EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his UK counterpart, David Davis, met in Brussels to mark the beginning of what promises to be one hell of a ride. Although it’s been nearly a year since the ‘Leave’ won with 52% of the vote in the historic Brexit referendum, the current political climate knows no more stability than it did on June 23rd, 2016. Nevertheless, both Barnier and Davis used their opening remarks today to set a “positive and constructive tone” for the talks.
Sounds like wishful thinking
While the optimism expressed by both Barnier and Davis today was admirable, it was also painfully transparent. Over the past year, EU and UK leadership have been trying (and failing) to demonstrate ‘strength’ and ‘unity’ in the face of one of the biggest political challenges of our time. On this first day of Brexit negotiations, all we saw was yet another meek attempt to convince citizens that everything will be just fine. Instead of making anyone feel better, the messages of camaraderie and a better future coming from Barnier and Davis felt awkward, forced, and disconnected from reality.
In Westminster, the word ‘stability’ has lost all meaning
In the UK, claims to political stability are honestly laughable. Prime Minister Theresa May is still reeling from the spectacular failure of her plan to bring “unity” to Westminster with a general election. Not only did she lose her party’s majority government, but in the process she surrendered all claim to “strong and stable” leadership going into Brexit negotiations. But despite her failure, the UK government has made it very clear that their Brexit stance remains unchanged.
In a statement released Sunday, the UK government left no room for doubt regarding their plan to pursue a ‘hard Brexit’ in the talks. This statement represents an outright refusal to recognise the challenges the UK is facing at home. By taking a ‘business-as-usual’ approach to Brexit negotiations, the UK government is setting the stage for debilitating complications as the talks move forward.
Lessons from Day 1
According to Barnier, Brexit negotiations are off to a good start. Davis agreed, adding that a “solid foundation for future discussions” was laid out in today’s session.
The progress so far? Both sides have agreed on an initial timeline, involving 4 weeks of bargaining rounds, with 1 week per month dedicated exclusively to head-to-head bargaining. They also agreed that negotiations will be carried out in English and French. Now all that’s left is agreeing on a financial settlement, the rights of EU and UK citizens, trade deals, and the impact on borders, particularly in Ireland – all in under 21 months.
But it’ll be fine. We just need to stay positive.