PM speech on our future economic partnership with the European Union

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Series Details 02.03.18
Publication Date 02/03/2018
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The United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May gave a speech on the UK's future economic partnership with the European Union at the Mansion House in London on the 2 March 2018.

This was the final speech in a series of Road to Brexit speeches given by the Prime Minister and other senior UK ministers during February-March 2018. Their avowed objective was to outline aspects of the UK's aspirations post-Brexit and, in particular, to clarify the nature of the relationship sought between the EU and itself.

Brexit Negotiations

+ 29 March 2017: The UK triggered Article 50, the process for the start of the negotiations for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.
+ 19 June 2017: 1st Round
+ 17-20 July 2017: 2nd Round
+ 28-31 August 2017: 3rd Round
+ 25-28 September 2017: 4th Round
+ 9-12 October 2017: 5th Round
+ 19-20 October 2017: European Council
+ 9-10 November 2017: 6th Round
+ 8 December 2017: Meeting between Jean-Claude Juncker and Theresa May. Joint report on progress during phase 1 of negotiations under Article 50 TEU on the UK’s orderly withdrawal from the EU
+ 15 December 2017: European Council (Art.50)
+ 29 January 2018: General Affairs Council (Art. 50)
+ 6-9 February 2018: EU-UK Article 50 Negotiations
+ 26-27 February + 5 March 2018: EU-UK Article 50 Negotiations

During the first phase of negotiations (concluded in December 2017) there were three negotiating groups covering the key issues of:

+ citizens’ rights
+ financial settlement
+ other separation issues (such such as Euratom, EU external agreements and dispute resolution).

The issues related to Northern Ireland and the governance of the withdrawal agreement were addressed by the Coordinators.

Note that negotiations at the level of officials took place in addition to the formal milestone negotiations listed above.

Following the European Council held in Brussels on the 14-15 December 2017 the EU27 grouping (the EU Member States minus the United Kingdom) held a separate European Council (Art.50) on the 15 December 2017.

The EU27 reviewed the latest developments in the Brexit negotiations.

EU27 leaders agreed that sufficient progress has been achieved in the first phase of the Brexit negotiations.

On this basis, they adopted the draft guidelines to move to the second phase of negotiations where they would also start discussions on:

+ a transition period
+ the framework for the future relationship

The European Commission sent on the 20 December 2017 a Recommendation to the Council (Art 50) to begin discussions on the next phase of the orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

The Council of the European Union (EU27) adopted on the 29 January 2018 its negotiating directives relating to the second phase of Brexit talks.

On the 7 February 2018 the European Commission published a Position Paper called Transitional Arrangements in the
Withdrawal Agreement
. This translated into legal terms the principles laid down in the European Council Guidelines of 29 April 2017 and 15 December 2017 and in the supplementary negotiating directives annexed to the Council Decision of 29 January 2018.

The UK sent a formal response to the European Commission's Position Paper on the 20 February 2018 ('Implementation Period Update').

A further series of EU-UK Article 50 Negotiations took place between officials in Brussels, 6-9 February 2018, preceded on the 5 February 2018 by a working meeting in London between Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator and Brexit secretary, David Davis.

Technical discussions covered:

+ Withdrawal issues (Governance)
+ Ireland/Northern Ireland
+ Implementation

On the 9 February 2018 there was a meeting at the more senior Coordinators’ level covering:

+ Wrap-up
+ UK update on the future relationship.

During the same week the UK Prime Minister Theresa May held meetings of senior Cabinet Ministers within the Brexit Sub-Committee on the 7 and 8 February 2018 to attempt to try and agree on a UK proposal for of a final deal with the EU that could keep a divided Conservative Party together. News sources quoted on the 5 February 2018 said that a Downing Street spokesman had made clear that the UK would leave the EU customs union after Brexit. However, commentators noted that this might not preclude an agreement on some form of special customs arrangements.

Michel Barnier said in London on the 5 February 2018 in this context: 'our future partnership between the UK and the EU. On that point we need also clarity about the UK's proposals for the future partnership. The only thing I can say now is that without a customs union - and being outside the Single Market - barriers to trade and goods and services are unavoidable. The time has come to make a choice'.

On the 9 February 2018 Michel Barnier gave a downbeat assessment of the state of the negotiations. In particular, in connection with the issue of preventing a return to a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. There would be a need to maintain full regulatory alignment with the rules of the Single Market and the Customs Union – current or future – which supported North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the Good Friday Agreement. As a result, and because the UK had come up with no practical operational solutions, the European Commission would need to legally define how this scenario would work in operational terms.

Commentators saw this as an ultimatum from the European Commission forcing the UK Government to come down on the side of a continued participation in the EU Customs Union or to take the Brexiteers line and not accept any such continued participation and, potentially, no agreed transitional period deal.

Other continuing disagreements between the two sides involved:

+ the UK's refusal to guarantee permanent rights to EU nationals who came to live and work in the UK after March 2019 during the transition period
+ the rights of the UK to object to new EU rules and laws during the transition period ('implementation period')
+ whether the UK could continue to participate in new justice and home affairs policies during the transition period.

News sources over the weekend of 10-11 February 2018 indicated that Downing Street had made it clear that the Prime Minister and senior ministers would make a series of six Road to Brexit speeches over the coming days to try and clarify what it wanted from the EU.

On the 28 February 2018 the European Commission issued a Position Paper to the EU27 called European Commission Draft Withdrawal Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community.

From a European Commission perspective this document translated into legal terms the Joint Report from the negotiators of the European Union and the United Kingdom Government on the progress achieved during phase 1 of the negotiations, published on 8 December 2017, and proposed text for those outstanding withdrawal issues which were mentioned in, but not set out in detail, in the Joint Report. It also integrated the text on the transition period, based on the supplementary negotiating directives adopted by the Council (Article 50) on 29 January 2018.

The draft Withdrawal Agreement would be discussed with the EU27 Member States and and the European Parliament and, subsequently, for negotiation with the United Kingdom.

From a UK perspective the document created considerable controversy as regards, in particular, the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

The Road to Brexit series of speeches should be seen in this context.

On the 26 February 2018 Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn gave an important speech on Brexit in which he gave the Labour Party's vision for Britain after Brexit.

The speech given on the 2 March 2018 was seen as the third key speech by Mrs May on Brexit. The other two were at Lancaster Gate, London in January 2017 and in Florence in September 2017.

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