Now the negotiations have started, it’s time to cheer them on

Now the negotiations have started, it’s time to cheer them on

The negotiations between the European Union and United Kingdom have finally begun after what we may describe as a politically arduous year for the UK. We had to prepare for the negotiations while attending to those who were adjusting politically to the decision made by the British public.

It was a historic turnout that conferred a mandate on parliament premised clearly on the public’s objections to the EU’s ‘four freedoms’.

Nevertheless, many questioned the legitimacy of the referendum and demanded an act of parliament to ensure it was constitutionally viable, which they received after rightly consulting the judiciary.

Others were still not satisfied without an election, because the government needed a mandate from the public to justify its intention to leave the Single Market, rather than relying on a mandate from Conservative party members. The snap election was finally called.

With the overwhelming majority of the British public (over 80%) voting for parties whose policy is to leave the Single Market, the issue of what Brexit means should finally be settled and clear in its objectives.

The British public now understands that signing up to the EEA agreement means adopting the four freedoms and not partaking democratically in the ongoing legislative processes underpinning the evolution of that agreement. This position is wholly inferior to our previous arrangement and worse than full membership.

Now that the ship has sailed, so to speak, we might contemplate on what we must do to ensure that these negotiations are a blistering success for Europe as a whole.

Might it be wise, and crucial, for the wider public, including representatives, the media, experts and others to cheer on our representatives in these challenging, complex and historic negotiations?

Might not the underpinning principle of this partnership be to ensure we flourish and do so together because of our differences, rather than in spite of them?

We Europeans have the economic, legal and political creativity to achieve the greatly anticipated close partnership between the UK and the EU, but we must ensure that we cultivate the requisite goodwill, too.

We showed our creativity and goodwill with the unprecedented commitment on both sides to make the negotiations open to public scrutiny, which means that we are all involved in these negotiations. Nevertheless, this should not distract from the fact that the principal onus for getting it right is on our representatives.

We know that the first phase of these negotiations will focus on Citizens’ rights, the Good Friday Agreement and on setting out the principles for determining a fair withdrawal settlement. Doing so swiftly will cultivate and signal a goodwill whose positive outcome will be felt immediately by the public and our respective economies.

The UK government has rightly argued that the negotiations must proceed by at least taking into account the partnership. Even if it means not treating the negotiations as a “single undertaking”, but as a series of steps, the final outcome must be borne in mind.

The UK has accepted the phased approach and has demonstrated its goodwill by doing so, but its request to move forward holistically is crucial. EU negotiators can now do their bit for cultivating a goodwill by agreeing to a phased, but holistically-minded approach. Their agreement will show that both sides want what is best for Europe and that public welfare is the sole concern. The benefits of doing so can be wide-ranging.

Businesses, investors, consumers are all watching and responding, but they are not the only ones. The recent Dutch and French elections have successfully pushed back the nationalistic populist tides, but to ensure they do not thrive going forward, Europe must unite in its adversity, show how capable it is of accepting and handling its differences and that it listens to the public.

The negotiations can uplift Europe as a whole, provided we ensure that they proceed on the basis of goodwill. Together, we can build a standard-setting partnership upon which the world and future generations can look in awe and from which they may learn.

We in the UK may rejoice after an arduous year; we have been through a lot and continue to do so with the recent, awful and ongoing events. We are moving forward calmly and undeterred, and we are doing so together – 80% together. We may rejoice, but without complacency, because although we consolidated behind Brexit, we still have much work to do to consolidate our friends in the EU behind what comes after Brexit. We must show them that we mean and strive to do well – together.

Let us now, as Europeans, cheer on these negotiations as we set the first foot into the future with a swift, clear and fair agreement on dealing with the uncertainties of Brexit and, finally, a standard-setting partnership. Let us bear in mind the destination in the process, however, because it should be our collective prize, not our demoralising compromise.