by Xinhua writer Tian Dongdong BRUSSELS Belgium (Xinhua) --
Britons are proud of their maritime history. Like a ship, their United Kingdom has sailed through glorious
days and low ebbs in the past centuries.
Nowadays, the ship is trying to sail away from the European
coast, but fierce disputes within the Kingdom, as well as the
tough talks between the two sides of the English Channel, have
almost taken the wind out of its sail in the year of 2017.
The green light to the 2nd-phase Brexit talks given by 27
European Union (EU) member states in mid December gave a gasp of
relief to the ship’s crew, including British Prime Minister
Theresa May and her Brexit Secretary David Davis, whose
political future has been tied to that of the ship.
However, the 2nd-phase talks will never be a peaceful sea
waiting to be commanded.
As the easiest part has been charted, the ship is sailing
into unknown waters.
Will the wind be back in Brexit’s sails in 2018? It seems
nobody knows for sure at the end of a bumpy year.
As crew members are still quarrelling over the future routes,
their EU counterparts have already laid bare redlines.
During the last EU summit in mid December, the EU27 proved a
strong-worded guideline, requiring all commitments undertaken
during the first phase to be respected in full and translated
faithfully into legal terms as quickly as possible.
What’s more, the guidelines also allow no
"cherry-picking"—Britain will continue to stay in the Customs
Union and the Single Market with all four freedoms, i.e. free
movement of goods, services and capital and labor during the
transition, which means continuous flow of immigrants through
In addition, Britain will be a third country as of March 30,
2019. As a result, it will no longer be represented in EU’s
institutions, agencies, bodies and offices.
But at the same time, Britain needs to abide all existing
Union regulatory, budgetary, supervisory, judiciary and
enforcement instruments and structures, including the competence
of the Court of Justice of the EU during the transitional
It underlined that work needs to be completed on all
withdrawal issues, including those not yet addressed in the
first phase, such as the overall governance of the Withdrawal
Agreement and substantive issues such as goods placed on the
market before Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, said the
Commenting on the transitional period, Michael Barnier, EU’s
Chief Brexit negotiator, told reporters in late December that
Britain "will keep all the benefits and obligations of the
single market, the Customs Union and common policies during this
transition period ... but the transition is part of the
withdrawal agreement ... If there is no orderly withdrawal and a
treaty on section 50, there is no transition."
As to the future relationship, the EU has set two redlines:
it can only be finalized and concluded once Britain has become a
third country; the EU needs additional guidelines to engage in
preliminary and preparatory discussions on the understanding of
The difference between the EU and Britain on this issue is
crystal clear: Britain wants to start talks on relationship for
the future in the 2nd phase, but the EU only agrees to begin
with its "framework" first.
As to the content of the future relationship, the EU might
fail Britain’s expectations too.
Local media reports are mainly focusing on two types of
future relations—CETA-type, i.e. the "Canadian" Model, and
EEA-type, the Norwegian Model.
A CETA-type trade deal would fall much short of what Britain
is looking for, mainly because it offers relatively limited
access in services, with no passporting rights for financial
services — an important sector for Britain, said Maria
Demertzis, deputy director of the Bruegel think tank based in
On the other hand, an EEA-type agreement would give Britain
much of what it is looking for in trade, including passporting
rights for financial services.
However, the EU insists that access to its single market,
which EEA countries enjoy, must mean not only free movement of
goods, services and capital, but also of labor — a demand that
Britain is not willing to accept, she added.
In other words, Britain is looking for a "CETA-plus" (i.e.
plus services, including financial services) or an "EEA-minus"
(i.e. minus free movement of labor) agreement.
For its part, the EU is sticking to its CETA or EEA offer,
without plus or minus.
Whether there is room for a compromise between the two
positions and at what price—in terms of Britain’s contributions
to the EU budget and with respect of ECJ decisions—is what the
negotiations of phase two will really be about, she noted in an
analysis co-writing with Bruegel’s senior research fellow Andre
No doubt the Brexit talks would meet difficulties in 2018.
What if the two sides simply cannot make breakthrough?
Nick Clegg, former party-leader of the Liberal Democrats and
a renowned Remainer, suggested that Brexit could be stopped, in
his book entitled How to Stop Brexit.
In the book, he said the Brexit "is not irrevocable", citing
Lord Kerr, the Scottish lawyer who authored Article 50.
Besides, "in the end, in the EU everything is political.
European law has a habit of giving way where there is
political will from the member states," said Clegg.
"Parliament has the power to halt the Government’s approach
to Brexit," he said, calling Remainers in Britain to win support
from the MPs via visiting them more frequently, attending local
party meetings and party conferences with motions — in a word,
let more MPs hear their voices.
"Too much of our politics is dominated by what are, in
effect, ideological sects, unrepresentative of wider society.
"Why should their narrow prejudices or their personality cult
be the driving force of what shapes the future of our country?
"We all have a right to have our say, as the circumstances
surrounding Brexit change and the promises that were made fail
to materialize," said Clegg.
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