The next stage of Brexit negotiations will be underway shortly and, judging by the way the first stage was handled by the Tory government, we are expecting a new array of challenges. So much of the little time the Prime Minister allocated to deliver Brexit was completely wasted on the easiest part of negotiations. We have already seen how even securing the rights of our own Brits who live in other member states was like pulling teeth for Theresa May and her Brexit team, when surely that should have been the easiest, most straight-forward task. Dare we imagine what is to come?
At the end of last year Labour MEPs voted to move on to the next phase in Brexit negotiations, but there is still a long way to go with many outstanding matters left unresolved. However, after many challenging meetings and talks, significant guarantees have been made recently whereby all EU citizens resident in Britain and Brits in other member states will enjoy the full set of rights established in EU law. Their families and any future children will also be protected. We voted so these guarantees are kept, but there’s still more to be done to ensure that citizens’ lives are undisturbed by Brexit, as both sides of the talks have promised. This deal isn’t done yet and we want citizens’ rights to be a recurring thread throughout all stages of negotiating our departure from the EU.
But if they wish to deliver Brexit the Tory government need to get serious about it. Allowing key negotiators such as David Davis to make ill-advised remarks that jeopardise our position during these vital talks is an error of colossal proportions on the Prime Minister’s part. We need negotiators who have grand ambitions for the future of the UK outside of the EU because grandstanding simply won’t suffice; negotiators who don’t see their counterpart’s contingency planning as a betrayal, when all we’ve heard from the Tory government was that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’; negotiators who are prepared to deliver on their promises, when at the moment all we’re getting is empty words. We hoped that with the recent Cabinet reshuffle, Theresa May would take the opportunity to form a competent team. But that was wishful thinking.
To this point, all we have seen was a relentless back and forth from our side. EU counterparts have been keeping an undivided front and acting like a union, while the Cabinet of the United Kingdom is anything but united, spreading mixed messages on a regular basis. Theresa May has hopefully used the winter break to reflect upon the way her Brexit dream team has handled the first set of negotiations and learn from their mistakes. Discussing our future relationship with the EU and drawing up a good trade agreement will arguably be the most difficult part of this divorce and while we’re not certain the Tory government is capable of handling that rightly, Labour MEPs will continue to scrutinise everything with a fine tooth comb – just as we have been from the very beginning.
In March 2018 the final countdown will begin with a lot of complex issues still to be resolved. And while many might already have a case of Brexit fatigue, we can’t stress the importance of being aware of this process enough. We must analyse it, discuss it, challenge it – no doubt in that. There is too much at stake and, with the interests of the North East and our constituents at heart, we will continue to brave through it all.