The risk of Britain crashing out of the EU with no deal and no agreement on migrants should be taken seriously, Mark Leonard, co-founder of the European Council on Foreign Relations, recently told a gathering of the Consular Corps.
Leonard described a “galaxy-wide gap” in perceptions between the British team and the EU teams about how the process was going to proceed.
“We are facing incompatible, competing logics which govern the negotiations from the two sides,” he explained. Prime Minister Theresa May’s claim that she wanted to make a success of Brexit contradicted EU President Jean Claude Juncker’s stance that Brexit cannot be a success to avoid a “domino effect” among other member states.
Both sides have put economic considerations to one side, he added. To avoid the fate of John Major or David Cameron, Prime Minister May has “capitulated” to the hard Brexiteers and prioritised curbing migration and sovereignty instead of membership of the Single Market. Meanwhile for Juncker and the rest of the EU, unity trumps a trade deal.
The concern is that the two sides will remain “locked in a deadly dance” for their political survival until time runs out.
The EU has insisted that trade talks cannot begin until there is “sufficient progress” on the final terms, but these are likely to be “very tricky,” he said.
Even the question of citizens’ rights – which both parties agree should take precedence – could prove complicated. The issue of enforcing the rights for EU citizens could turn into a stumbling block if the EU insists on enforcing these rights through the European Court of Justice, or a similar body. “That would be very hard for a British Prime Minister to accept after the prominence given to sovereignty issues in the referendum and claims of taking back control,” warned Leonard.
A large divorce bill could also increase the risk of no deal after the referendum promises of repatriating UK funds sent to the EU, he added. “The stakes are high for the EU as well because the UK contributes a sixth of the budget so Brexit leaves a rather large hole.”
Another danger is the institutional inflexibility of the EU position, explained Leonard: “It’s very difficult to agree among the 27 but once they do agree it’s very difficult to change it.”
Leonard said he hoped that costs of crashing out the EU would “seep into the consciousness” of the new intake of MPs once the election season ended and negotiations started.
The period from now until the summit in December is critical, he said.“By then we will know if the doomsday scenario of no deal can be avoided,” he concluded.