On 20 October the European Council concluded that insufficient progress has been made in the first phase of negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU to allow discussions to begin on possible transitional arrangements and the future relationship. The UK Government had hoped that the Council would agree to begin discussions on these two issues at its October meeting.
The Council has instead announced that it will reassess whether sufficient progress has been made at its December meeting paving the way for a further two months of discussions between the UK and EU on the Council’s three key withdrawal priorities- citizens’ rights, the Northern Ireland-Ireland border and the financial settlement.
View from Brussels
In its conclusions the European Council welcomed progress made to date in the negotiations but called for further work and progress to be made on all three of its priority areas. In particular, it requested clarity from the UK Government about which ‘financial obligations’ to the EU it will honour.
Speaking at the conclusion of the Council meeting, President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, stated that ‘the reports of deadlock between the EU and UK have been exaggerated’ and that whilst the Council had concluded that progress was not sufficient it was not the Council’s view that there had been no progress at all. He confirmed that the Council would start ‘internal preparatory discussions in relation to the framework for the future relationship and on transitional agreements’ and hoped to move on to the second phase of talks in December.
View from Wales
Prior to the Council meeting on 20 October, a delegation of the Assembly’s External Affairs Committee visited Brussels on 16 October to meet the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier. The Committee discussed progress made on the negotiations to date and the Committee’s work to consider the implications for Wales of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The Committee also met with MEPs, representatives from other regions in Europe and the UK Permanent Representative. The Committee shared the findings from its work to date and emphasised the differentiated priorities and impacts on Wales from the UK’s withdrawal.
The First Minister for Wales, Carwyn Jones, outlined his views on the progress made in a statement to the Assembly on 24 October. The First Minister stated that whilst the Welsh Government had not been involved in the development of key position papers by the UK Government to date they had:
…secured an assurance that we would be more fully involved with the development of future policy positions when the negotiations move into the second phase of details discussions on our future relationship with the EU.
The First Minister outlined his view that the UK Government has not, to date, given sufficient clarity on how it will protect the rights of EU nationals in the UK or on solutions to the complex issues arising from the Northern Ireland-Ireland land border. He re-iterated the Welsh Government’s view that the UK should stay within the customs union and stated that ‘the UK Government has presented no evidence’ to the Welsh Government on the economic benefits to Wales of leaving the customs union. He called on the UK Government to honour the commitments the UK has made as a Member State and reiterated his view that a no deal is ‘unthinkable’.
View from the UK Government
The Prime Minister made a statement to the House of Commons on the outcome of the European Council on 23 October. The Prime Minister welcomed the Council’s move to begin internal preparatory discussions on the future relationship and stated that she was confident of reaching agreement before the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2017. In relation to citizens’ rights the Prime Minister outlined her view that a deal on citizens’ rights is ‘within touching distance’ and that significant progress has been made on Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister reiterated that the UK Government will seek to secure an implementation or transitional period of around two years between the UK’s departure from the EU and the move to a new relationship.
The European Council will meet again on 14-15 December where it has stated it will re-assess progress made on phase one withdrawal issues and decide whether to begin negotiations on a transitional agreement and future relationship. Further negotiations between the UK and the EU on the phase one issues are expected before then.
The Assembly’s External Affairs Committee is currently focussing on the support being provided to different sectors in Wales by the Welsh Government to help them prepare for different possible scenarios and outcomes from the negotiations. The Assembly will hold evidence sessions with both the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government and the First Minister for Wales in November.
Article by Nia Moss, National Assembly for Wales Research Service