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UK Cranks Up The Pressure On EU To Pivot Brexit Talks To Trade

By Steve Wynne-Jones
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The UK has announced that it’s piling pressure on the European Union to shift the focus of Brexit negotiations away from the terms of divorce and onto their future relationship.

Britain will publish a flurry of documents in the coming days, laying out the government’s position on topics ranging from data protection to judicial cooperation. Five papers are due to be published in the week starting Monday, the Department for Exiting the European Union said in a statement on Sunday. The next round of negotiations is due to start on 29 August.

Before talks can move on to commerce, Prime Minister Theresa May needs to convince EU leaders at an October summit that enough progress has been made on citizens’ rights, the UK’s exit bill, and the border with Ireland. With the clock ticking down to the March 2019 departure date, Brexit Secretary David Davis has an added sense of urgency to try and get a discussion on trade going.

While the UK insists that it wants to hold trade and divorce talks in tandem, the EU has been unwavering in its stance that details of the separation must be sorted out first. Moreover, the 27 other EU nations have united behind their lead negotiator, Michel Barnier, in the past five months.

“[The five upcoming papers are] all part of our work to drive the talks forward and make sure we can show beyond doubt that we have made sufficient progress on withdrawal issues by October,” Davis said in a statement. “[Britain is] putting forward imaginative and creative solutions to build a deep and special partnership with our closest neighbours and allies.”


Too Narrow

On Monday, Britain plans to publish papers on goods on the market and the confidentiality of documents. The first is a response to an EU paper setting out provisions that goods made available for sale before Brexit should still be available for purchase in both the EU and UK after Britain’s withdrawal.

Davis will say that the EU proposals should extend to related services, for example, a maintenance contract that comes with the sale of an elevator.

While the document will only cover a small part of the withdrawal deal, it foreshadows the fight Britain that faces to ensure that services are covered in a future trade deal with the EU. Services make up 80% of the gross value added to the British economy, compared to an EU-wide 74%.

The data protection and judicial cooperation papers will come later in the week, along with one on proposed mechanisms for dispute resolution once the European Court of Justice (ECJ) no longer has jurisdiction in the UK. This last one is expected to cause the most friction, since May has made escaping the jurisdiction of European courts a red line, while the EU sees a continued role for the ECJ.


Progress Requirements

Davis has been stung by domestic criticism of his approach, as well as an accusation from Barnier that the UK has been wasting time, not least by holding a snap election in June that cost the Conservative Party its majority.

At the previous round of talks in July, envoys discussed the rights of EU citizens in Britain and those of Britons living in the bloc after Brexit. They then published a document showing disagreement on 14 of the 44 topics related to that discussion.

Last week, Britain published its proposals for how to deal with the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, throwing down the gauntlet for the EU to do likewise. On the bill associated with Britain’s departure, ministers have acknowledged the need for a payment, though Davis said last week that it would involve a “long haggle”.

Separately, on Sunday, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox heads to Panama as part of a visit that will also take him to Colombia. On Saturday, The Times reported that Fox, one of the most ardent supporters of Brexit, has written to cabinet members suggesting that the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland shouldn’t be given a veto on any future trade deals that the government strikes after Brexit.


The Scottish National Party said that would mark a “dangerous precedent”, giving the central government the right to, for example, overrule decisions by the semi-autonomous Scottish and Welsh governments to ban genetically modified foods.

News by Bloomberg, edited by ESM. Click subscribe to sign up to ESM: The European Supermarket Magazine.

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