British government concedes to the EU on negotiation timetable

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May welcomes Head of the European Commission, President Jean-Claude Juncker to Downing Street in London, Britain April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

The British government has caved in to European Union demands regarding the negotiation timetable, on the first day of Brexit negotiations.

Prior to today’s initial negotiations, there was a clash over how the negotiations would take place. The government had wanted to hold parallel talks on Britain’s divorce agreement and its future trade agreement with the European Union, but the European Council guidelines demanded that Britain make “sufficient progress” on the divorce arrangement first – which includes the rights of EU citizens and Britain’s divorce bill – before moving onto talks about the future trade agreement. 

Just two months ago, David Davis promised a fight on the matter, saying that the government would turn the issue into the “row of the summer” in a bid to hold negotiations on British terms.

But today both parties almost immediately agreed on the timetable originally set out by Michel Barnier and the EU27, with no parallel talks until progress has been made on the divorce agreement.

Davis put on a brave face in a joint press conference with the EU’s chief negotiator, where he was confronted about the concession. “It’s not how it starts, it’s how it finishes that matter,” he said.

Barnier made clear that Britain was never going to get its way on the negotiation timetable, and it shouldn’t have expected to, saying: “The UK has asked to leave the EU, not the other way around, so we each have to assume the consequences of our decisions and the consequences are substantial.”

Some commentators suggest the concession shows just how weak Britain’s hand is, but others insist it’s a sensible compromise and that flexibility will help Britain get a more favourable deal.

Brexit Secretary David Davis wrote a management textbook about negotiating when he worked for sugar company Tate & Lyle, and it may explain why he made today’s concession.

In the book, he states: “Do not make the first major concession, make piecemeal concessions with a declining concession pattern and keep all concessions low.

Adding: “Make the opposition work for their concessions, and when the deal is struck make them feel that they have done well.”

If Mr. Davis still believes in his book, this could well be the beginning of a stubborn and tough British position in the coming two years of negotiations. 

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