The next eleven months

The clock has started. The deal is signed, the MEPs have come home and negotiation starts even before the clock strikes 11 on Friday.

The first rule for a time-sensitive negotiation: do not wait for the other side to move, but make the first move before he has settled into preconceptions from which he will be unwilling to move. That is not hostile, but practical. The first rule for a favourable negotiation is the same: move first.

We saw, painfully, a year and a half ago that British negotiators were doing nothing active, and being entirely reactive waiting for the European Commission’s negotiator to chose the timing and to impose their own terms. The reasons for that approach were never fully explained. Mrs May was blamed as she was instructing their actions, or inactions, but it may have been simple timid idiocy, or just that bureaucrats are used to waiting upon Brussels. Alternative, dark suggestions have been made, suggesting willing capitulation, and candid minutes have found their way into the light of day, but one hopes that no British official would stoop to treachery.

Those days though are past. There is no power vacuum now and there is a definite direction.

A challenge will be to keep the Commission to the words of the Political Declaration. There are sounds of straying already, of “full alignment”, of empowering the ECJ: unless positive action is taken now to shape the future deal, it will settle back into EU norms, which are the very reason for getting out.

A negotiation proceeds from a text, the terms of which are discussed and amended as it goes. Whoever puts the text down first shapes the discussion. Therefore Britain’s officials must place their text on the table as soon as possible. The Commission has every motive for delay, and we have seen them do it. There must be none. In fact, the text should have been on the table already, and every day’s delay is harmful.

Be ambitious then. However, Wallonia is a warning: Wallonia, as readers may recall, sank the EU-Canada CETA deal first time round. We do not want that happening this time. A deal will only need the approval of nation states and the wayward assemblées nationaux if is strays beyond the Union’s exclusive competence. If it possible therefore to settle a deal, even a halfway deal, exclusively within that exclusive competence then it can be signed with little bureaucracy, or at least as little as it is possible to get with Brussels. That may mean missing valuable elements out, but we can come back for them later.

That’s the business of Europe at least, which is a minor element of Parliament’s work in the forthcoming months.

The Commons should get busy with fixing all the things which were left to rot during the Zombie Parliament. When I began this post it was with that domestic agenda in mind, but Brexit dominates this week, rightly so. Next week maybe the work for the next eleven months will become clearer.

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Author: AlexanderTheHog

A humble scribbler who out of my lean and low ability will lend something to Master Hobbes

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