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On Monday 26th June the Sussex Branch of the European Movement held its Summer Lunch at Deans Place, Alfriston, and was delighted to welcome as Speaker Anne Lambert CMG, former Deputy UK Permanent Representative to the EU.

From 2011 to 2015 Anne Lambert was a Member of the European Commission. She brought many years of experience from the UK Civil Service, in senior negotiating positions on  EU affairs both in the UK and Brussels.  She is therefore well-qualified to advise on the situation the UK negotiators on Brexit will experience in the forthcoming two years.

Anne Lambert said this situation is unprecedented and the UK finds itself trying to come to agreement on two fronts – the terms of withdrawal and the terms of any future relationship with the EU.  Initially there are three areas to be addressed:

(i) The rights of UK citizens remaining in the EU and of EU citizens resident in the UK.  There should be clear interest on both sides in coming to a mutual agreement;

(ii)  The contributions from the UK to the EU Budget, which currently  represents 15% of the total.  This is likely to be controversial;

(iii) The border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.  Here there have been positive signs that an agreement can be reached.

In all areas there is a need for high-level negotiating talent, which may not be readily available.

The UK is trying to disentangle itself from 40 years of legislation, and is not in a strong bargaining position against the 27 remaining countries.

Currently the UK has a trade deficit with the EU. However, there is a surplus in the services sector, which accounts for three-quarters of the value of our economy, and financial services will be at particular risk.  There has been government reassurance to car manufacturers but no details have been given. Abrogation of Pan-European regulations in areas such as aviation, chemicals, even roaming charges would put the UK at risk.

Anne Lambert provided what she had found to be the golden rules in negotiations:

Firstly remember that it is a negotiation and compromises are called for.  This is not easy for the UK, as it has had little or no experience of ruling in a coalition and confrontation is the rule in our politics.

Secondly, do not set too many red lines in advance, thus leaving room to manoeuvre.  But does our Government have this political space, given the expectations which have been aroused in the public?

Thirdly it is essential to work with others; personal relationships are important.  Initially the remaining 27 countries will seem united, but differences are likely to emerge according to the future of trading relationships.  It will be important for UK negotiators to seek friends and allies.  Language matters, and so far our government has been aggressive and confrontational

In many ways the UK is not ready – the devil will be in the detail, and detail has been lacking from our side.  Timing is going to be a problem – the clock is ticking.  It is virtually impossible that completion and ratification of the terms of Brexit will be over within two years.  Any extension to the timetable would need unanimity of agreement from all 27 EU countries.  Negotiators are going to have to aim for a transitional period, leading to a framework for future relationships.

The Financial Times recently alluded to "a self-inflicted wound of historic proportions".

Nevertheless, according to Bernie Sanders:  Despair is not an option.


Martin Toomey asked whether the UK Parliament was likely to affect the negotiations. AL replied that visits from Parliamentary Select Committees had been useful and she felt that there was increasing evidence of parliamentary influence.

Alan Reid raised the future of other EU institutions, for example EuroAtom.  He cited the agreement on nuclear material and the Galileo satellite systems presently in the UK.  AL said there had been nothing in the White Paper concerning nuclear matters – which were often the subject of international and multinational agreements.

Richard Moore asked whether working within the Council of Europe could give a less negative impression of the UK – on bilateral defence cooperation for example.  AL replied that the atmosphere was rather tense, but hopefully there could be more cooperation on cultiural exchanges.

John Bassendine raised the issue of aviation.  AL said currently aviation was covered by the single market, and airlines could fly from any point in Europe to any other point.  Outside the single market flights can only be taken to and from one point. There is also the question of the European Aviation Safety Agency.  Countries outside the EU can participate but are then subject to EU regulations.

Dorothy Smith asked whether if the UK parliament and the EU parliament were to vote against any deal, would this mean we would “fall off the cliff”.  AL said the UK government must not wait for the final vote.

Kate Edmonds asked whether AL felt the Prime Minister really meant that no deal is better than a bad deal or was this posturing.  AL replied she hoped this attitude had gone away.

Stephen Quigley said he felt the government was intent on keeping its cards close to its chest and away from the media.  AL said in her experience the bottom line was never put on paper, and red lines were never overtly stated.

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The International European Movement has its origins in the aftermath of the Second World War with the primary objective of promoting peace amongst neighbours by enhanced co-operation. The British section was founded in 1949. 
The European Movement UK has a unique network of branches across the country. The Sussex Branch is one of ten in the South East. We organise regular events on European issues. 
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