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With that in mind, I just watched OpenEurope’s simulation of the negotiations that will determine Britain’s place in Europe with particular interest.
Yesterday, they simulated EU Reform and Brexit negotiations, with the key roles played by real, top-level British and European politicians. The former British Foreign Secretary and former Chancellor of the Exchequer played Britain; the former Deputy Prime Minister and Governor of the Bank of Poland played Poland, France’s former Minister for Europe played France, Germany’s former Ambassador to the UK played Germany, and so forth.
They played out two scenarios, one in the morning and one in the afternoon:
1) The Reform Scenario starts from the current basis that EU member states are engaging with David Cameron’s EU reform bid. Talks will centre around the key pillars of the government’s EU renegotiation as laid out in Cameron’s letter to Council President Donald Tusk, testing the ‘red lines,’ and where there is scope for a deal.
2) The Brexit Scenario starts on the assumption that the British public has voted in a referendum to leave the EU. The UK government and EU leaders have gathered to discuss what the UK’s future relationship with the EU will look like.
Here’s the video of the simulation:
I’m guessing that no one here is going to watch the whole day’s negotiations — I confess I missed more than a few hours — but you might want to watch parts of it here and there to get a sense of the tone and the issues.
Now, as it happens, these negotiations will take place for real in a few weeks. Prime Minister David Cameron will be playing Britain at the February European Council meeting. The polls show that the prospect of a Brexit is real. So he — or his successor — could soon be negotiating an entirely new deal between the UK and the EU.
The most heated parts of the discussion were about four issues: the equal treatment of non-eurozone members, economic competitiveness, national sovereignty and how to curb immigration. On economic competitiveness, everyone pretty much agreed. But things began to get nasty when it came to changing the voting rules to give more power to non-Eurozone members — and to giving national parliaments veto powers.
Here’s Robert Colville’s summary of how it went, which is actually much better than mine, so I refer you to it. The highlights from the morning session …
The day began with protestations of goodwill all round. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, playing Britain, set out the main areas that Cameron hopes to make progress in. The representatives for Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Ireland, Sweden and the EU institutions (played by a variety of similarly experienced figures, including Enrico Letta, former Italian PM, and John Bruton, former Irish Taoiseach), expressed their love for the UK, and their certain belief that a deal could be done.
It soon turned out, however, that the theme of the morning would be taken from Meat Loaf: “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.” We were told that many of the specifics of Cameron’s deal would either have unforeseen consequences, or were simply impossible, or that our European friends couldn’t really understand what we were on about.
The symbolic commitment to ditching “ever closer union”, for example – why did Britain keep raising this ludicrous idea of a superstate? A “red card” or “emergency brake” for national parliaments – this, said Germany, was a “crazy” idea, so “please take that off the table”. Others rushed to agree: wouldn’t it dilute the power of the European Parliament? (Well, yes.) And wasn’t it more likely to be used against Britain, rather than by it – for example in blocking moves to extend the free market in services, where the UK is Europe’s dominant player? (A rather better point.) Within 20 minutes, they were practically banging on the table. …
It ended, as he puts it, reasonably positively. “[e]ven if there was quarrelling over the specifics, there was a clear sense that a deal can be done – even if it ends up pretty close to the status quo.”
But the afternoon? Not positive at all. It was, as Colville put it, “a lynch mob.”
“There is no such thing as a free lunch,” explained the former German deputy finance minister. “Brexit is something which does not only affect your country but our country. The cherry-picking after torturing us for months is not acceptable.”
… then the bloodbath began. France said it could only offer a vanilla free trade agreement – nothing else. … The Netherlands predicted an effort to channel investment to Scotland, in an effort to peel it off from the rest of the UK. …
The harshest words came from John Bruton, playing Ireland. Brexit, he said, would be a “devastating decision” for Ireland – “I would regard it as an unfriendly act… a huge, self-imposed, politically generated shock to our economy.” It would undo much of the work of the peace process, and create huge questions over borders and labour market access. Out of pure self-interest, Dublin would probably try to grab whatever financial services from London hadn’t been stolen by Frankfurt. Indeed, there was unanimous agreement that the EU would do everything in its power to avoid its financial capital lying outside its borders, and regulatory reach. France, for example, would surely lean on its banks to move their operations back home.
… one thing that emerged from the talks is that European countries have electorates, too. And after Britain leaves, those electorates might not be terribly keen on immediately granting it access to the single market, carte blanche for the City of London, preferential treatment for British visitors to the Continent and so on. Also, Poland pointed out, there will be a temptation to come up with the most punitive terms possible – to avoid other countries following Britain’s lead.
So, questions for Ricochet: Do you think “Cameron” negotiated well? Could he have done better? Do you think Europe would really react that way to a Brexit? Would they be justified in doing so, in your mind? Or do you think cooler heads would prevail?
What advice do you think our Founding Fathers would give them?