There will probably now be a softer approach to the divorce
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 assumes importance ahead of the next critical meeting of the European Council on June 28-29 this month.
This connotes that May’s decision with regard to Brexit continues. However, this also means that there will probably now be a softer approach towards the divorce. The British pound has traded higher against the euro and the US dollar after this vote.
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 lucidity 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. She has reiterated recently on March 2 that she is seeking “a relationship that goes beyond the transactional, to one where we support each other’s interests. So I want the broadest and deepest possible partnership -- covering more sectors and cooperating more fully than any Free Trade Agreement anywhere in the world today.”
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 October 18-19.
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. This has, however, become somewhat awkward because of differences of opinion among several EU governments. The importance of the Political Declaration lies in the fact that it will be binding not only for the UK government and the current parliament but also for their successors.
There is also anxiety in the 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 over there appear to be in disagreement over defining a coherent prospectus for Britain’s future as a European country. All agree that drafting the political declaration is a sensitive and essential exercise and needs to be undertaken with greater inter-active seriousness.
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. Britain must not end up totally denying its close economic and cultural ties with the EU that has grown in the past few decades. This will be required to boost prosperity, and to enable shared security challenges to be addressed in a spirit of solidarity.
It is this future potential that will be targetted 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, defense, and foreign policy.
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. 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.
The UK has already also conveyed to the EU that they recognize the need for the European Union to safeguard its financial stability and will be ready to contribute financially to costs incurred on an ongoing basis as a result of Britain’s selective participation in EU programs, 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 defense 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. This will be required as the EU institutions and the UK government will both be jointly responsible for the implementation of the new partnership that will not only have to be effective, accountable, durable, and democratic, but also ensure legal certainty.
Both sides consequently will need to complete negotiations, the 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. This could be taken care of through regular meetings at summit and ministerial level, and managed by sectoral technical committees.
Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]