View from the EU: priorities and no trade talk until December

In analysis by the Guardian, it reveals the top three priorities for the EU. Meanwhile, the FT reports that the EU are unlikely to want to talk about trade until December.

We’re just over a month away from the prime minister’s self-imposed deadline for triggering Article 50. With the release of the government’s white paper on Brexit, we’re a little clearer on Britain’s position ahead of negotiations. That position is to prioritise immigration control as well as leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). These are the prime minister’s red lines.

The white paper says that the government also hopes to secure a “bold and ambitious free trade agreement” with the EU. However, this seems rather more fantastical given Theresa May’s red lines.

EU’s priorities

It’s perhaps getting a little bit boring but the EU’s position has remained consistent. No cherry-picking and no separation of the four freedoms. The Guardian has done an analysis of the red lines for individual countries in the EU27. It’s worth a read. From it, the three top priorities for them are:

  • Maintaining the link between single market and free movement
  • Preserving EU citizens’ rights in the UK
  • Defending the unity of the EU

This analysis seems pretty consistent with the view of the EU Commission and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, which he outlined last year.

No trade talks until December

The Financial Times reports that the EU remains committed to sequencing negotiations so that talks on Britain’s withdrawal happens before a new trade deal. Britain’s withdrawal concerns the exit bill, which is likely to prove contentious – and could potentially derail talks on a future trade relationship. The FT also reports that the EU would like to make progress on the rights of the 4 million EU and British expats early on too. This is something the UK government will no doubt be in agreement with.

The FT quotes one senior eurozone official as saying that Barnier thinks that “we will be discussing money and acquired rights until December” and that there will be no talks on the future trade relationship until that happens. The newspaper adds that the EU hopes that the principles for Britain’s withdrawal bill and acquired rights for EU and British expats can be agreed by December so that the it could agree for trade talks to start at its summit in the same month. It adds that trade talks could be advanced sooner only if agreement on the former is reached more quickly.

Brexit secretary David Davis still hopes to discuss future trade “in parallel” with withdrawal. He will be hoping to get support from some EU27 countries for this. But as so many of them agree that “defending the unity of the EU” is a top priority, this could prove challenging.

There is also the issue of a transition deal, which will also be on the table for discussion. The UK government prefers to think of this as a period of implementation before it goes full Brexit. Both sides so far seem to support some kind of interim arrangement. But it may not be possible to discuss this until there is discussion of what the new relationship will look like.

At the moment, the government still expects to trigger Article 50 by the end of March. It is still dependent on the Article 50 bill’s exact wording being approved by both the House of Lords and House of Commons before then.

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