- Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
- Two on-the-record quotes from Brexit negotiators indicate that May has misjudged her adversaries in Brussels, who want to deliver an exit from Europe with no agreement, the worst possible scenario for Britain.
- Sabine Weyand, deputy to EU negotiator Michel Barnier, said “Hello?! Who are they kidding?” when it was put to her that a post-Brexit agreement might be a “win-win negotiation.” She also thinks Britain’s position is “bollocks, according to the Financial Times.
- Theresa May’s former deputy EU negotiator Ivan Rogers said Article 50 was a trap designed to force Britain out with no deal. “The EU duly closed the trap door before they realised what transition they were in for,” he said in a recent speech.
LONDON – We are just six months away from the Article 50 Brexit deadline, and it increasingly looks like Britain will be forced to choose between two scenarios:
- Prime Minister Theresa May secures a Brexit deal that keeps the UK close to Europe for trade purposes, like Norway, in a compromise on British independence.
- The UK crashes out of the EU without a deal in a so-called “hard Brexit,” leaving the nation with no meaningful trade treaty with its closest, richest, and largest neighbour.
Two on-the-record quotes from Brexit negotiators indicate that May has misjudged her adversaries in Brussels, who are highly incentivized to deliver the second option: an exit from Europe with no agreement, the worst possible scenario.
‘Hello?! Who are they kidding?’
The first quote: In a Financial Times profile of Olly Robbins, May’s current chief Brexit negotiator, there was a telling quote from Sabine Weyand, deputy to EU negotiator Michel Barnier. When it was put to Weyand that a post-Brexit agreement with the EU might be a “win-win negotiation,” she replied, “Hello?! Who are they kidding?”
Her logic is that Britain must suffer the punishment of being banished from the EU before constructive talks can begin – to demonstrate to everyone else all the disadvantages of leaving the EU. She regards Brexit as a “fundamental” threat to the EU, the FT reports, and sees Britain’s negotiating positions as “bollocks.” As far as she is concerned, no-deal is the punishment for leaving, pour encourager les autres.
‘The EU duly closed the trap door before they realised what transition they were in for’
- REUTERS/Neil Hall
The second quote: May’s former chief negotiator, Ivan Rogers, gave a lengthy, detailed speech last week on the Brexit process. It is mandatory reading for anyone who wants to understand, from an insider’s perspective, how the process really works. He calls the idea of negotiating a trade deal during the Article 50 process a “total fantasy.”
May’s error, he argues, was to trigger Article 50 quickly in 2017. It contains a non-negotiable two-year deadline that expires in March 2019. Only then will the EU begin negotiating a new trade deal. Rogers says Article 50 is essentially a “trap door”:
“Invoking Article 50 when they did and in the fashion they did, led them further. And the EU duly closed the trap door before they realised what transition they were in for.”
… “The aim of the 27, perfectly legitimately, whether or not it is wisely, has been to maximise leverage during the withdrawal process and tee up a trade negotiation after our exit where the clock and the cliff edge can again be used to maximise concessions from London.”
An historic strategic error
I have argued since March 2017 that May’s insistence on triggering Article 50 quickly, before she had any idea of what compromises the EU might offer, was an historic strategic error. It ended any leverage Britain had. It will cost the country trade, jobs, access, and growth.
These two quotes underline the problem. The EU is incentivised to give Britain the worst deal possible, and Article 50 is designed to force that to happen. In Brussels, Weyand clearly understands that. In London, Rogers knows it too.
Ironically, the hardcore Leavers – like Jacob Rees-Mogg MP and the European Research Group are arguing for the same deal that the EU is working its hardest to deliver: the punishment of no deal.
More on Britain’s missteps under Article 50:
- Theresa May is about to find out if she has made a huge strategic error on the trigger of Article 50
- Theresa May’s strategic error on Article 50 was a much bigger mistake than her decision to call an early election
- The evidence that Theresa May triggered Article 50 before she understood exactly how it works
- Legal advice saying Brexit can be reversed shows Theresa May’s huge strategic error on Article 50