It would appear from some views that Theresa May is believed to have “persuaded” the EU negotiators to allow the UK to move forward to the second phase in order that the process of agreeing a new trade relationship can begin. I would think that this is far from the reality. However it highlights the different perceptions of Politicians, Journalists and Professional Negotiators.
It is absolutely clear from where I am sitting that the EU team led by Michel Barnier has a clear control of the process at this point in time. He and his team have met two key objectives so far – 1. Keeping the 27 member countries calm and together by using the power of the proposal. 2. Discovering through this control as much as possible about the state of readiness, clarity, skill level and negotiating ability of the UK team.
The EU have had to use fine judgement in how far to push / frustrate the UK Government team and the British Parliament. There remains quite a sizeable group across the EU and within Brussels who believe that there may still be a chance of a change in heart by the UK, which is why every opportunity is used to question how well the consequences have been thought through and to remind the UK that they already have a deep and special relationship.
The desired objective of keeping the door open for the UK to remain in the EU is a fine judgement while protecting the interests of the 27 who are eyeing up opportunities. There will be a one off opportunity to grab business and operations currently based in the UK while the UK is working to assumption rather than fact.
However, it is clear that the present UK leadership have been desperate to move forward to discuss / negotiate a trade deal. So desperate as to be easily moved to concession. They have broken one of the fundamental lessons – Tell people what you want BUT NOT how badly you want it (need it)! The desperation made it easy for Barnier to string out the game, build up the time pressure and have the UK dance to the EU’s agenda.
The first phase has provided the EU team with considerable information about the UK’s style and understanding of the process. It would appear that the UK team are reactive, allowing others to dictate agenda, objective and process. There is confusion between objective and strategy. The UK has a mandate from the voting population to leave the EU – the answer to a question that no true leader would have asked. There was no instruction to negotiate a new trade deal prior to leaving; in fact getting bogged down, and putting the UK’s credibility at risk is very dangerous going forward.It exposes a current lack of genuine leaders coming forward and a weakness in the UK’s system of democracy and unity as a kingdom.
The decision by the EU and Ireland to allow for a recommendation to the 27 that sufficient progress had been made with regard to the three agenda items set as pre-condition bargaining items is interesting. If this decision had not been made it might have sunk Theresa May and led to possible changes at the top of the UK government that would not be helpful (to the EU). It is an important objective to keep the Prime Minister in place and David Davies leading the negotiations now that Michel Barnier has the measure of the UK team and knows their pressure points.
So whilst the politics may say that Mrs May has lived to fight another day and keep a job that possibly no-one wants at the moment; it is the EU that has everything under control and protected by nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
Finally, there is the promise to secure the best deal for the UK. The “best deal” will be the worst deal that the 27 EU members can accept / live with. Given the performance during the first phase the UK already has lost the opportunity for the very best deal and “best” is declining all the time that the UK remains in reactive mode.