Toni Mikec, Foreign Policy Contributor
Opinion- Although the European Union had high aspirations that talks regarding the future of U.K.-EU relations would start in October, it is rapidly becoming clear that this dialogue is unlikely to happen. Although a round of discussions between the European Union and the United Kingdom ended at the end of July, those talks were unable to reach a conclusion on many topics.
One of the issues that remains a problem includes the amount of money that the U.K. owes to the European Union due to various legal agreements that would be severed as a result of leaving the EU in March 2019. The U.K. negotiators, on the other hand, disagreed with these pessimistic thoughts. Rather, they had alternative thoughts regarding the issue as they have hoped that enough of these lingering issues will be addressed by October. This would enable the talks to go forward as planned. Recent events have, unfortunately, shown that these hopes were clearly misguided and the discussions appear to be even more protracted than they already are.
Even though many of the issues surrounding Brexit like the land border with the Republic of Ireland and the rights of British citizens living abroad in other areas of the EU have been frequently discussed in the media and delayed many times, the question of the financial settlement that the U.K. has to pay to the EU has been shunted to the side in these negotiations. Even though this issue has been ranked lower on the scale of importance, ignoring it has only proven to make the conundrum more pressing today.
However, even here, progress regarding resolving this issue has been slow and inefficient. Reuters has mentioned that the only progress that has been made on this issue is the fact that the U.K. has admitted that it owes the EU “an unspecified amount of money” and that “the U.K. has obligations to the EU and that the EU also has obligations to the U.K.” A delay in resolving this issue clearly threatens to preclude the creation of a new EU-U.K. trade agreement that would come into effect in March 2019 and further points towards a “hard Brexit” future.
While it might be conceivable to believe that these delays keep occurring because the British government, out of a desire to maintain a large share of the financial power in post-Brexit Europe, is too intractable on certain key issues around the Brexit debate, Reuters argues that this is not the case at all. The issue is actually not that the U.K. is too tenacious in fighting for its policy stances in a post-Brexit world, but that the U.K. government actually has no clear direction regarding what its future should look like. As a result, it has no policy stances at all regarding these issues and thus, these issues cannot even begin to be addressed in the time remaining.
One of the unaddressed issues is the sum of the amount of money that the U.K. owes to the EU as a result of ending its membership in the EU. While this is a formidable obstacle indeed, what further complicates matters is that the two parties in the dispute cannot agree what to agree on. The reason is that a tangential problem to this problem is the precise methodology that is used to arrive at the total amount of money owed. While the EU has calculated that the U.K. owes 60 billion euros, the U.K. has disagreed with this number. Instead, the U.K. has used an alternative calculation method to arrive at a very different sum. Although this is a key issue in the Brexit debate, as of right now, neither side is budging on this issue or on any other related Brexit questions. As a result, nothing has been achieved and a few of the issues discussed above were barely even addressed.
Although another round of talks has been scheduled for the end of August, most political analysts have argued that, given all of the evidence so far , the Brexit talks are clearly going nowhere unless one party in the talks is willing to concede something to the other. However, unless one side realizes that the choice is not between good or bad outcomes but between bad ones and worse ones, the failure of these talks to proceed at an adequate pace towards a clear conclusion threatens to not only damage U.K.-EU relations but also relations between the US and the U.K. As Dr. Matthias Matthijs of the Johns Hopkins University puts it, “there are no good options.”
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