106.As we noted in our December 2017 report Brexit: deal or no deal, “The key factor which will determine whether or not the Government can deliver a successful Brexit is time. The clock is ticking.” Since that report was published, another six months have passed, and the ticking is ever louder.
107.The European Council in March set out its intention to review progress in negotiations on the future relationship at its meeting on 28–29 June. After that, it is likely that progress will slow down during the August holiday—yet both sides agree that the Withdrawal Agreement, alongside a political declaration laying out the framework for future UK-EU relations, will have to be adopted at the October European Council, to allow time for consideration by both the European Parliament and the Westminster Parliament, ahead of ratification no later than March 2019. There are now just weeks, rather than months, for the two sides to reach agreement on the framework for future relations. At the time of writing the Government has yet to publish detailed proposals, though it has announced its intention to publish a White Paper on future UK-EU relations.
108.In their absence, negotiations appear to have stalled. Even in the area of internal security, where in early May the Government published a presentation outlining its proposals, discussion has been negligible: Rob Jones, Director of Future European Policy at the Home Office, told our Home Affairs Sub-Committee on 16 May that the Government had “only just started” to talk to the Commission. This had involved “little more than an hour of discussion.”
109.As we have noted, many witnesses welcomed the change of tone in the Prime Minister’s Mansion House speech, and her movement on key ‘red lines’. But Catherine McGuinness spoke for many in telling us that more was needed: “What we need to do now is to move on from speeches, which the EU 27 tell us they do not recognise as being proper negotiating asks, to more detail and clarity … They now know in headline terms, but they are still asking us for greater clarity and greater detail, and that is something we all need.”
110.The Secretary of State, on the other hand, was bullish when giving evidence on 1 May. Asked about the Commission’s concern over the lack of detail in the UK’s proposals, he replied: “Throughout this whole process, the Commission has laid down some lines of argument and has then said, ‘The UK has not told us what it wants’. This is part of the process that we go through. They try to use time pressure. These are all just negotiating mechanisms.” He was nonetheless confident that “we will get there soonish”.
111.The Secretary of State also addressed the EU’s ‘red line’ that there should be a ‘level playing field’, to prevent the UK undercutting the EU by lowering environmental or other standards: “Some in the European Union are terrified of the Wild West of Anglo-Saxon deregulation that we all live among here. Of course, plainly we do not, but we have to deal with that concern.” Once there was agreement on a dispute resolution mechanism, he envisaged “a lot of progress on the goods front”, but he was less clear about the timetable for addressing financial services: “We have a similar issue to deal with in relation to financial services and services, and that may be a little more complicated to say the least. However, we already have an in-house design for that which we will put out into the public domain at some point.”
112.Despite the Secretary of State’s confidence, at the time this report was agreed on 5 June no firm timetable had been set for publication of the White Paper setting out the Government’s detailed proposals for future UK-EU relations. Nor, while it was anticipated that the House of Commons would consider Lords amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill on 12 June, was the timetable for completing parliamentary consideration of other Brexit bills clear.
113.Both sides agree that the text of the Withdrawal Agreement should be finalised ahead of the European Council meeting on 18–19 October. They also agree that a ‘backstop’ solution to address the position of Ireland and Northern Ireland should be annexed to the text, but will only come into force if the UK’s goal of addressing this issue within the context of the agreement on future relations is not realised. Finally, the two sides will agree a ‘political declaration’ outlining the framework for future relations; this will not be part of the Withdrawal Agreement, but there will be cross-references between the two documents.
114.Andrew Duff described the political declaration as “an integral part of the overall package deal”. Although he sought clarification from the Government as to its “precise legal status”, he was in no doubt as to its importance: “The declaration will bind the European Council post-Brexit and will form the basis for the drawing up of the directives that, following a separate decision, will eventually empower the Commission to negotiate the final deal.”
115.Jude Kirton-Darling, in contrast, noting the lack of time, was concerned that “we will end up with a political declaration that is not very detailed, going into what is effectively a blind transition where we have no vote at the table and no voice in the process”. Daniel Hannan agreed, “both on the timing and the danger”. Sylvia de Mars expected the primary focus to be on “making sure that the withdrawal agreement is as airtight as it can be, leaving the political declaration as a statement of intent”. Andrew Duff, on the other hand, envisaged “a comprehensive document covering all the potential aspects of the future partnership”.
