Brexit negotiations: What are the red lines EU and Britain won’t cross?

UK-EU negotiations must take into the account “gazillion” of issues. But if you look at both sides, where do you see clear red lines for them, is it anything Britain much achieve to avoid being perceived as a total loser, and is it anything like this on the EU side? Read few comments.

Han Dorussen, Professor, Department of Government, University of Essex

In the UK, the prime minister May has indicated that she is willing to walk away from the negotiations without a deal, the so-called hard Brexit. By defeating any amendments to the ‘Article 50 bill’, parliament has basically conceded that this is a feasible outcome, and the only instrument available to parliament if eventually it finds the negotiated outcome (or the lack thereof) unacceptable is to have a vote of no confidence. Any negotiated solution would have to be ‘better’ from the perceptive of the UK government than such a hard Brexit. Following this logic, there would seem to be two clear ‘red lines’:

(1) control over the movement of people. The UK government will insist that it sets the rules by which people from the EU area can settle and work in the UK and any rights these EU citizens will have. There is probably some room for negotiation providing reciprocal rights of UK citizens in the EU area, but the ultimate authority will have to be returned to Westminster.
(2) limits on the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. It would seem rather obvious that when the UK leaves the EU, it is no longer bound by any decision of the ECJ. However, the continuation of free trade will inevitably reveal conflicts between UK and EU regulation. In such cases, the UK government will insist that UK parliament and courts will decide (of course this could then easily mean that the EU imposes restrictions on trade/cooperation).

Since these issues are rather technical, it is not obvious that the UK public will care very much about how these are settled. Its perception on who ‘loses’ the negotiations may be largely affected by any implications: How much is immigration reduced? How many jobs will be lost and how does the UK economy fare? And has become clear yesterday, what are the implications for Scotland and Northern Ireland? So far, the UK government has been arguing that Brexit will be of little consequence for the future of the United Kingdom and its economic prospects. If leaving the EU comes at the price of an economic downturn and a breakup of the Union, the British public is probably not going to judge very kindly on the policies of Theresa May.

The red lines for the EU are more difficult to identify. In return for offering free access to its markets, I will expect it to insist on preferential treatment of EU citizens in the UK. This may not necessarily imply full freedom of movement, but most likely an automatic right to work and an entitlement to work-related benefits (this would be quite similar to arrangements struck with Norway). Participation in certain programs (like cooperation in research and education) will be made conditional on full freedom of movement of affected personnel (following the example set with Switzerland). The EU will also insist on the UK accepting EU regulations at least in those areas where it will have free trade. By the way, this implies that I do expect that ultimately any deal will be sector specific.

As in the UK, EU politicians and the general public will judge ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ less on such technical details and more on general developments. From the EU perspective, the crucial issue is whether it can stop other countries from following the example set by the UK. The EU has to demonstrate that there is clear value in being a member of the club. So far, countries that decided to stay out (such as Norway and Switzerland) have agreed to pay for market access. The UK seems unwilling to do so which makes it much more difficult to find a bargain that will satisfy both sides. In case the EU and the UK fail to reach an agreement, there will be costs to both sides, but arguably the consequences for the UK will be more serious than for the EU. Theresa may have gone public in declaring that ‘no deal would be better than a bad deal’, but this is much more obvious for the EU: any deal that would tempt other EU members to seek a favourable position outside the EU would mortally weaken it.

Frank Häge, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Limerick

I think a lot of what you see at the moment is posturing and bluffing in advance of the negotiations. The UK government has an incentive to downplay the negative consequences of not reaching an agreement, because that is essentially its outside option. By announcing publicly that no deal is better than a bad deal, it tries to make the threat of walking away from the negotiations more credible. I don’t think many people on the EU side take this talk terribly serious, because everybody knows that no deal would be very painful for the UK economy. These negotiations will be very asymmetric, with the UK being in a much weaker position than the EU.

In terms of red lines, the UK government seems to have quite a few, including full control over immigration and no links to the EU that required oversight by the Commission or judicial review by European Court of Justice. At the same time, it would like to have full access to the Single Market (without being part of it). As the remaining EU member states have made clear, there is no way these things are compatible. If the UK really insisted on them, there would be very little room for negotiations. On the other hand, the EU’s red line is mainly that access to the single market is not possible without free movement, and that in general, the UK cannot be as well off outside the EU than other states inside the EU (in terms of its economic and trade relations to EU member states). From the EU point of view,exit must be costly. Nobody has an interest in punishing the UK, but whatever deal is made with the UK, it can’t be as good as membership.

