Brexit talks kicked off this week, but a quick win for the EU meant the UK lost the first battle of negotiations over the timetable of exit negotiations and could face harsher economic consequences than originally thought.
Delayed Free Trade Talks
On the first day of negotiations, UK officials agreed to focus on the terms of the exit, including the exit fee, before anything will be discussed relating to a future trade deal between Britain and Europe’s common market.
Although UK Prime Minister Theresa May has been open about wanting to finalize a free trade deal quickly, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said that an agreement wouldn’t be finalized until after the UK officially leaves the EU.
It was a major blow to the EU, especially at the start of the negotiations, in particular for May, who is already struggling within her own country. Former UK single market adviser Sir Andrew Cahn predicted a “bitter divorce” at potential huge economic cost after the first day of talks.
“I’m not in a frame of mind to make concessions,” Barnier said. “The U.K. has decided to leave the EU. It’s not the other way around.” He warned the UK delegation that leaving the bloc will have “substantial” consequences, not out of revenge but simply due to the nature of the action.
“Row of the Summer”
UK Brexit Secretary David Davis had predicted that the “row of the summer” would be over deciding how to structure Brexit talks, but the anticipated row is off to a fairly one-sided start.
The UK wanted parallel discussion to discuss a future trade deal and the UK’s exit at the same time because it is feeling the pressure of working through all the issues before time runs out. However, that fight was quickly abandoned after the first day of negotiations.
Davis denied that the UK had backed down too easily. Both sides hope the first phase of exit discussions are finalized by October, which would allow negotiations to move to the trade agreement.
May had previously threatened to walk away without a deal if the EU doesn’t listen to her demands, but that threat may be weakening.
Talks between the EU and the UK are just beginning, but both sides are very aware of the March 29, 2019 deadline when the UK will leave the EU with or without a deal.
The next two years are sure to be complicated and confrontational as both sides walk through uncharted territory after more than 40 years of partnership.
Both sides have repeatedly emphasized their desire to make the negotiations as smooth as possible and to see the door open to have friendly relationships in the future.
One of the biggest concerns from both delegations is the 4.5 million European and British nationals living in each others’ countries who are unsure about what their rights and living situations will be life after the UK leaves.
One of the other top issues is deciding on the border between the UK and Northern Ireland, but both sides agreed to make that a priority, which was celebrated by the Irish.
“It’s really important that Ireland and Irish issues are prioritized, and clearly they were yesterday,” said Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney. “We have spent the last 20 or 30 years trying to create a normalization of the relationship north and south on the island of Ireland and to make a peace process work.”
Brexit negotiations will likely take some time, but the results of these discussions will have lasting effects on the region and the world. If the first day is any indication, we could be in for a long haul of back and forth discussions.