Behind the Brexit Chaos: A Faulty U.K. Negotiating Strategy
Comment of the Day

December 14 2018

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Behind the Brexit Chaos: A Faulty U.K. Negotiating Strategy

This article by Stephen Fidler and Laurence Norman for the Wall Street journal may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

The U.K. also anticipated it could appeal to traditional allies in Northern Europe, like Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. Inside the EU they had together championed the values of free markets and open trade. But once the U.K. left, a different dynamic took over.

One issue the U.K. missed was that some of these governments were also faced with euroskepticism and political concerns about EU overreach.

In the turmoil immediately after the 2016 Brexit referendum, Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands, one of the most like-minded countries, said the U.K. had just “collapsed: politically, monetarily, constitutionally and economically.”

Mr. Rutte, facing the political fight of his life against the right-wing populism of Geert Wilders, had a fundamental political interest in ensuring that Brexit turned out to be an anti-model for how to handle angst about Brussels. The Dutch leader echoed that point on Thursday.

“If anyone in the Netherlands thinks Nexit is a good idea, look at England and see the huge damage it’s done,” he said.

The U.K. also missed that it would come to be seen as a rival. Some Northern European countries have many cutting-edge small exporters who worried that an U.K. outside the EU would undercut them in international markets and in the EU if Britain retained easy access to the bloc’s markets.

Mrs. May’s so-called Chequers proposal in July 2018, which aimed at keeping the U.K. in the EU’s single market for goods but able to sign free-trade agreements with the U.S. and others, was viewed on the continent as a blueprint for the U.K. becoming an EU offshore-manufacturing assembly platform.

“It’s always going to be a relationship now of tension and not just partnership, because our interests are diverging from theirs and we are seeking to derive deliberate advantage from having left,” Mr. Rogers said. “We can’t expect them not to react.”

Eoin Treacy's view

Lord Palmerston’s “England has no eternal friends, England has no perpetual enemies, England has only eternal and perpetual interests” is as true today as ever but it does not just apply to England. The EU has displayed a better understanding of that maxim than the UK has over the last few years. If you are setting up outside the club then you can’t logically expect help from the people you are now intending to compete against. Respect, yes, but assistance, no.

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