Has the UK made a U-Turn over the Brexit timetable?

16th June 2017

Back on 14th May 2017, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis was bullish: the Brexit timetable will be the ‘row of the summer’.

The EU wanted a phased approach, with certain issues dealt with before any trade agreement is discussed.  The latter would only happen once there was sufficient progress on the former.

The EU guidelines setting out this approach are here and they provide:

the first phase of negotiations will aim to:

– provide as much clarity and legal certainty as possible to citizens, businesses, stakeholders and international partners on the immediate effects of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the Union;
– settle the disentanglement of the United Kingdom from the Union and from all the rights and obligations the United Kingdom derives from commitments undertaken as Member State.

The European Council will monitor progress closely and determine when sufficient progress has been achieved to allow negotiations to proceed to the next phase.

The rejection by Davis of this approach was to be the ‘row of the summer’.

Earlier today the following was tweeted by a BBC journalist:

This was elaborated on the BBC site:

“…the source told the BBC that it was understood the talks would broadly follow the EU’s preferred sequence, dealing with issues of citizens’ rights and a framework for calculating outstanding financial liabilities before moving on, possibly later in the year, to deal with the UK’s future relationship with the EU.”

If this was correct, the UK government has capitulated on the timetable.  Instead of the ‘row of the summer’ the government’s position had not lasted until midsummer’s day.

By way of background, Article 50(2) includes the following:

“In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.” 

And the Article 50 letter of 29 March 2017 included the following:

“We therefore believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the European Union.”


“Agreeing a high-level approach to the issues arising from our withdrawal will of course be an early priority. But we also propose a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union.” 

I asked the Department for Exiting the European Union for a statement.

The statement given to me (and I understand also to the BBC, see here) said as follows:

A spokesman for the Department for Exiting the European said:

“We have been crystal clear about our approach to these negotiations.

“As we set out in the Article 50 letter, our view is that withdrawal agreement and terms of the future relationship must be agreed alongside each other. We are clear this is what is set out in Article 50.

“We believe that the withdrawal process cannot be concluded without the future relationship also being taken into account.

“As the EU has itself said, ‘nothing is agreed, until everything is agreed’.

“As we also said in our Article 50 letter, ‘agreeing a high-level approach to the issues arising from our withdrawal will of course be an early priority’. But the withdrawal and future are intimately linked.

“In particular, we want to move ahead on securing the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU. We want to end the anxiety facing 4 million citizens.

“That has always been our first aim and that is what we will do. That is why we are pushing ahead with negotiations on Monday.”


This seemed rather wordy and did not seem like a straight denial of the BBC claim.  Read carefully, there seemed to me to be wiggle-room.  (As a rule, any statement described as “crystal clear” or similar will tend not to be clear.)

So I asked the Department for a straight response to the statement.

Was what Damian Grammaticas said in the tweet correct or was it incorrect?

The press officer told me that they they would need to get back to me on this, and that they would send an on-the-record answer.

I will publish that answer when it arrives.


ADD: POLITICO Europe now sourcing this to two EU diplomats, see here:

The U.K. government has agreed to the EU’s demand to start Brexit negotiations with the divorce settlement before moving on to trade issues, two EU diplomats told POLITICO.

Still no word back from DExEU.

ADD: One hour later

A press officer emails me: “We have nothing further to add to our statement.” 




7 thoughts on “Has the UK made a U-Turn over the Brexit timetable?”

  1. The UK government just wants an “emergency brake” on immigration they can pull on at times to show they’re doing something to control it (and assuage the anti-immigrant sentiment), even if they’re never gonna get it down to the tens of thousands (and because of demographic age imbalances and funding of future pensions neither they should). Brake mechanisms probably already exist but are not visible enough, or are not being pulled on ostentatiously enough (not because of lack of will, but simply because the government hasn’t got around to coordinating and implementing a reply).

    What I think it’s gonna happen is that France and Germany will ‘reform’ the EU after the German elections, with UK participation, and the UK in particular will make a big fuss about the ‘new feature’ of an ‘enhanced brake’ on immigration and they’ll propose that that’ll be enough to assuage most British concerns, perhaps coupled with weak reform as to under what conditions lawsuits and appeals won’t automatically escalate to the European Court of Justice, but be capped at country level. Also perhaps to avoid resurgence of antagonistic European MP’s they’ll somehow link European Parliament representation with domestic representation, to make sure someone not represented domestically like Farage won’t able to speak to the EU on behalf of the UK. They’ll present all of those as a return to sovereignty, in my opinion, but they will all be tweaks and manoeuvres. It will be the quest of instruments that can be ostentatiously used to demonstrate active sovereignty devolution for public opinion purposes regardless if there is one.

    Once these are negotiated a second referendum could be run, on the question “Would you want to stay in a thus reformed Europe” (implying to rescind Article 50) or “Leave” once more? By which time they’d have made a better effort to ensure the ‘right’ choice is picked this time by the electorate.

    I think if you ask the Conservatives, which one they’d prefer? Leaving the EU at the cost of installing a Labour government, or try to stay in the EU if that’s what it takes to assure the continuation of a Conservative government? They’ll choose the latter. The question is _when_ they’ll realise that those are the terms, and when they’re going to rearrange the party along these lines (including managing dissenters). Will it be this year, or the next, or will they realise only at the last minute? Whichever it is, be sure that the bulk of them will put Party before country, and will do what it takes to remain.

  2. I am afraid that there are too many people on the European Continent who are “happy” with the Brexit because they are “fed up” with the behaviour of the United Kingdom – and of many of its citizens – too prompt to press the brake pedal on whatever is proposed t “build Europe” furtherly!!

    1. Yes, I think that it has gone too far – the UK has gone too far this time. If (and it is a big if) it is accepted back in, it will be with its tail between its legs. Frankly I am split. I am British and a firm believer in the benefits of the EU and looking at acquiring a second citizenship. From here on I am European, meaning ‘we’ means EU and ‘you’ means UK. Having witnessed this debacle, I think that it may be best that we go our way and UK goes its way. I am sorry for saying this to those Brits with a European outlook/identity – but it is every-person for themselves. Good luck.

  3. This is from an email sent to me today by the Home Office (on heir list as EU citizen resident in U.K.)

    EU citizens make an invaluable contribution to our life in the UK and our first priority in the withdrawal negotiations will be to reach agreement about the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, and UK nationals living elsewhere in the EU. The negotiations begin on Monday, where we will do all we can to provide as much certainty as possible, as early as possible, for the EU citizens who have made the UK their home.

  4. Ministers in the UK government keep citing text in Article 50 about the “framework” for future EU-UK relations as if it mandates that parallel negotiations about a future trade agreement should be part of the exit procedure. This is completely wrong because the “framework” for the future relationship is already completely clear: the UK will be a 3rd country. The EU already has plenty of rules about the operation of its relations with 3rd countries and they can be applied to the UK. Alternatively, if the UK wanted to stay in the single market the “framework” for its future relations with the EU would be the EEA Treaty and EFTA. There’s simply no obligation on the part of the EU to create a new category of “framework” for a future EU-UK relationship. Neither is there time to do so within the 2 year limit in Article 50. The sooner the UK government realizes this the sooner it will realize that it has very little bargaining power in the Article 50 negotiations.

  5. A cleverly-worded non-reply followed by a promise of an on-the-record response to a direct question, followed by ‘no further comment’: DexEU’s response has the guile and sophistication of a ten-year-old.

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