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Brexit talks finally begin: Will we know anymore about what the UK wants?

We will (hopefully) get closer to finding out what Brexit means. But for transparency, better to look to the EU.


Whilst it feels like we’ve been talking about Brexit forever, formal talks for Brexit begins today. Britain’s Brexit secretary David Davis and his team of negotiators will meet the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and his team of negotiators.

The EU has been adamant there will be transparency in Brexit negotiations. They have already published a couple of position papers (one on citizens’ rights and another on the financial settlement) as well as a comprehensive set of negotiating directives that have been agreed unanimously agreed all 27 countries remaining in the EU. They’re so keen to have transparency over the process that they even published the draft versions of the EU position papers before the final versions were agreed and “transmitted to the UK”. You can find these all and further negotiating documents from the EU at ec.europa.eu.

As for the UK, the government’s white paper published in February and the prime minister’s Article 50 letter is pretty much all we’ve got. Both read more like a wish list than a comprehensive set of negotiating directives. There certainly aren’t any position papers from the UK… At least none that we’re aware of. But perhaps the UK team think transparency is overrated.

This is also all prior to Theresa May losing her majority government following a snap election she called to get a mandate for her Brexit. These Brexit talks start before we even have a fully functioning government. And whilst another set of talks to agree what form this government takes continues.

To be fair, Davis did release a statement ahead of the Brexit negotiations last night. The headline of that statement is “we are leaving the European Union”. Well that clears it all up then. We feel so much more enlightened now.

The statement noted other European leaders’ comments that “the door remains open” for Britain to remain in the EU if it changed its mind. After meeting with the prime minister earlier this month, the new French president, Emmanuel Macron said “of course the door remains open, always open until the Brexit negotiations come to an end”.

The Brexit secretary could have welcomed the offer and simply said it wasn’t an option the government was considering. Instead the statement said “Despite European leaders’ attempts to leave open the possibility of the UK remaining in the EU…”. The tone of the statement still sounds like the UK is looking for saboteurs. Clearly, he doesn’t agree with Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer that “a much more constructive and responsible tone is needed”.

Davis’ statement does go on to add that the government will soon be introducing bills for new immigration and customs arrangements. (It would have been nice to have an idea of those policies before the election or even before Theresa May triggered Article 50!) But his statement doesn’t give any more detail about what the UK’s stance will be on key points of the withdrawal agreement including citizens’ rights and the financial settlement.

As Politico pointed out in its report of the release, “it was not clear who the U.K. government was trying to persuade more: the press, the public, the EU, or itself”.


Image: © Gina Power / Shutterstock.com
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