Posts Tagged 'brexit negotiations'

Brexit won’t be over until it is over: reflecting on Theresa May’s strategy


Janice Morphet

Following Theresa May’s survival of this week’s no confidence vote, Janice Morphet, author of Beyond Brexit?, reflects on May’s Brexit negotiating strategy over the last two and a half years.

“In 2016, after the referendum and Cameron’s resignation, Theresa May ended the selection process for a new Prime Minister as the only candidate. She seemed ideal for the task ahead, having earned a reputation for quiet efficiency at the Home Office, a sometimes difficult department which had kept out of the news during her long period as Home Secretary.

What was less clear was her approach to negotiations with the EU in the coming months. Over the period since, we have seen three distinct phases of these negotiations. In those first months, the Prime Minister took charge of shaping the negotiation agenda, with her political rather than civil service advisers. There were some issues of concern about the implications of Brexit for ‘just in time’ manufacturing and services, but these appeared to be bought off by Government assurances of no disturbance to the current methods of working, including an undisclosed letter to Nissan.

In this ‘Brexit means Brexit’ period, there was not much outward sign of the PM’s negotiating strategy – shared with either Cabinet or Parliament. She chose rather to be guided by her political advisers Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill who moved from the Home Office to No. 10 when she changed jobs, whilst her ambassador in Brussels resigned after his advice was ignored. Timothy persuaded the PM to adopt a package of red lines that would lead to a very restricted future deal for the UK with the EU. Although it was clear that, under WTO rules, the EU could not negotiate a future trading relationship with the UK until after Brexit had been implemented, just as the UK could also not conclude any trade deals in its own right until that point, the Prime Minster was adamant that she wanted to have commitments to a future trading relationship as part of the process of the UK’s departure. The EU negotiator, Michel Barnier threw an olive branch to the UK, indicating that the preliminary discussions on the future UK EU relationship could commence once there had been sufficient progress on the Withdrawal Agreement.

Once she had a plan for the negotiation, despite several denials, the PM called a general election in June 2017. What was promoted as a snap election was conducted over the same period as others. It resulted in the loss of her Parliamentary majority. She also lost her political advisers, Timothy and Hill and these were replaced by her new civil service advisor, Olly Robbins, who has subsequently undertaken the negotiation directly on the Prime Minister’s behalf. She also made a confidence and supply agreement with the DUP in order to provide her government with a working majority.

The election marked the beginning of the middle passage of the Brexit negotiations for the PM. Coming quickly afterwards, the horror of the Grenfell Tower fire exposed the impact of austerity policies and deregulation which were the hallmark of the coalition government in which May served.

This period extended to the Windrush scandal which demonstrated what the PM had been keeping quiet while she was managing the Home Office. Her obsession with migration over all other aspects of Brexit started to emerge in the third stage of Brexit, as her main sales strategy to the British people. This destroyed her reputation and, with Amber Rudd’s resignation, started the unwinding of the government.

“Under pressure, she gives way, making agreements or commitments which she subsequently attempts to forget.”

However, the middle passage also demonstrated another aspect of May’s negotiation style. Under pressure, she gives way, making agreements or commitments which she subsequently attempts to forget. In December 2017, the PM wanted to agree a position with the EU that substantial progress on the withdrawal agreement had been made so that she could proceed to discussions about future relationships. In all-night negotiations, she agreed the guarantee to maintain the commitments made to Northern Ireland in the Good Friday Agreement 1998, subsequently known as the backstop. This meant that there would be no borders on the island of Ireland and Northern Ireland remains in the Customs Union and Single Market. Those around the PM were told that this political agreement was not binding. David Davis echoed this view on the Marr programme on the following Sunday, only to be met by Barnier’s riposte that the backstop was binding and would now be included in the final agreement as the UK did not understand the political commitments it had made.

