The this week is good news for the UK and the EU. It is in the interests of both parties to agree a great new relationship. After all those years of the UK dragging its heels, refusing to join in, seeking to delay progress to political union and , we can at last sort out a strong and positive relationship that works for us both.
Under Conservative, Labour and coalition governments the UK was never willing to accept all the moves to union or all the requirements of the EU. We kept our difficult relationship going with a series of opt-outs from the currency, the borders, from full freedom of movement, from defence union and from parts of the foreign policy and criminal justice arrangements. This held up the EU’s wish to complete its union and caused ill feelings about the UK as the reluctant European.
The EU knows that the UK electorate , that our parliament voted by to send the article 50 letter as formal notice that we will leave.
In the recent election the , with both affirming the intention to leave, and to leave the single market and customs union as well. The UK’s letter to the EU said we accepted its view that you cannot be in the single market if not a member of the EU. The looked forward to negotiating a series of good trade deals with non-EU countries, which you can only do if you leave the customs union.
Britain and the other 27 states have a common interest in agreeing that citizens living in each other’s territory should be able to remain and are welcome to stay. The UK government has been keen to get an early agreement reassuring anyone in this position, and now it appears the EU too wishes to press on with this matter. The EU wants the UK to pay some money. The UK has always said it will pay what it owes under the treaty, which comprises our regular membership contributions up to the date of leaving. There is no treaty provision for one-off leaving payments or continuing contributions once out.
The UK is keen to get on with discussing its future trading arrangements. The EU is not so keen, as it seems to think this offers it some leverage over the UK. This is a strange idea given that it runs a huge trade surplus with us and has an interest in tariff-free smooth trade after we have left, just as we do. The EU does wish to talk quite soon about the question of the one land border the UK will have with the EU, on the island of Ireland. To do so we will clearly need to talk about trade as well, as the border issues include how goods will move across the frontier. If they continue to move tariff-free it makes it easier.
I hope the EU will come to see this as an opportunity for it as well as for us. It will be freed of UK arguments and votes restraining the full development of its union. The UK will be free to negotiate more positive relationships with countries across the rest of the world. We will still want to do a lot with our European partners, but it will be done when both sides want to do it, not because we have lost a vote in the council. I find it difficult to believe the EU will want to spend the next two years trying to impose tariffs and other barriers to its trade with us, while . That would be a form of self-harm for it. The good news is it does not have to, as the UK is happy to offer it continued tariff-free access to our markets despite the large deficit we run.