Paying the Bill

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Posted on December 1, 2017

Ahead of the crucial European Council meeting in 2 weeks and to push forward in the negotiations, the UK has now agreed in principle to pay the EU what the UK legally owes in terms of its financial liabilities. What remains unknown is exactly how much this figure will be. Estimates, which include the UK’s share of any EU assets, vary and range from £50b upwards. Politically, it serves Prime Minister Theresa May not to put forward an exact figure, as it will be incredibly large and will be difficult to sell to both the electorate and the Parliamentary, predominately Tory, Brexitieers. One former Minister, Priti Patel sacked three weeks ago, has said the EU should ’sod off’ over the bill and the UK should just walk away.

But pressure, from UK business to move quickly to the point when trade can be negotiated against a hard timetable has pushed this forward. UK businesses have indicated that Q1 of 2018 is as late as they can wait to begin making decisions on how to adapt, including beginning to move jobs and capital from the UK. The two other issues still to be resolved include EU citizens’ rights and the Northern Ireland / Republic of Ireland border.

There are indications that both sides are close on citizens’ rights, but that Northern Ireland remains unresolved. The Northern Ireland border, as we have often suggested, will be difficult to resolve and has already raised the political temperature between London and Dublin. The UK was expecting that Dublin would fall into line with what is best for the UK, but Ireland are playing hardball and have been clear that they will scupper trade discussions if they are not satisfied with the deal on the border with Northern Ireland. Kate Hoey a Labour Brexit MP, has said Ireland should pay for the border, implying Ireland should simply act in the UK’s best interests. She added that since Ireland joined the EEC with the UK they should consider leaving too. The Irish seem not to be enamoured at being treated as something less than the sovereign state they are.

Apart from the open border for goods between both Northern Ireland and Ireland, what is not being discussed, especially if there is an open or ‘light touch’ border is what happens to EU nationals arriving in Ireland who then travel to Northern Ireland, and therefore are in the UK. The UK has indicated that there will be some form of immigration checks for EU nationals once the UK has left. That has again yet to be resolved. Another issue, is how the potential divergence on regulation will work, specifically when it comes to agriculture, both sides of the border.

Turning nasty

The rhetoric within UK politics and with former friends and allies has soured. Vitriol against the EU, including some member states has not lessened. Two of the UK’s post WW2 foreign policy pillars are not what they were two years ago. Britain’s relationship with Europe is becoming fractured as is the current uncertainty of the Transatlantic relationship, particularly after the Twitter spats. Rebuilding and repairing both of these relationships should be a priority.

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