EU to UK: You won’t set rules during Brexit transition
European Union ministers on Monday flatly rejected a demand by Britain for a continued say over EU policy during a Brexit transition period, rebuffing a proposal put forward Friday by the British negotiator, David Davis.
The bloc’s remaining member countries expressed their unwillingness to consider any extension of the U.K.’s voting rights or other decision-making authority as they gathered in Brussels to approve the formal directives for the EU negotiator, Michel Barnier, to broker a transition deal with London.
“If you leave, you leave,” said Sandro Gozi, the Italian undersecretary of state for EU affairs. “If you decided democratically to get out of the decision-making process — as the Brits decided to do with the referendum — you cannot remain in the decision-making process.”
“When you have left the European Union, you have left,” said Ann Linde, the Swedish minister for EU affairs.
The ministers, who were attending a meeting of the General Affairs Council, approved the draft negotiating directives with less than two minutes of discussion Monday.
“We gave Michel Barnier today a mandate to explain rather than to negotiate. On transition, it isn’t really a negotiation” — Senior EU27 official
At a press conference after the meeting Barnier was emphatic: “The U.K. will no longer participate in the EU decision-making process.”
“The decisions will apply, and the U.K. must know these rules of the game and accept them in the first place otherwise we will go towards what we fear for the future — divergence, and a sort of single market à la carte,” he added.
In a speech on Friday, Brexit Secretary Davis insisted the U.K. must retain some mechanism for exerting influence over EU laws and regulations in the roughly two-year transition period, which will begin on March 30, 2019, after the U.K.’s official departure, and run until at least December 31, 2020.
“We will have to agree a way of resolving concerns if laws are deemed to run contrary to our interests and we have not had our say and we will agree an appropriate process for this temporary period,” he said, “It’s very, very important. If there are new laws that affect us, we have the means to resolve any issues during that period.”
Davis’ demand runs counter to the EU27 position, supported by language in the EU treaties, that the U.K. will lose all voting rights and other decision-making authority in the European Council on the Brexit date, even as London continues to pay into the EU budget.
The EU27 have similarly insisted that the U.K., during the transition, would be bound by all existing EU laws, regulations and other obligations — known collectively as the EU acquis — including any amendments, or even new policies, adopted without the U.K.’s participation or approval.
The acquis is often referred to as “dynamic” as it is in a never-ending state of flux, with laws, rules and regulations being adjusted for many reasons, including new legislation, and court rulings or other resolutions of disputes.
Irish Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee expressed a willingness to discuss the U.K.’s demand but said the overarching goal was to protect the EU’s operations after Brexit.
“What we cannot have is a position where the … single market, the customs union, is in any way undermined when the U.K. leaves the European Union,” McEntee said.
A senior official from an EU27 country said that it was not clear the view expressed by Davis in his speech reflected the U.K.’s official negotiating position. “For now we don’t have any British position, we have only political declarations, including Davis’ comments last week,” the official said. “This is not a U.K. government position. We’ve seen in the first part of the negotiation that as long as we don’t have a government position we wouldn’t react.”
But the official added that if that was London’s formal position it would meet strong resistance from the EU27: “It’s not possible.”
The official suggested that there would be little wiggle room on the EU27 side: “We gave Michel Barnier today a mandate to explain rather than to negotiate. On transition, it isn’t really a negotiation.”
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva, whose country currently holds the rotating chair of the Council of the EU, suggested there might be circumstances under which the U.K. could have some influence over decision-making. “It is possible if it’s decided in the EU to invite the U.K. to participate in the future amendements in the EU legislation but only on invitation and only if it’s agreed exceptionally by the EU member states,” she said.
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May had appeared to accept the EU27’s position that the U.K. must accept changes to the acquis during a transition, recognizing that the overall purpose of a transition period would be to maintain the status quo and reassure businesses and citizens that a disorderly Brexit, known as a cliff-edge scenario, would be avoided.
In a tweet after the directives were formally adopted Monday, Barnier’s deputy Sabine Weyand summed up the EU position as: “status quo transition without institutional representation, lasting from Brexit date to 31 December 2020.”
Reacting to the adoption of the directives the U.K. prime minister’s spokesperson said: “This is the beginning of a negotiation and there is some distance between the two sides on more than one issue as you can see. But there is also broadly alignment on the need to secure an implementation period which is in the interests of businesses in the U.K. and the EU.”
On the specific point about the U.K. not having a say on new EU laws, the spokesperson said, “I think that we are clear that we will have to agree a way of resolving concerns if laws are deemed to run contrary to our interests and we will agree an appropriate process for this temporary period.”