The EU’s draft negotiating guidelines, published two days after delivery of the Prime Minister’s withdrawal letter, set up a showdown on the crucial question of when will the UK wrap up a trade deal and get out? Worryingly, Theresa May has been the first to blink.
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“I want us to have reached an agreement about our future partnership by the time the two-year Article 50 process has concluded,” said Mrs May emphatically in her January speech, a commitment repeated in her withdrawal letter.
The guidelines, however call for a typically bureaucratic and drawn out process of setting up ‘frameworks’ over the course of Article 50’s two-year negotiating period before negotiations towards a trade deal can get underway.
In a disturbing sign of what is perhaps to come under a May negotiation, the PM has fallen in line with Brussels’ demands, promising to stick by the “legal situation” set by the EU.
The EU’s guidelines also call for a transition period after Britain has left, on this subject May also gave into the EU position:
“It will be necessary for there to be a period of time when businesses and governments are adjusting systems and so forth, depending on the nature of the deal, a period of time during which that deal will be implemented.”
As both the EU – and now May see it – Britain will still be negotiating a replacement trade deal in the aftermath of Brexit, before slowly untangling itself from the EU’s troublesome regulations and disastrous open borders, which means real independence will probably not occur until years after March 2019.
Just as Theresa May talked tough and failed to deliver as Home Secretary, we’re starting to see a PM faltering when it really matters.