116.The Secretary of State, asked on 1 May about the risk that the political declaration could be a political compromise, meaning different things to different people, responded:
“I do not think that it is a material [risk]. I say that for the following reason. You are hearing the negotiating stance. Always remember when you are talking to all these people that they are not presenting you with scientific fact; they are presenting you with a negotiating stance. Their negotiating stance is that nothing is binding on them. Their favourite phrase is, ‘Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ … Of course we will have to manage the transition from the political agreement to the legal agreement. Some of it will have hiccups, but I think that, broadly speaking, we will have a very, very good idea of where we are going to be at the end.”
117.The Prime Minister’s call for a “deep and special” partnership with the EU has yet to elicit a positive response. In part this is because of the EU’s suspicion that the UK is ‘cherry-picking’—seeking the benefits of EU membership, particularly the economic benefits, without accepting the price. This is a regular theme of statements by the European Council: “A non-member of the Union, that does not live up to the same obligations as a member, cannot have the same rights and enjoy the same benefits as a member.” It helps to explain why the EU’s analysis has repeatedly drawn on existing templates for EU relations with third countries, which represent safe ground, rather than devising bespoke solutions.
118.If the Government is to overcome this reluctance on the EU side, it will need to articulate a vision for future UK-EU relations that makes long-term sense not just for the UK, but for the EU, one that takes account of the aspirations of many in the EU to move towards greater integration. Daniel Hannan said that he would have tried “to create a precedent for every other country that either cannot or does not want to join the EU but wants the closest feasible alliance with it”. He cited a report by the Bruegel think-tank in August 2016, which, in his words, proposed “a large nexus based on free trade within which a much smaller group of countries go for political union”. Jude Kirton-Darling envisaged a similar outcome: “I suspect that we will end up with concentric circles of European co-operation.”
119.Such a vision might be said to respond to the closeness of the referendum result, and the continuing divisions of opinion within the United Kingdom, and across its regions and nations. Daniel Hannan, who campaigned to leave the EU, argued that: “The only fair way to interpret such a narrow margin is as a mandate for a phased, gradual repatriation of power that would leave intact a number of our existing institutional links and obligations.”
120.In March 2016, in the run-up to the referendum, we published our report on The EU referendum and EU reform. We saw an opportunity to develop “a more flexible, dynamic and multi-layered EU”, but warned that if the UK was to be part of this change, the then Prime Minister would need “to make an inclusive case for EU membership, one that speaks for all”. Two years after the referendum, the need for a compelling and inclusive vision for UK-EU relations is greater than ever.
121.Time is short: in a matter of weeks the framework for future UK-EU relationship will be finalised, in the form of a political declaration annexed to the October European Council conclusions. We are concerned at the delay and uncertainty that has surrounded the Government’s development of detailed, workable proposals.
122.While the ‘political declaration’ may not be legally binding, we accept that at least at a political level it may bind future European Councils, and thus limit the options available to the UK in future negotiations. This makes it all the more important that the Government bring forward these proposals in timely fashion, so as to influence the drafting of the declaration.
123.Given the closeness of the referendum result, the Government must articulate an inclusive vision for future UK-EU relations, commanding broad support, in order to achieve an acceptable and durable outcome.
124.The Government will also need to articulate a long-term vision that speaks to the EU. That means using the language of partnership, accepting that costs and compromises will be necessary, and acknowledging that the EU may evolve, post-Brexit, towards greater political and economic integration.
126.The EU will then need to reciprocate. So far it has adopted a reductive approach, without fully acknowledging the importance to the EU’s long-term security and prosperity of a close and lasting partnership with the UK. That must change.
127.Most negotiations start with ‘cherry-picking’, as each party focuses on its own interests. The success of the negotiation can then be measured by the willingness of all parties to compromise, as they discover mutual interests and deliver shared benefits.
91 European Union Committee, (7th Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 46), para 106
92 European Council, ‘European Council (Art. 50) guidelines on the framework for the future EU-UK relationship’, 23 March 2018: [accessed 5 June 2018]
93 Department for Exiting the European Union, Framework for the UK-EU Security Partnership (9 May 2018): [accessed 24 May 2018]
96 Oral evidence taken on 1 May 2018 (Session 2017–19), (Rt Hon David Davis MP)
97 Written evidence from Andrew Duff ()
101 Oral evidence taken on 1 May 2018 (Session2017–19), (Rt Hon David Davis MP)
102 European Council, ‘European Council (Art. 50) guidelines on the framework for the future EU-UK relationship’, 23 March 2018, para 7: [accessed 24 May 2018]
103 Bruegel, Europe after Brexit: A proposal for a continental partnership, August 2016 [accessed 24 May 2018]. Bruegel envisaged “a Europe of two circles, with the supranational EU and the euro area at its core, and an outer circle of countries involved in a structured intergovernmental partnership”.
107 European Union Committee, (9th Report, Session 2015–16, HL Paper 122), paras 254 and 257