“Without changes by the UK Govenrment, only a one-sided deal is possible”
Editor’s Note: On Friday morning, after months of protracted discussions, the UK and the European Union finally reached a first-stage agreement in the talks over Britain’s departure from the EU. The deal, threatened a few days earlier in a dispute over border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, allows the negotiations to move to the second stage of the trading relationship between the UK and the EU.
The University of Birmingham’s Jamie Gaskarth evaluates the situation for EA:
Don’t be fooled by the deal — this negotiation has been a shambles. The British Government needs to change its approach, and fast.
The fact that the UK and EU have come to an agreement over the first stage of the talks may lead some to relax. Confusion over Britain’s goals will be represented as a clever negotiating tactic and the late hour of the settlement will be seen as a normal part of international diplomacy.
In reality, the UK has been exposed as woefully under-prepared, lacking basic understanding of its interests, and with a shocking lack of political leadership.
The next stage of talks will be much tougher. If the UK is to stand a chance of gaining a favorable deal, they will need to do the following:
Unify the Country: Brexit is the most important policy issue since the Second World War. Then, a national unity government was established, made up of figures from across the political spectrum. This time, Prime Minister Theresa May has refused to reach out beyond her party. Instead, she has appointed the most divisive, hardline Brexiteers to key roles – a policy that has backfired spectacularly. “Minister for Brexit” David Davis never mastered his brief, International Trade Minister Liam Fox failed to build future trading links, and Foreign Minister Boris Johnson has twisted in the wind.
May must reach across the political divide and consider appointing senior figures from all parties to manage the second stage. Harnessing the negotiating expertise of senior figures such as Gordon Brown, Catherine Ashton, John Major, Nick Clegg, Paddy Ashdown and others would signal the UK is serious about wanting a deal and would restore bipartisanship.
Exercise Leadership: So far May has ducked a fight with the hard line fringe of her party and instead has empowered them to dictate terms. The evidence is that they do not represent the majority of opinion in the country.
If May now takes on the hard Brexiteers, the risk of an opposition Labour government should be enough to galvanise support from her own side.
Clarify the UK’s Goals: The Prime Minister needs to be clear in her own mind what kind of relationship she wishes to have with the EU, heeding the advice of experts as to what types of future links are possible. This process needs to be done in consultation with all parties, not just the Government’s minority partner, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.
Prepare for the Worst: However optimistic the government may be that a deal can be reached, they must prepare for a no-deal outcome. The lack of arrangements for a negative outcome is a serious abdication of responsibility. May and her Chancellor Philip Hammond should not repeat former Prime Minister Cameron’s mistake of refusing to plan for the Leave vote in June 2016.
Hold People to Account: ministers and officials have made a series of appalling errors in the first phase. Poor performance needs to be punished and failing individuals quickly replaced.
The imbalance of power between the UK and EU will make anything but a one-sided deal difficult — but, without making these changes, it will be impossible.