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A Strategic Overview of Brexit Negotiaions

July 7, 2016 11:12 AM
By Mike Biden
Originally published by Liberal Democrat European Group

EU / UK flagsTimetable for BREXIT Negotiations

In charting a course towards a final settlement of Britain's position vis a vis the European Union we need to be aware of the European context within which we are a player. The following dates are important when considering how events might play out and what options may be possible.

2016, October 2nd - 5th Conservative Party Conference

2017, May 7th French Presidential election

2017, July - December British Presidency of the European Council.

2017, October 27th German national elections.

2019, May 5th European Parliament elections

2020, May 9th British General Election

The future nature of the European Union is not a given. It has always evolved and we are clearly approaching the point where some Treaty changes are necessary for several reasons, not least the better management of the Eurozone.

The other two major players, Germany and France have national elections in 2017, within the two-year period provided for negotiating a Withdrawal Treaty. Will the next Prime Minister wish to start the negotiations with two leaders who may no longer be in office within one year? Or will he/she prefer instead to wait until the new leaders are both in place? The latter would be more prudent and allows more time for preparation and to explore other options.

We should remember that there is no need to rush - the Swiss have still to implement their February 2014 referendum vote to re-instate border controls. For so long as we do not trigger Article 50 we are still in control of our own destiny. Once triggered the process may well become irreversible with events no longer in our hands.

The vote for Britain to leave the European Union may have been a national event but it has international ramifications and will impact not least on the internal politics of the other European states and within the institutions of the European Union. The Leave campaign were clear that they "loved" Europe and and were even heard to say that it was only the EU in its present form to which they objected.

Eurosceptic parties across the EU have taken great heart and this must inevitably now be a factor in the French and German elections. The new PM will be wise to let events play themselves out a little before making the next move.

If the triggering of Article 50 is delayed until November 2017 it still allows time for a final solution to be presented to the British people for confirmation before the next general election. If preparatory work continues apace before the formal start of discussions it may be possible to use the next European Parliamentary Elections in 2019 to effectively hold a vote by the British electorate of Europe on its future direction. Such a timescale will encourage wider considerations to come into play.

Britain is in a very good position to ensure the EU travels the path of exploring what Treaty changes might be proposed to meet both the economic imperatives and the political demands of those wishing to see a looser confederation. It holds the Presidency of the Council in the second half of 2017. We may choose therefore not to trigger Article 50 until the end of the Presidency - outrageous though that may be to some on the Continent.

If, by the end of that Presidency, a Treaty change is likely then Article 50 can be delayed until such time as the new Treaty can be voted upon. If Treaty change is impossible then Article 50 can be triggered and the choice for the British people would be to leave under the terms of a known Withdrawal Treaty or remain a member state under the conditions then prevailing. This would at least give two real options for voters to choose between.

Now is the time for a fundamental examination of the future of Europe, to answer the question: what sort of European Union do the people of Europe want? The issue for Brussels is not just how should they conduct negotiations - which have not yet begun - but what alternative futures can they map out for the voters of Europe to consider?

It can be argued that one of the major problems of the European Union is that there is no debate about its future. There is genuine concern that it is being driven inexorably towards a federal structure when a confederacy of nation states may be a much better fit to the reality of a European continent where national differences in culture and language are at least as important as our common European heritage.

The European Union is an International Treaty Organization and will remain so for the foreseeable future. A Confederacy is a much better goal in the short to medium term than a fully integrated union of states. Alternatively formalizing the split between those countries which wish to proceed to become a single united state from those preferring a looser associate arrangement is another solution to the current problems.

A final point worth making is that before triggering Article 50 the British government will presumably wish to settle the question of whether British voters are to be given another vote? Will we be allowed to choose between the alternatives of leaving under the terms of the withdrawal treaty or whether to remain a member of the Union?

Much depends upon whether the new PM wishes to implement Brexit regardless or whether they wish to see if an alternative course can be charted which can command the general support of the British public.