March 29, 2017
A ‘deep and special partnership’
At long last, and after considerable fuss, Theresa May has delivered her Article 50 letter at lunchtime today – not as I had imagined to ‘Dear Donald’ but more formally to ‘Dear President Tusk’.
The prime minister is aiming for “a deep and special partnership that takes in both economic and security cooperation”. She wants the terms of the new partnership to be agreed alongside those of the withdrawal treaty – and all within the two-year timetable set by Article 50 for the latter. We start, she says, from a position of close regulatory alignment, of trust in one another’s institutions, and in a spirit of cooperation. Her officials, she promises, will be making in due course “detailed proposals for deep, broad and dynamic cooperation”.
Donald Tusk responded immediately on behalf of the European Council, but in a cooler tone. “In these negotiations” he said, “the Union will act as one and preserve its interests. Our first priority will be to minimise the uncertainty caused by the decision of the United Kingdom for our citizens, businesses and member states. … We will approach these talks constructively and strive to find an agreement. In the future, we hope to have the United Kingdom as a close partner.”
So it remains very much an open question whether the new relationship, though undoubtedly deeply special, can be made to be especially deep.
Managing the talks and the transition
The European Policy Centre has posted my latest discussion paper (28 March) in which I drop some heavy hints, including:
• Drop the clichés
• Be polite
• Get on with it
• Don’t obsess about sequencing
• Agree a sum of money and then justify it
• Don’t try to extend the deadline
• Drop dreams of revocation
• Resist calls for differentiated disintegration
I argue that the rights previously enjoyed by EU citizens should be turned, in so far as is possible, into privileges to be continued after Brexit.
And I propose the establishment of a new body, a Joint Transition Authority, to oversee the implementation of the withdrawal agreement and to prepare for the introduction of the new partnership (to save Theresa’s blushes, dubbed ‘dissociation agreement’).
The peers roll on
Meanwhile, the House of Lords continues its good work on many aspects of Brexit. Its 16th report (13 March) on the goods trade stressed that one of the government’s stated aims of continued liberalised trade clashed with another, namely taking back control over regulation.
Its 17th report (20 March) on judicial cooperation in civil matters found that government ministers had no “coherent or workable plan” to deal with the rupture entailed by leaving the legal protection now provided by the EU.
The Lords strike a more optimistic note in their 18th report (22 March) on trade in non-financial services – although they do point out that the government needs to agree in principle and in practice to the setting up with the EU of a joint trade dispute resolution mechanism.
Behind the scenes in Whitehall and Westminster, some civil servants are much less sanguine than their political masters. I hear that the government’s gung-ho attitude to the signing of global free trade deals with half the world is known as BAFTA – play-acting of dazzling virtuosity on display to an exclusively British audience.