By Charlotte Ryan and Svenja O’Donnell
Britain is in a hurry to get Brexit talks to envelop trade. Not so fast, the European Union says.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is issuing on Tuesday its third position paper in two days on how it sees its future relationship with Europe. The latest details focus on civil judicial cooperation”•covering disputes from cross-border business to divorce and child custody”•ahead of a much-anticipated document Wednesday on the role of the EU Court of Justice.
The aim is the same: rebut criticism from the EU that the UK is unclear about what it wants and pressure its divorce partner into discussing commerce.
The UK returns from the summer break with a strategy to force a conversation on the future much sooner than the EU wants. The release of a flurry of policy specifics seeks to demonstrate that Britain has thought things through as it builds the case that the myriad issues are complex and interconnected enough to require trade to be part of the mix.
Brexit Secretary David Davis has adopted a more forceful attitude and is reopening for debate the EU’s stipulation, which he had appeared back in June to finally accept, that the divorce needs to be settled first.
His chief adversary, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, tweeted Monday that the new round of negotiations next week will “focus on orderly withdrawal” and that he’d been “clear and transparent since day 1.”
In other words, the EU is not budging. So where does that leave the UK?
While much has been made of the batch of position papers coming out, one UK government official said that many of these are devoid of much substance and that most of the preparatory work is being done behind the scenes.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Toronto on Monday that he remains “confused and puzzled” about the UK’s plan for trade after Brexit. Varadkar dismissed the UK’s position as unrealistic and repeated that he wants no border on the island of Ireland, ahead of a visit to the US-Canada frontier on Tuesday.
And despite the rhetorical posturing from the UK government, both papers out Monday were uncontroversial in reiterating that Britain wanted the “freest and most frictionless trade possible” and also to preserve existing rules on confidentiality.
In fact, the paper concerning “goods on the market” drew praise from British businesses concerned their products will lose regulatory approval the day after Brexit even if they run off the same production line as those shipped on the day the UK departs.
The UK listed examples of how products from pharmaceuticals to cosmetics could be caught up in Brexit if the issue isn’t tackled. Bart Van Vooren, a lawyer at Covington & Burling LLP, said the regulation of goods ultimately will depend on something far more important.
“Without the UK making a fundamental choice on its future relationship to the EU, it cannot expect to receive this depth of mutual recognition,” he said. “Without making that choice clear now, the proposals in the position paper simply cannot work and the EU will not give concessions to the UK.”