ON THE BREXIT OPTIONS
“A sovereign decision has been taken to leave by the British people…..But from the perspective of EU member states, as long as the decision on the organization of the exit is not finalized, there is always the possibility of reopening the door.”
June 13, 2017
French President Emmanuel Macron, who won a stunning victory in the French runoff election on May 7, welcomed UK Prime Minister Theresa May to Paris five days after her electoral setback in the UK’s snap election on June 8. After their private meetings and before watching a football (soccer) match between the teams of France and England, the two leaders held a joint press conference.
Brexit was not their top priority then. Expressions of solidarity were the theme of the day, with Prime Minister May noting that “Both our countries have sadly experienced the horrors of terrorism all too recently.”
But Brexit did come up. How could it not? The serious work of the Brexit negotiations is set to begin on Monday, June 19, with a Frenchman, Michel Barnier, as chief negotiator for the EU, facing David Davis, the UK’s Secretary of State for Exiting the EU.
Mrs. May addressed the Brexit issue at the close of her statement. “On Brexit,” she said, “we have been very clear that we want to maintain a close relationship and a close partnership with the EU and individual member states into the future.”
Today’s featured quote is something President Macron said in response to a question. Here is a bit more of his answer to that Brexit question:
(As translated from the French)
“Evidently, the door remains open until negotiations come to an end. That said, a sovereign decision has been taken to leave by the British people, and I respect the sovereignty of all people, be it the French or the British when they make a decision for themselves. It is not for me to say whether or not this decision should be called into question. But from the perspective of EU member states, as long as the decision on the organization of the exit is not finalized, there is always the possibility of reopening the door. But we must be clear and, once underway, we need to all be aware that it is difficult to reverse.”
Well, actually, just a bit more background.
The Article 50 Trigger. On May 29, Prime Minister May formally invoked the provisions of Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union in a letter hand- delivered that day to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council.
So the clock is ticking. The situation is succinctly described in a short article on the website of the European Union. The article poses the question, what happens next? Part of the answer is in these starkly clear sentences:
“During negotiations under Article 50, European Union Treaties and law continue to apply to the UK. If no agreement is reached within 2 years of the UK activating Article 50, the UK would leave the EU without any new agreement being in place.”
The British Election. When Prime Minister May called a snap election on April 18, her Conservative party had a majority of 12 in the 650-member House of Commons. Her goal was to increase that majority and thus give herself a stronger hand in the coming negotiations with the EU. Well, that didn’t work out. Though still the largest faction in the Commons, the Conservatives didn’t just lose seats, they lost their majority, and Mrs. May’s leadership now depends upon the alliance she has formed with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.
What does that mean for the Brexit talks? We don’t know and we doubt that anyone does. The June 8 election was not a do-over referendum on the UK’s membership in the EU. It was an election in which Brexit, though referenced, was largely taken off the table, with the parties jockeying for position on other issues. Arguably the Conservatives didn’t handle those other issues well, but it is hard to know what the results will mean for Brexit.
There are few if any parts of the globe that are totally unaffected by the UK-EU negotiations set to begin on Monday, and the problem is that the uncertainties they are meant to address will almost certainly become more acute over the next few months. Indeed the world may have to get awfully close to the March 2019 deadline for the negotiations before anyone has a sense of just how this will play out. That is because the nature of the beast is such that the party most willing to walk away is the party with the strongest hand. And that being the case, it is hard to imagine many early concessions from either Mr. Barnier or Mr. Davis.
Endless Outreach: The EU’s Trade with the World and with North America. This event will lead off with a keynote address from Ambassador David O’Sullivan of the European Union and will include panel discussions from the diplomatic and business communities. While only a part of the story of the EU’s trading relationship, it is nevertheless an issue that is likely to come up. The event will be held at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, and the title link will take you to the announcement for this program, including registration options.
SOURCES AND LINKS
The Press Conference is a link to a transcript of the May-Macron press conference on June 13 available on the U.K. government’s website.
Originally published on June 16, 2017, as TTALK Quote No. 39 of 20717. © 2017 the Global Business Dialogue, Inc.