UK 'should not try to divide and conquer EU27'

By agency reporter
March 22, 2018

Ahead of this week’s European Council, a new report says that while the 27 member states are likely to remain united in their approach to the Brexit negotiations, it is essential for the UK to understand the differences in their views. 

Published on 21 March 2018 by the Institute for Government, Negotiating Brexit: the views of the EU27 argues that the Government must work with the UK’s allies in the EU to make the case for the future relationship it wants. But any attempt to ‘divide and conquer’ will backfire.  

To strengthen the UK’s alliances, the Government needs to show that it understands the individual interests of each member state. The paper looks at the trade, migration and domestic political priorities of each of the 27. It finds there are some clear areas of convergence between UK and member states’ interests which the UK can use to build support.

But Brexit does not top the agenda for most member states. They are more concerned with internal EU wrangles (over the budget, Eurozone reform and migration), external pressures (from Russia on security to the US on trade) and domestic political debates. At the same time, they are getting used to the changing dynamics of an EU without the UK.

Many member states – from Denmark and the Netherlands in the west, to Hungary and Poland in the east – continue to view the UK as a key ally. These and other member states will support a close relationship between the UK and the EU. But groups of member states have different priorities, which the UK must recognise when formulating a negotiating strategy.

For example:

  • Driven by France and Germany, the member states who support greater EU integration will prioritise the stability and unity of the EU27 over minimising the economic costs from Brexit.
  • Traditional allies, including the Netherlands, the Scandinavian member states, Ireland and the Baltics, will want a close trade relationship with the UK. But some face domestic Eurosceptic forces – and they need to show that leaving the EU is not a solution to Eurosceptic concerns. They will also want to maintain the integrity of the EU, including its single market, and will not want to waste too much political capital on securing the best deal for the UK.  
  • Eastern member states, particularly the Visegrád Four (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia), support a close relationship with the UK on trade and security. But their priority will be getting a good deal for themselves from the next EU budget; they may not want to be at odds with France and Germany.

Jill Rutter, Brexit programme director at the Institute for Government, said, “From the EU budget negotiations and Emmanuel Macron’s proposals for reforms, to Russian aggression, there are many issues unrelated to Brexit that are taking up member states’ time. A successful UK negotiating strategy needs to start from this point and not assume Brexit is as much of a preoccupation for them as it is for us.”

Tim Durrant, report author, said, “The March Council meeting will be a key moment in the negotiating process, where the EU27 look set to agree their priorities for the next phase. The UK must recognise the different interests of the member states while avoiding the impression that it is seeking to divide and conquer. Government ministers attempting to build relationships with the EU need to make concrete proposals that recognise the interests both of individual member states and of the EU as a whole.”

* Read Negotiating Brexit: the views of the EU27  here

* Institute for Government


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