Your guide to Brexit negotiations

25 Mar 2017


Around 9 months ago the United Kingdom voted 52:48 to leave the European Union and on March 29th Theresa May will finally trigger Article 50 and begin a two year period of negotiations with the EU. Once the European Union have been notified of Article 50 being triggered what happens after this and how quickly will events unfold? Here is the guide to the Brexit negotiations and what happens next.


Theresa May promised Article 50 would be triggered before the end of March and as promised the UK is about to notify the EU of the withdrawal from the union. After Article 50 is enacted, contrary to the attention the media has given this event, very little will happen for the next few weeks. Although no one in the UK or EU is certain of the exact chain of events, considering no one has left the European Union before, it is expected to be a fairly low key start to the process.


Following the Article 50 notification attention then turns to European Council President, Donald Tusk, who will respond to the letter the UK has sent with draft guidelines for the negotiations ahead. Mr Tusk has said that this response should only take 48 hours to formulate which will then begin the next chain of events before proper negotiations begin.


The European Union discussions


Prior to Article 50 being triggered  Donald Tusk recently set a date for a meeting of the 27 EU member states on Saturday 29th April , likely to be almost exactly a month after the letter from Theresa May triggering Article 50.  It is at this summit where the broad principles and key stones of the European negotiation stance will, in theory, be formulated. There is a chance that this meeting could be delayed due to the looming French elections, taking place on April 23rd and May 7th, as French politicians would rather not have Brexit distracting or influencing their election they may push for a delay.


Following this meeting, potentially already up to 5 weeks following the triggering of Article 50, the principles agreed would go the European Commission. Members of the commission would agree on a much more detailed strategy or stances which would be sent back to EU leaders for approval, which would finally give the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, his instructions and his ‘mandate’. In the month or two that this process is taking place the UK has a chance to influence European ‘allies’ such as Ireland or Poland to try to ensure a softer stance is agreed in the commission.


After this preliminary part of the process, it may not be until July or potentially even later that the initial stage of negotiations between Britain and the EU begin. At this point negotiations would focus on how the rest of the negotiations would take place, for example where and when meetings would take place, who would be in attendance and what order things should be discussed. Even at this early stage there is potential for disagreements or complications which means this stage could last anywhere between a few weeks to a couple of months. If the two sides don’t agree in a particular area it would be expected that EU leaders, potentially even Angela Merkel, could step in to help.


Britain and the EU Negotiate


Only after the EU’s negotiating position, mandates, schedules and personnel are agreed can the real negotiations begin. This could be as early as July or as late as September. What could further complicate the schedule are the German elections in August which may pause or delay negotiations or could alternatively push Germany and the EU for an early win in negotiations.


One of the early things likely to be discussed will be rights for EU citizens in Britain and vice versa. The much publicised divorce bill will also be an early bone of contention with the bill rumoured to be as high as £60bn but UK lords insisting recently that Britain is not legally obliged to pay any of it. These areas alone it has been suggested could take as long as six months to discuss and agree on. The commission has argued that these issues must be settled first before moving on to the future trading relationship between the union and the UK, although Brexiters insist that these two issues can run alongside each other.


If negotiations run to the European Union’s rumoured preferred schedule then talks about future trade deals may not begin until Spring 2018 or potentially even later with any complications or disagreements. Negotiations must finish by October 2018 so that British and European parliaments have the time to ratify whatever has been decided and enact any changes necessary within the union or in UK law.


Should this complicated process run smoothly then the UK will, as is demanded in the Article 50 clause, exit the EU by March 29th 2019. This time constraint may leave just six months for talks about future relationships over trade, security and beyond, which is comparatively little time given most trade talks take on average 3 years to agree. Added to this is the potential complication for Britain that Nicola Sturgeon would like to hold a referendum sometime after the time Article 50 demands negotiations end and Parliaments across Europe have their say.


Brexit negotiations are likely to be one of the most complex and time pressure set of negotiations ever with little over 18 months to decide on break up details and future arrangements with two major European elections involved as well. Only time will tell if a positive deal for Britain or the EU can be agreed as well as what happens if it is not.  

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