Simon UsherwoodAssociate Dean, Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics, University of Surrey

For the UK, the only red lines appear to be limiting free movement of workers (with the understanding that this means not having the other 3 freedoms of goods, capital and services) and avoiding as much as possible the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice. The former makes sense in the context of the UK’s debate on immigration, but the latter is driven very much by Theresa May’s experience in the Home Office, which might not be the most useful introduction to the subject.

For the EU27, the only core principle is that any deal must be less good than membership. This is driven the desire to avoid contagion to other countries.

However, apart from this, it’s all very vague, in part because neither side wants to raise expectations too high and then not meet them in the negotiations.

Kristian SteinnesProfessor, Department of Historical Studies, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

As to your question, this is a really tricky one because in negotiations much will be possible, especially if it is offset by something else, concessions etc.

Anyway, as for the EU, I believe that every step watering down the single market will be close to a red line – i.e. giving Britain access to the single market or customs union without giving concessions to the free movement of people or rulings by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

As for Britain, it is difficult. There is some sort of red line as to free movement of people. Theresa May has stated that Britain is to regain control over its borders – i.e. she is not willing to accept any relaxation on border controls in order to get access to the single market. Yet that is a foregone conclusion, and not up for negotiations as it has become clear that Britain is heading towards a ‘hard Brexit’. Another possible redline might be the ECJ and the applicability of European law in Britain. Yet, since May has been clear, and backed David Davis on his clear message that Britain will do well outside the Single Market and the customs union, this will probably also not be negotiable. We might call it ared line.

All in all, I think that much will be negotiable, but hardly conditions pertaining to the Single Market/customs union from both sides, but with arguments put forward from opposite positions.

Paulo Vila MaiorAssociate Professor, Faculty of Human and Social Sciences, University Fernando Pessoa

Negotiations between the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) will bear the burden of huge political sensitiveness. If both parties carry a political weight to negotiations, it is likely this might hinder the bargaining process and, ultimately, an outcome that satisfies both parties. A pragmatic approach to negotiations requires that political calculation should be avoided, so that the EU does not aim at penalising the outgoing country (even if this is done to send a message to current member states) nor the UK aims at going home with a “pocket full of money”.

The desirable strategy of not showing a winner and a loser is part of the delicate balance of interests that the EU and the UK must encompass. Still, it is soon to elaborate on a specific agenda that will guide the Brexit negotiation process. There is a discussion going on (both in British politics and within EU circles) on whether the outcome should be a “soft Brexit” or a “hard Brexit”.

Yet, it must be remembered that the UK manifested the political willingness to exit from the EU. Therefore, the EU is (at least theoretically) in a favourable position of not wanting to give all the UK government might ask for. Again, the political sensitiveness comes to the surface, as the EU should nor emphasise an inflexible position throughout the negotiation process, or else the impression is that the EU wants to impose a huge (political) cost on the UK for leaving the Union. In doing so, the EU risks plummeting into contradiction, for the secession rule (as enshrined by the Lisbon Treaty) would, in practice, face the burden of a punitive behaviour by EU negotiators.

In any case, red lines are expected. Despite the delicate political balance attached to Brexit negotiations, surely the EU is not interested in granting the UK many of the core features of EU membership (freedoms of movements, for example). UK negotiators should also understand what is at stake, and therefore it is not reasonable to expect they ask for a special relationship with the EU that includes some of the genetic characteristics of EU membership. This position would be the practical rejection (at least partially) of the consequences of the UK wanting to leave the EU. UK politicians must reckon that the implication of Brexit cannot be to put their country in a special position when the relationship with the EU is viewed from the comparative lens, that is, looking to the rights granted to other non-EU countries when they engage on a relationship with the EU.

To this extent, fairness is the major challenge to Brexit negotiations. The EU cannot penalise the UK, nor the UK should be expected to seek for positive discrimination when compared with other non-EU countries. This, again, calls into question the complexity and political sensitiveness of Brexit negotiations.


One Response

  1. Good summary, Andrej. There are plenty of precedents against all of these red lines on both sides. But because of the complexity and that there are so many stakeholders on both sides, all I can see at this stage though is a Lose-Lose.

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