Government 'must use Brexit extension to prepare for next phase of talks'

By agency reporter
April 17, 2019

The UK risks stumbling into the next phase of negotiations with the EU without a plan, putting the country at an unnecessary disadvantage, according to a new report by the Institute for Government.

Published on 16 April 2019, Negotiating Brexit: Preparing for talks on the UK’s future relationship with the EU looks at what went right – and wrong – in the first phase of EU negotiations. It makes a series of recommendations about how the Government should approach the much tougher issues surrounding the UK’s long-term future relationship with the EU. The extension of Article 50 provides an opportunity for the UK to prepare properly for the next phase of talks, which will inevitably happen whether or not the UK leaves with a withdrawal agreement.

The report says that the main problems in the first phase were at the political level. The negotiations were bedevilled by the absence of Cabinet agreement on the shape of the future economic relationship. Politicians, particularly on the Government backbenches, did not trust the UK’s official negotiators.

Split responsibilities between No.10 and DExEU, stemming from the original misguided decision to create a dedicated Brexit department, caused tensions and ultimately proved unsustainable. The Government engaged Parliament late, alienated the devolved governments and failed to make use of external expertise.

In terms of tactics, the UK’s divide and rule’ diplomatic strategy cut little ice with the leaders of other member states, who rallied behind the European Commission negotiators.

But not everything went wrong. When negotiations succeeded (with Euratom for example), it was because the UK decided on its objectives early and engaged with specifics.

The report argues that the next round will be shaped by the Government’s decision on what type of relationship with the EU the UK is seeking. Before negotiations begin, the authors say, the Government should agree, and publish, its ambition for the future relationship, without drawing absolute red lines.

The report recommends that:

  • The Prime Minister should appoint a ministerial deputy, based in the Cabinet Office, to oversee the day-to-day negotiations (taking that role away from DExEU). They should be supported by a secretariat drawn from the departments with the greatest involvement in the talks.
  • The Government finds a way to use the expertise in the Department for International Trade (DIT) whose staff currently have little role in the EU negotiations.
  • The Government should engage Parliament and the devolved administrations early and consistently.
  • The Government sets up structures and processes to allow detailed outside input into its plans.
  • The Government rethinks its approach to engaging member states to get the tone right.

Tim Durrant, lead author, said: “Negotiations on our future relationship with the EU will be much more complex than the divorce. They will also set the context for the UK’s relationship with other countries for decades to come. It is vital that the Government uses the next months to develop a better understanding of how the EU will approach the next phase. The time available for negotiations is short and the Government must not waste time by failing to prepare.”

Jill Rutter added: “The Prime Minister moved quickly to establish the Department for Exiting the EU and the Department for International Trade within a day of taking office. Those hasty decisions created completely foreseeable problems for the exit negotiations, compounded by the inability of the Cabinet to reach an agreed position on the key future economic relationship. Whoever is Prime Minister for the second phase of the negotiations needs to ensure that they avoid similar mistakes next time round.”

* Read Negotiating Brexit: Preparing for talks on the UK’s future relationship with the EU here

* Institute for Government


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