New year, new me or same old, same old: where next for the Brexit talks in 2018?
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
"New year, new me" is often the promise made when midnight passes on New Year's Eve, but it will be same old, same old when Britain and the EU return to the Brexit talks. Theresa May will be wondering where the time went after triggering Article 50 in March, and the prime minister faces new challenges in the new year as the Brexit clock ticks down.
Progress has been slow in the negotiations between Brussels and Westminster. Phase One was meant to be about the formalities - the divorce bill, citizens' rights, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and the Irish hard border issue - before moving on to the future between the country and the bloc. However, the Brexit talks have been moving at a snail's pace, and with the arbitrary deadline of the March 2019 exit already set, the juicier subjects of the future trade relationship and transition period will need to be conducted with haste.
The New European compares Mrs May's approach to the Brexit talks to a child playing Buckaroo: "Slowly and with incredible caution she piles small items on top of a grumpy horse, but sooner or later she’ll be a tad too rough – or pile an item too large – and everything will be hurled to the floor."
EU leaders will gather at a summit on March 22-23 to discuss their common negotiating position on trade, and they will meet with the British government to start the talks in the following weeks. Big trade deals are nothing new to the bloc, but they have conducted them with "an economy so big and so close", Reuters reports. They add that this may take some time, though time is in short supply. Michael Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, understands what Britain does not want from the trade talks - being in the single market and customs union, accepting EU court rulings, and open immigration - but the tricky thing is working out what the country actually wants. The recurring theme of Britain's position on Brexit is that it knows what its objective is, but not necessarily how to achieve it.
ITV's political editor Robert Peston notes that the talks on the future trade relationship will "not be detailed or administrative, only political", because the legally enforceable elements of a future deal cannot be negotiated until after Brexit under EU rules. Mrs May will need to reach a common position with her cabinet, parliament and the rest of the EU on this future political relationship, before they iron out the technicalities post-Brexit. Brussels and Westminster will hope to conclude negotiations by Autumn 2018, the target date for the EU-wide parliamentary approvals process.
It has been a slow start to the Brexit talks in 2017 - and it could be a race to the finish in 2018. Britain will leave the EU in March 2019, but the next year will decide in what shape it departs - and how it will fare with the bloc in the future.