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The European Union has agreed on two important questions regarding Brexit


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NOW that Britain has voted to leave the European Union, what sort of deal will it get? At a meeting of EU leaders on June 28th, David Cameron spoke of the need for a continued close relationship between Britain and the EU, especially on trade and security. 

Opinion in the EU differs on how to treat Britain after the Brexit referendum. Hawks, such as France and Belgium, urge a speedy divorce while doves, such as the Netherlands and Germany, are more patient. But beyond these nuances the club has quickly reached a consensus on two important questions: how to respond to Britain before it formally begins withdrawal, and what sort of trade deal might it offer after the separation is complete.

On the first, Angela Merkel and others insist that there can be no negotiations without notification, a mantra designed to head off British politicians who harbour the hope that they can begin informal talks with the EU before pressing the button on Article 50, the formal procedure to leave the club. The article, inserted into the EU’s Lisbon Treaty in 2009 as its first-ever exit mechanism, is by design a crude tool that stacks the negotiation against a departing member. After activating it a government has two years to negotiate the terms of its exit, unless the other governments unanimously agree to an extension. Britain’s partners are prepared to wait a few months for Mr Cameron’s successor to start the clock ticking, but will start to apply pressure should he or she delay further.

EU leaders have at least agreed that talks on a post-Brexit deal can take place at the same time as the divorce proceedings. As is perhaps to be expected, here too the Brexiteers’ ambitions look overly optimistic. Many, including Boris Johnson, a likely contender for Mr Cameron’s job, have spoken of an arrangement that might allow Britain full access to the EU’s single market without the usual requirement to accept free movement of people (as in Norway and Switzerland). That suggestion is laughed off in Brussels. Mrs Merkel and other leaders look no more likely to allow post-Brexit Britain a migration carve-out than they did for Mr Cameron during his attempts to renegotiate Britain’s EU membership earlier this year. Without free movement, Donald Tusk, the European Council president, said this week, Europe would lose its meaning.

For many Europeans, the prospect of Brexit remains such a patent absurdity that they think it may not happen. Mrs Merkel, with her infinite patience, hopes that market pressures and the economic hit of Brexit will concentrate minds in Westminster, postponing Article 50 forever. “We shouldn’t push Britain, nor negotiate with them,” said Norbert Röttgen, a deputy from Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, this week. “Leave them with the insecurity.” Other governments hope for a speedy exit so that they may advance their own projects.

But few seem interested in arriving at a fresh accommodation that might keep Britain in the club. The EU’s patience with its most awkward member appears to have reached its limits. 

Source: Economist

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