries over the next two years. The landscape will inevitably shift over the course of the negotiations. Reports now suggest that the British government will wait until after the elections in France and Germany next year to invoke Article 50, pushing the start of the two-year formal negotiation process to late 2017, which would provide additional time for the United Kingdom to prepare”.

Crucially he mentions that “A final consideration for the United Kingdom is to avoid having negotiations over the single market, with its “four freedoms” (the free movement of goods, services, capital, and people), be set apart from the negotiations over other concerns. Although trade and migration issues are high on the agenda, it would be a mistake for them to be negotiated within a single-market silo. It may be that an issue to be negotiated in an unrelated area, such as health, consumer protection, or rules for the digital economy, could provide an opportunity to create a deal on a difficult single-market issue. The next step, then, which British negotiators will constantly need to revisit and refine when they are at the negotiating table, is to to apply a relative value to each issue on multiple agendas from the perspective of each negotiating party. They will be looking for as many issues as possible where both (or multiple) parties attach a different value to the same issue. Looking back to the 1978 Camp David accords, it was assumed that it would be impossible for Egypt and Israel to agree on how to divide the Sinai, which they initially both wanted. But they wanted it for different reasons”.

The article ends “The Brexit negotiators need to look for issues that are of high value for one negotiator to gain on and of comparatively low cost for the other negotiator to concede. The more issues that can be identified where the cost and value to each side is different, the easier it will be to make multiple trades. Above all, the EU needs to establish clear rules on communication with the press and the public about the negotiations. These rules will call for the careful balancing of transparency with the need for discretion, so that deals can be made and discussed without being compromised by premature public revelations. The eventual agreement on the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU may be much more positive than the shrill debate in the aftermath of the vote on June 23, 2016, implied it would be. But once a comprehensive agreement has been reached, the British government will face a big remaining challenge: selling the package to a population that was so polarized by the referendum”.

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