Why are the Brexit trade talks held up by the divorce talks?

  • In order to provide certainty for businesses and bureacrats, to a layman it appears practical for Britain to carry out trade talks with the European Union in parallel with the divorce talks.

    Yet the consistent message I hear through the news media is that progress must be made on the divorce talks before the trade talks can begin. The divorce issues that seem to have been most difficult over the last few months seem to have been:

    • the rights of EU citizens living in the UK
    • the land border between Ireland (the Republic of Ireland) and Northern Ireland
    • the 'Brexit bill', the contribution that the UK will pay to the EU budget above its annual commitments to 2019

    I have heard various sources, including the leading EU officials, and German government ministers, insist these divorce issues are agreed before trade talks begin. Meanwhile the British negotiators seem to accept this.

    Not only do I not know what the reason is, I don't even know whether the reason is political, a negotiating tactic by one or more party to the talks, technical (for some legal or bureaucratic reason), or logistical (such as appointing a sufficient number of officials to conduct multiple parallel negotiations.)

    In searching for the reason, I found a BBC article that says the Irish government has asked for progress on the land border before trade talks begin. But I haven't found any other solid, neutral analysis of the reason(s) that the talks are organized sequentially instead of in parallel.

    Update these related answers describes the content of the talks in 2017, but not the structure.

    Actually my impression is that the current timing issues are just a reflection of the underlying problem of both parties wanting different things. How do you reconcile these differing desires? Even if there would be trade talks, who says that they would be successful in any way? The thing is that time has a value because of the costs of uncertainty. So at some point someone will move. Knowing this they actually could have moved already now and just fast forward to the interesting part. But then, it's humans involved and they are simply not perfect.

    Say there are two people, Alice and Bill. And say they have two separate things to negotiate, say ownership of a car and ownership of a boat. If the ideal result for both Alice and Bill (fair to both and both prefer it over other fair results) is if Alice gets the car and Bill gets the boat, there's no way they can negotiate the car first and then the boat. Bill won't give Alice the car for nothing and Alice won't settle for no car if she still enters the boat negotiation with the same position.

    @DavidSchwartz pls don't answer the question in comments, as the community can't vet or rank them (or give you rep). However your metaphor wouldn't help me in the way Tim B's answer does, as it doesn't explain why divorce is like a boat, and trade like a car: both sides want a trade deal, and both sides want a divorce settlement. Even the Good Friday Agreement, which has its own problems, was negotiated in multiple parallel strands.

  • Tim B

    Tim B Correct answer

    4 years ago

    Almost the first set of talks that were held about Brexit were about the order in which things were happening. The UK wanted to do things in parallel. The EU said no, we need to settle things like the financial commitments first and in the end the UK negotiators agreed to that.

    They really had no choice though, as negotiations require two parties. The UK has no way to force the EU to talk about anything until the EU is ready to do so. The EU has said that unless you agree things like the settlement bill we won't discuss anything else.

    The UK is in a much weaker negotiation position than the EU (at least in part because our negotiating team seems to have no idea what they actually want) and as a result has very little leverage.

    @Layna When it comes to Brexit, the current UK government - despite being a single-party administration - is effectively a coalition of people who campaigned for Remain and people who campaigned for Leave. And (similarly, but not identically) a coalition of people advocating "Soft" or "Hard" Brexit respectively. But if it's a coalition, then it's one without a coalition agreement. The UK position is unclear because members of the UK government can't (or won't) agree among themselves.

    This isn't helped by the Prime Minister having basically no authority over her own cabinet... and that wasn't helped by throwing away a small but manageable majority in a completely unnecessary snap election.

    @owjburnham Single-party? DUP don't even count? `:P`

    I like this answer because it sticks to the facts without making any commentary about the side's motivations or any judgements about who is right and who is wrong.

    @Pharap No, because they aren't part of the Government. They support it in votes of confidence and supply, but they don't sit on the Government benches and they aren't represented in Cabinet. I suppose, arguably, they have an influence on Government policy (which is germane to the question), but *lots* of things have an influence on policy. The point is that they're not present in the Cabinet meetings where (in theory) everyone is supposed to agree (or pretend to once they leave the room).

    Edit, months later, but I should have said: "supposed to agree (or pretend to) once they leave the room." Placement of parentheses is important!

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM