Testing the limits of the post-Brexit deal, Conservative Party Conference

Monday, 3rd October 2016 7:30 to 9:00 pm (BST) Birmingham, United Kingdom

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Event Summary

Open Europe, the Centre for European Reform and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung hosted a joint panel discussion at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, entitled, ‘Testing the limits of the post-Brexit deal’.

German MP Detlef Seif, deputy parliamentary spokesman for EU affairs of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance, who made it clear he was expressing his personal views, said, “When we talk about a possible [UK-EU exit] deal, we are talking about a second-best deal…Only members of the club can have a say on the rules…After Brexit, the possibilities to influence EU law will be very limited”, adding that he sees “no readiness to give the UK something special.”

He reiterated that “if the UK wants to have full access to the single market, it will have to implement free movement of people” after Brexit, but added, “My advice would be to find a narrower definition of free movement” – suggesting that the deal negotiated by former Prime Minister David Cameron, which included stricter limits on EU migrants’ access to welfare, could serve as “a point of orientation.” He warned that the UK Government should not “misunderstand Germany’s kindness. We will negotiate fair, but we won’t negotiate soft.” However, he said he was now more open about holding informal talks before the UK triggers Article 50 – the formal process for leaving the EU – given that Prime Minister Theresa May has set out a clear timeline for the beginning of EU exit negotiations.

UK Conservative MP and former Justice Minister Dominic Raab said, “We’re leaving the EU, but we’re not leaving Europe”, and stressed that other EU member states “may find us a better friend and neighbour outside the EU’s institutions.” He argued that “the mandate from the British people was very clear…The mandate was to take back control, among other things, of our immigration policy.” However, he added, “I want to argue for smart Brexit…I don’t want [EU exit] negotiations to be consumed by immigration. I want to talk about a healthy trade relationship” between the UK and the EU after Brexit.

He went on to argue, “We would love to see tariff-free trade [with the EU] continue…I can’t see how it is in Germany’s interest to cut its nose to spite its face” by agreeing to reintroduce trade barriers. He concluded, “I’m a national optimist. If we all share that spirit, we can forge a new relationship that is good for the UK and good for Europe.”

Open Europe co-Director Stephen Booth argued that the Brexit deal the UK will be negotiating with the EU-27 “is not a business deal but a political one. As such, the kind of language you may use in a hard-headed business negotiation may not work in this situation.” He recommended that the UK should “talk about its broader relationship with the EU and not get bogged down in the technical details too early on. This is not only about how much trade we can do with Europe in return for what limitations on the free movement of people.”

He stressed that “the UK has to be clear that it wants the EU to succeed”, and warned that both sides in the upcoming Brexit negotiations should “think carefully about the consequences of things going badly. The rest of the world would see it as a monumental cock-up” if the UK had to fall back on a WTO-only trade relationship with the EU.

The hashtag #testingBrexit became a ‘trending topic’ on Twitter during the event.

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