So what about the third stage, where the previous promises the PM has made in the Brexit negotiations are coming back to haunt her? Many in her party have come to distrust her promises which appear to reflect the wishes of those she is speaking with, rather than any intention to keep them. Dominic Grieve found this when he was persuaded to withdraw from an opportunity to defeat the government only to have the promises made to him removed the following day. The humiliation of the Salzburg Council demonstrated her weak position to the UK and was a prelude to the final text of the Withdrawal Agreement as she gave way to pressure again and abandoned her commitments to members of her party and the DUP on the backstop. She also had to give way to Spain on future negotiations that affect Gibraltar. Her red lines have meant that much of what was promised has not been delivered and even the PM’s Chequers proposals, which caused more Government resignations, appear to be a better deal for the economy compared with what is available now.

“There is still no trading relationship proposed for services – which comprise the largest part of the UK’s economy.”

Her Political Declaration on future relationships between the UK and the EU is vague and not politically binding. There appears to be no Parliamentary support for a ‘no deal’ position and trading on WTO terms only would put the UK in the WTO’s division four, the lowest. There is still no trading relationship proposed for services – which comprise the largest part of the UK’s economy.

Further, can Brexit be resolved until some of the other outstanding questions are answered?

  • Who funded the DUP’s intervention in the referendum?
  • Is there a relationship between Leave.EU, Banks and Russian money? If so, would this result in the referendum being declared void?
  • What will emerge about Farage’s role in the Mueller investigations on the role of Russian influence in the US?
  • Is the Government fettered by promises made in the 2015 Parliament about the referendum as any Parliament cannot fetter a future Parliament and we have had a general election since then?
  • The People’s Vote has offered an opportunity to rally remain supporters but will it solve anything? What questions would be on the ballot paper and will 16 year olds and EU citizens be allowed to vote this time?
  • While Norway+/EFTA provides a means of coming to terms with remaining in the EU, this retains the four freedoms including freedom of movement but no participation in the CAP, Fisheries policy or in decision making.
  • The ECJ has determined that Article 50 can be with withdrawn until 29th March 2019 with no detriment to the UK’s opt-outs and rebates so what would trigger this course of action?
  • Can the terms of the UK’s position in Brexit be changed?
  • What will be the Conservative Party’s approach to maintaining power at all costs lead it to do both in the short term to avoid a general election and longer term to attract the millennial rather than grey vote?

Brexit won’t be over until it is over – whether now or in the years to come.

And a final question: how many more Conservative prime ministers will wrestle with this issue?”

Beyond Brexit? by Janice Morphet is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £7.99.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Brexit: 10 myths about the ‘Norway model’ examined


On 8 May the UK’s House of Lords passed an amendment to require the House of Commons to vote on remaining in the European Economic Area (EEA), the possibility of Britain adopting the so-called ‘Norway model’ is back on the agenda of British politics.  

Here the authors of Squaring the Circle on Brexit: Could the Norway Model Work?, John Erik Fossum and Hans Petter Graver, give some background to Norway’s relationship with the European Union and reveal the truth behind some common myths about the Norway model.

“While Norway has rejected membership of the European Union twice in referendums in 1972 and 1994, it has consistently sought as close a relationship with the European Union as is possible for a non-member.  The core element of that relationship is the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement, which came into effect in January 1994, almost a year before the second referendum.  This seamlessly ties Norway to the EU’s internal market without it being part of the supranational political union.

However, Norway’s experience shows how non-members of the EU must make difficult trade-offs between relative autonomy in decision- and rule-making and access to the EU’s internal market and other EU policies.  Norway is frequently portrayed as a ‘rule-taker’ and there is no doubt that Norway’s inability to affect EU rule and decision making is – democratically speaking – very problematic.

A closer look at Norway’s experience reveals that, in spite of this, members of the EEA can still shape their socio-economic model and mode of functioning.  In other words, how a country handles its relationship with the European Union matters.  Norway has retained a well-functioning welfare state and high levels of trust in public institutions, helping to offset potential negative influences. This trust is crucial. Norway’s experience underlines that the issue is not simply one mode of EU affiliation but the important left-right issue of choice of socio-economic model, which has significant bearings on the question of social justice.

“Norway has retained a well-functioning welfare state and high levels of trust in public institutions, helping to offset potential negative influences.”

Given these pros and cons, and the reemergence of the EEA as an essential aspect of the Brexit agenda, now is the time to unravel some of the myths around Norway’s relationship with the EU:


1. The ‘Norway model’ is an arrangement that just involves Norway

A core aspect of the Norway Model is, in fact, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA)-based EEA agreement which was signed by Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway and where all decisions are based on unanimity.


