By Derek Eggleston, 2nd year student reading BA International Relations at the War Studies Department of King’s College London, Publicity and Merchandise Officer of the War Studies Society.
As the numbness of shock begins to wear off, the gravity of the situation begins to truly set in: the UK has crashed out of formal participation on the continent in a shockingly ludicrous fashion. No, I am not talking about falling 2-1 to Iceland to leave the UEFA Euro 2016 competition and continue a decade-long of knockout stage woes, I am discussing—of course—the momentous decision of British (or should I say, English and Welsh) voters to leave the European Union. Now that the dust has settled it comes time to begin the arduous process of negotiating the practical implementation of such a consequential political directive from the British public. Markets are responding as predicted, with initial shock and high levels of volatility in what has become a self-fulfilling prophecy of economic and emotional shock at the prospect of the Brexit . Beyond this, the political implications are just beginning to unravel as Europe goes through quite possibly one of the most important events it has been through since WWII. There are a plethora of implications that could be analysed: what happens to Scotland and Northern Ireland, the fate of the Labour party, and the likelihood of similar populism gaining traction in other member-states. The politics have and can continue to be discussed for a long time to come. This article will focus particularly on one aspect: the dynamic of EU-UK negotiations in the immediate future.
As if the re-negotiation of the structuring of the relationship between two massive political and economic actors were not hard enough, London and Brussels have both introduced steadfast and vying ultimatums. On the European side, the mantra is that negotiations, informal or formal, may not continue until Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon has been invoked and the 2-year process of formal recession from the EU has commenced . On London’s side, Cameron’s government has been as thoroughly resolute to insist such actions will not be undertaken by his government. He is ready to ‘steady the ship’ but has abdicated the onus to his predecessor to ‘be the captain that steers’ the UK through uncharted waters . The question, of course, is simple: who blinks first? Will the EU relent and commence in negotiations with the UK to decide the future of relations, will Cameron be forced to initiate Article 50 in order to commence negotiations, or will we remain in a negotiation-less limbo until September and the new government? The answer, in short, is that: Cameron will most likely not initiate Article 50, the EU will not officially engage in negotiations, yet we will not be stuck in limbo until a new government.
Why is it unlikely Cameron would invoke Article 50? Because too much is at stake for Cameron to hastily act on the country’s future. Domestic political pressure and discord has reached an all-time high and even staunch leave supporters are urging for caution and patience to sort matters out before triggering the all-important Article 50 . Its premature trigger by the all-but-gone Prime Minister would be the nail in the coffin of his already extremely damaged political legacy as PM. Why is it unlikely EU leaders will go back on its word to begin formal negotiations and gain leverage? Europe faces division more so than ever before. After Farage’s grim prognosis on the future of the EU , European leaders must now more than ever (in addition to reforms which must take place and are outside the scope of this article) stand together for their European project that risks bursting at the seams. For EU officials to try and engage in negotiation would simply be counter-productive to the necessary cause of unity at the moment. With Article 50 not triggered and Europe unwilling to discuss terms with the UK, where does this leave the state of affairs?
The ultimate answer, far from a negotiation-less limbo, is a tacit game of chess utilising strategic communications and polished statements to gain leverage between now and September. Both sides have their unique aims. Britain’s aims (although dependent upon the incoming government) are largely centred around retaining access to all of the economic benefits of trade in the single European market and its 500 Million consumers without subjugation to certain laws from Brussels. Simplistically, Europe wants Britain to abide by its rules to benefit from its trade to send an example to other states: you cannot leave and get whatever you want . Although it is notable that Europe’s ambition may be harder to pinpoint. Whilst harsher terms would send a message to other states that anti-EU populism is not a successful route, still it is true that painless incorporation of an independent Britain does help the EU economy. Regardless of which side of the argument Europe takes in deciding their aims, they may not be able to directly negotiate these terms, but the posturing and the art of utility maximising on each side in this deal has already begun. On the British side, the future is being proposed publicly by both sides. Those on the leave side are insisting on the utopic deals they will receive beyond what Norway gets, namely access to the single market without the acceptance of labour mobility . On the remain side, those such as Cameron are insisting that these specifics in no way override the desire on both sides to make this work in a peaceful and symbiotic manner . On the European side of things, leaders are insisting Britain will not be able to pick and choose what EU laws they want to adhere to and which ones they want to shirk .
What does this mean for future negotiations? It is too soon to decide who will relent, especially on important matters such as the immigration-single market conundrum. However, one thing is certain. Despite no formal negotiations and the refusal of Cameron to trigger Article 50, as is always the case with politics, there are workarounds which both sides are utilising to maximise their leverage. EU leaders may have dictated there are to be no informal negotiations, however this is simply not practical. The terms of the Brexit are massively important questions and politicians are not leaving them until September. Both sides are strategically attempting to paint the picture in the public sphere of what terms will be. Back and forth through the media, politicians are indirectly and directly responding to dissenting pictures of the future with pictures of their own in an attempt to gain the upper-hand before formal negotiations begin, which does not align with the ‘no informal negotiations’ edict endorsed by EU leaders. This game has, however, died down on the British side as leaders begin stepping down and sorting out domestic disarray. The ball is in no one’s court but is rather being tossed back and forth for all to see by means of strategic declarations and attempts to publicly shape the negotiations. This strategic manoeuvring will continue right up until Article 50’s triggering this autumn and one thing is for certain: sooner or later something has got to give. Politicians cannot scramble forever and consensus must be at least approached if not reached sometime in the near future to mitigate uncertainty and market volatility. However, given the obstinacy of both sides, I would not hold my breath on getting actual answers on important policy negotiations for quite some time.
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