print close

Theresa May’s error

by Roland Hureaux, France

Brexit increasingly resembles a television series full of surprising twists and turns, the end of which is not in sight.
After two years of negotiations, both sides believed they had reached an agreement on the conditions to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. But the treaty was clearly rejected by the House of Commons on 14 January with 432 votes to 202, as many Britons believe that their Prime Minister, Ms May, has made too many concessions. The majority consisted of a coalition of still active Brexit opponents with those who judged the outcome of the negotiations too unfavourable to British interests.
One wonders why Ms May let herself in for something that increasingly resembles a true way of the cross.
There are two ways to get out of the European Union.
The first and easier one is purely and simply the termination of the EU accession, which is possible for any sovereign state. All European regulations would have continued to apply to the United Kingdom until the London government decided to modify or repeal them.
 Had this modification posed a problem for the European Union, for example if the UK had newly demanded duties on imports from the continent where there were none before, then this could have been negotiated bilaterally. Conversely, if the European Union had confronted the United Kingdom with unfavourable decisions, bilateral negotiations would have been just as possible. However, these negotiations would have taken place after Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, in complete freedom. The WTO treaties, to which both the European Union and the United Kingdom are parties, limit from the outset the economic leverage that would have been used by Brussels or London.
As far as the legislative power of the EU is concerned, it would have been transferred to the UK, according to the theory of the successor state, without all previous regulations having necessarily to be revised. The same theory would have applied to agreements with third countries which would have remained in force for as long as they were not called into question by any of the contracting parties (United Kingdom or third country).
The second way to leave the European Union is to apply Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, which organises the complicated withdrawal procedure, bearing in mind that the United Kingdom remains a member of the EU as long as the procedure is not completed.
Why choose a simple solution when there is also a complicated one? The British government has chosen the second way, very probably to make the break a little more gently. This decision could also have had something to do with Ms May’s opposition to Brexit at the outset.
If the British did not know before, I am sure they have now understood that the purpose of this complex procedure is to make the withdrawal of a state from the EU as complicated as possible so that it will be discouraged from the outset. The negotiating partners on the part of the European Union, first and foremost the French Commissioner Michel Barnier, have also done nothing to ease the Brexit, in order to prevent the resignation of another member through this procedure. They were encouraged to do so by the French President Macron and, more discreetly, by the German Chancellor.
The result of this slowness could, however, be different: If another country decides to resign, it will in future know that taking the direct and shorter route, namely that of unilateral termination of accession, is better because the negotiations then take place after the resignation and not before.                       •

Source: L’erreur de Theresa May. Boulevard Voltaire. 16 January 2019

(Translation Current Concerns)