2. The Norway model is the EEA

The Norway Model is made up of 120 different arrangements and covers a far greater realm of issue-areas than just those regulated under the EEA agreement. Norway is an affiliated member of Schengen and asylum and police cooperation (Dublin I, II and III. Norway is therefore within the EU’s external border with responsibility for border controls. It has also signed agreements on foreign and security policy and participates in the EU’s battle groups).


3. The Norway model is more constraining than the Swiss model

Unlike Norway, the Swiss have opted to unilaterally adapt their legislation to be EU-compatible. The EU is unhappy with the Swiss arrangements. They will likely not be extended elsewhere.


4. The EU’s off-the-shelf arrangements for non-members are straitjackets that do not allow for the flexibility of a bespoke deal

The sheer range of affiliations under the Norway Model testifies to some flexibility and ingenuity, but there are limits, especially within the EEA agreement which is about common rules and equal conditions for competition. There is political will on both the EU side and the Norwegian side to maintain close relations, and that allows for a certain measure of flexibility.


5. The Norway Model does not allow for an independent trade policy

The EFTA states retained their freedom to decide their own trade policies towards third countries because they are not part of the EU’s customs union. Norway had negotiated 27 free trade agreements with the EFTA countries in 2016, and has undertaken negotiations with ten countries (including China) and regional trade blocks (MERCOSUR).


6. No deal is better than a bad deal

Theresa May has said on Brexit that no deal is better than a bad deal. The Norway Model, with all its challenges, has shown to Norwegians that having common rules and equal conditions of competition, and the equivalent means of enforcement, offers the certainty that is necessary for an open economy to function in today’s tightly interwoven Europe.


7. The Norway Model is deeply contested in Norway and is unlikely to receive majority support elsewhere

In fact, there always been a clear majority in Norway in support for the model it has adopted: there is little support for EU membership, and very little support for abolishing the EEA. There is a very strong sense across most economic sectors that assured EU access is vital for prosperity. 65% of Norway’s exports (excluding oil, gas and ships) go to the EU. Norway needed a Schengen association agreement (to be within EU’s borders) in order to preserve the Nordic passport union which ensures free movement in the Nordic region.


8. The Norway Model is about rule-taking 

There is no denying the arrangement is democratically problematic, but there is scope for local adaptation and flexibility. The Norway model reflects the complex nature of the EU, which combines a supranational core (the internal market) and a set of intergovernmental arrangements for handling matters of border controls, and security. There is more scope for bargaining in the intergovernmental realm, which the UK has experienced through its numerous opt-outs and opt-ins. In the supranational realm the EU is also constrained by the Court of Justice, which has the final say on what arrangements are compatible with the EU aquis (the body of common rights and obligations that are binding on all EU member states) The implication is that the EU is more likely to accept bespoke arrangements in the intergovernmental than in the supranational institutional realm.


9. The key question about the Norway Model is the type of affiliation that it represents

That is only part of the picture. Equally important is how Norway handles this affiliation domestically. What Norway’s experience shows is that it is important to consider the state’s ability to handle its EU relationship. The Norwegian state is a well-functioning state with a high level of competence and a broad range of comprehensive welfare arrangements that enable it to compensate actors for the negative effects of Europeanisation. Norway also has a tradition of consensus-based politics that contribute to keeping EEA issues outside the realm of party politics.


10. Norway will be included in the European Union’s post-Brexit arrangements

Norwegians will not automatically get the same arrangements with Britain that members of the European Union will. Norway is not part of the Brexit negotiations and for many issues Norway will have to sort out its relations with the UK on its own, for example, on the rights of Norwegian citizens in the UK and UK citizens in Norway. In this case, the UK government has assured Norway that citizens will receive the same treatment. Nevertheless, Norway is a decision-taker on the sidelines during the negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU and is concerned with when its arrangements with the UK will be settled.



Could the Norway model work for Britain? Find out more in Squaring the circle on Brexit – Could the Norway model work? by John Erik Fossum and Hans Petter Graver, a comprehensive first-hand account of Norway’s relationship with the EU.

The book is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £19.99.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

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