The European Council today issued what it wants from the Brexit negotiations. As promised, Council President Donald Tusk released guidelines on how the European Council will negotiate Brexit. This briefing, along with the letter Theresa May sent on Wednesday is the best indication to how negotiations will proceed over the next two years, and where there is common ground.
The letter that Theresa May sent to Donald Tusk was either one of conciliation or blackmail depending on who you believe, or which newspaper you read. However, the statement today also has a similar tone, outlining clearly what the Council wants, but also the red lines Britain faces. In writing the statement Donald Tusk outlined the Council’s position saying that negotiations will only take place as a collective group of 27 nations, therefore making it impossible to talk to other leaders on the side. The power until the 29th March was firmly in Theresa May’s court, but now it has been transferred away with power now in the hands of the remaining 27 nations who will meet for the first time since Article 50 was triggered on April 29th.
One area which both the Council and the United Kingdom agreed on was Northern Ireland. Neither the United Kingdom, nor Ireland want a hard border on the island, believing that this could jeopardise the fragile Good Friday Agreement of 1998. In this mornings statement Tusk said that he would be looking for ‘flexible and imaginative solutions’ to the problem. To me this looks like both sides will do anything for a deal which keeps both the peace alive and the border soft.
However there is already a potential major point of disagreement, point 22 of the negotiating guidelines could cause some concern to the Government regarding the only overseas territory that is part of the European Union (and voted to remain by 96%). It states:
After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.
This means that even if 27 out of 27 nations vote for the exit deal, if Spain votes against it that deal wouldn’t apply to Gibraltar. This could mean some arm-twisting by the government has to take place in order to get Mariano Rajoy’s government to comply.
Theresa May would be relieved to note that there was no mention of the devolved governments in the statement from the European Council; however in the white paper that was published yesterday, David Davis said that there ‘will be a significant increase in the decision making power of each devolved administration’. This shows that despite the claims of Plaid Cymru that the paper was a power grab, large sections if EU law will be devolved instead of centralised.