The Times: We must learn from our mistakes when negotiating the sublime heaven of Brexit

The prime minister will, at the European Council, get an unsatisfactory deal which we shall have to endure. There is much in it to regret and it illustrates plainly that although Theresa May has negotiated throughout in a sincere, cooperative and statesmanlike fashion, the same courtesy has not been extended to her in return.

The order of the day on the other side of the table has been a ‘do as I say not as I do’ approach, cherry-picking at will, reinforced by bogus declarations regarding the EU’s ‘sacred legal order’ and a determination to get our money for their problems.

Nonetheless, the transition deal is done and may be seen as the torment of purgatory before the the sublime bliss of heaven.

However, we must learn from the route we have taken to this point. There is still much negotiating to be done. The EU has been much more disciplined in its approach to the negotiations, deciding its position privately and then viewing its position as absolute.

The other member states have not undermined the single position and little effort seems to have been made to peel them off.

What we can learn from the Commission is that we ought to set out our own stall more clearly and be less willing to deviate from it. That we always appear to be working to an EU text is an error: we ought to be producing clear legal formulations of our own counter proposals.

At the same time out embassies must take the arguments across Europe.

Are Polish voters aware that if we leave without a deal already agreed projects may need to be cancelled? Do the Germans know they may be asked for more? The EU is a tough interlocutor, we must be tougher. It is working in our political waters, we must fish in theirs.

Importantly although the transition deal is agreed it is not yet set in stone. What has been done is merely the deal about this stage of our progress to next stage of making our eventual, final deal.

We are some distance off that and of course nothing is agreed until everything is. I note that European preparations for a ‘No Deal’ Brexit are next to non-existent. This fact tells a story our hard-headed negotiators will doubtless notice.

It is a pity that the Government’s preparatory work for leaving as a result of the EU27 being unable to reach one big overarching deal with us is not more visible. This risks sending a false and misleading signal to those we are dealing with, and is therefore a mistake.

There is speculation that the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) will be wound up come our formal departure in early 2019. This also would be an error.

The positive work begins on the day we Leave and there is very, very much to do. DExEU’s need is unlikely to fade soon. And no department is better placed to address institutional incapacity or to fight backsliding where it occurs in the machinery of state.

Brexit politics will soon domestically give way to the drama of the local elections but when it resumes, the job of the prime minister’s praetorian guard is to ensure her hand is irresistible for the final deal she will sign with our European friends.

If they had any wisdom they would be grateful, for as we get out of their way and stop being the irritant within their Union they may create the happy superstate the Eurocrats have always wanted.

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