How the British government can keep its composure during the Brexit negotiations

Published in Berlingske Business on Thursday 6th July 2017 Theresa May, Brexit and the G20 Summit Mrs May will not be looking forward to this week’s G20 summit in Hamburg, the first major international gathering since her humiliating election campaign.  She had hoped to use the summit to show off her new authority and a […]

Published in Berlingske Business on Thursday 6th July 2017

Theresa May, Brexit and the G20 Summit

Mrs May will not be looking forward to this week’s G20 summit in Hamburg, the first major international gathering since her humiliating election campaign.  She had hoped to use the summit to show off her new authority and a confident Global Britain.  Instead, the big beasts of the G20 will see her as a diminished figure and will wonder whether Britain is heading for the Brexit rocks.

Mrs May cannot re-fight the election.  But she can do something to restore confidence in her Government’s ability to handle the Brexit negotiations responsibly.  Some in the G20 will be happy to conclude Free Trade Agreements with the UK when we leave the European Union.  But that is for the medium term. Seen from a G20 perspective, the predominant desire now is to minimise disruption to their companies based in the UK and EU, and for Britain not to sink into splendid isolation but retain the closest available economic and political relationship with the EU.

Mrs May says she wants this, and the tone has certainly improved.  But she has still not moved on the essentials.  However, there are welcome signs that more pragmatic voices in the British Cabinet are gaining traction.  I see two key priorities.  First, to accept that Mrs May’s timetable is misguided.   Pushing for both the Article 50 divorce proceedings and agreement on the future UK/EU relationship to be concluded in less than two years is totally unrealistic, and risks causing a train crash.  Instead we need a substantial transition period, preferably on a near-standstill basis, and acceptance that the future relationship, covering security, foreign policy, education and research as well as trade and economic partnership, will take years to negotiate.

Second, Britain needs to show flexibility on the substance.  Staying in the Customs Union at least for a substantial period after our exit would ease problems at the Northern Ireland border and avoid supply chain and other disruptions.   And the British insistence on completely banishing the European Court of Justice from our future relationship is unnegotiable and unnecessary.  Even if one accepts that the ECJ cannot be in sole charge, it is surely possible to envisage special dispute-settlement courts being established drawing both on UK national courts and the ECJ.

The international community will judge Britain above all by whether it can construct a genuinely effective future relationship with the EU. Only then will Britain be able again to hold its head high at the international top table.

Sir Nigel Sheinwald is a former British Ambassador to the European Union and United States, and is a Senior Advisor to Rasmussen Global, an international consultancy advising on Brexit

Read the op-ed (in Danish) at Berlingske’s website here.

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