Sir Tim Barrow, the UK ambassador to the EU, and The Rt Hon David Jones MP, Minister of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union, appeared before the EU Scrutiny Committee and I was able to question them on how prepared the other 27 EU institutions are for the Brexit negotiations and about the timetable for leaving the EU.

You can read my contribution below.

Stephen Kinnock: Thank you very much chair and many thanks to Sir Tim and Minister for coming to discuss with us today.

We’ve had a lot of focus on the UK’s readiness for these negotiations but of course 27 of the EU institutions also have to prepare. We have seen, for example, some difference of opinion about the representation of the European Parliament in the negotiation and there seems to be a difference of opinion between the Council and the Parliament on that. It is an example of the fact that clearly the EU has to get its house in order for these negotiations. How would you assess the EU’s readiness and capacity as a negotiating partner?

David Jones: Well, it does seem to me that they have progressed substantially, as I understand it Michel Barnier has established his own negotiating team. You are absolutely right, various institutions of the EU will have various functions. I think it is a matter for them to decide how those functions actually interact the one with the other. I think a very helpful and important moment will be when the Council issues its guidelines after the process of Article 50 has been triggered. Of course at that particular stage we will be able to see the choreography of the negotiations so far as the EU is concerned.

Sir Tim Barrow: Again just to agree, it is clear as the Minister is saying, that a lot of preparation has been done, people have known the timetable for Article 50. I think a spokesman from one of the institutions, today, has underlined their readiness. The Commission has its team ready for negotiations; the Council has a structure to support that in order to involve all 27 other member states; and the European Parliament will feed into that. I was in Strasbourg just last week talking to MEPs who are ready to prepare the resolution they will adopt shortly after triggering Article 50, and of course the European Parliament has a vote of consent at the end of the process, according to the procedures. But the exact articulation, I don’t think that is yet visible to us, it may still be discussed and decided.

Stephen Kinnock: Just if could come back, one area where the EU does seem to be united is around the timetable, and particularly this issue of whether it is possible to do the divorce deal and the future framework deal before the spring of 2019. There seems to be a fairly unanimous view coming out of the Governments and institutions that it is not going to be possible. Could you say a little bit more about the actual timetable, both the initial timetable, when will we first hear back, be able to engage with the Council, will it be effectively after the French elections? And then a broader point on whether it is possible to do both the divorce and the future framework within the two year frame?

David Jones: In terms of timescale, I think it was Michel Barnier who indicated that he wanted to see the entire negotiations concluded within 18 months, to allow a 6 month period at the end of the two years prescribed by Article 50, for the necessary administrative and other measures that had to be put in place in order to complete it. So I don’t think Michel Barnier himself is so pessimistic as maybe some other people you have been talking to.

Again it depends very much on how negotiations pan out. My own view is that Article 50 is quite clear, it talks about negotiating the terms of withdrawal against the framework of our continuing relationship with the EU 27. Of course it is rather difficult to see how one can negotiate against a framework of that sort unless one actually talks about what the relationship is likely to be. We do believe that a twin-track approach to the negotiation is correct, not only because it is a lot easier but also because that is what Article 50 itself seems to contemplate.

In terms of timing, again of course, we have a huge advantage in that we are already members of the European Union. So in terms of standards, regulatory requirements, we are already in perfect alignment, so that should actually have the effect of considerably reducing the necessary times. But again, we do need to wait for the negotiations to start and to see what is contemplated in the guidelines, then we will no doubt make our own representations.

Sir Tim Barrow: As the Minister said, Article 50 is very clear in itself, taking into account the future framework that means the future framework needs to be part of those discussions, as one works on withdrawal. There has been loads of speculation on this, as you rightly say, but the truth is nobody has done this sort of negotiation before. A lot of speculation is based on a different sort of negotiation, the FTA negotiation, but about countries which are not in convergence and are seeking to find a way to bridge gaps. As the Minister says, on the first day after withdrawal there will be convergence and therefore we are treated something different. So our mandate is clear, to get on with it, there is a timetable which everyone has sort of bought into, including in the treaty of two years, so that is what we have got to do.

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