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Brexit: The EU has set out its position. What happens now?

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The 27 EU Member States formally authorised the European Commission to open negotiations with the UK about the future EU-UK relationship. Their opening negotiating position is slightly tougher than the European Commission originally suggested.

The General Affairs Council tightened up the EU negotiating mandate in a number of areas:

 

  • On the potential for undercutting – the so-called “level playing field”: Europe has now stated clearly that tariff-free and quota-free access to the EU single market depends on UK rules in areas like employment law, environment policy and state aid staying broadly in step with the EU not only now, but also in the future. In the jargon, this is a call for “dynamic alignment”.

 

  • On movement of persons, the EU Member States are clear that reciprocity is the name of the game, and also the UK cannot treat differently people from different Member States.

 

  • On cultural objects, the EU wants to see the negotiations address the return and restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their countries of origin. This has been widely interpreted in the UK as a call for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, but it also reflects the importance of the London auction market.

 

  • On financial services: the EU has made clear that it alone is responsible for assessing whether UK regulation is equivalent, but that consultation with the UK is important.

 

The EU has also made clear that it expects the UK to implement the Withdrawal Agreement provisions on Ireland, which include checks and controls on goods transported from Great Britain to Northern Ireland that go on to Ireland. This reminder comes amid rumours that the UK may be trying to avoid or minimize the requirements.

 

Where do we go from here?

 

  • The UK government will present its own negotiating objectives to Parliament on Thursday 27 February.

 

  • The UK has previously rejected calls for “dynamic alignment” on grounds of sovereignty, and we do not expect that to change. The negotiating objectives of the EU and the UK might well be irreconcilable.

 

  • The European Commission and the UK government will officially kick off negotiations on Monday 2 March. Public statements will give us a flavour of the tone, but they will not tell us the whole story.