30 June 2016

Discussions about Brexit negotiations have focused on when they will begin. But it is important to remember that the UK is not the only party at the negotiating table. Nehal Davison looks at who the UK will be negotiating with.

There are four phases of negotiation, some of which may end up happening concurrently:

  • Agreeing the terms of the negotiation – when it starts, what is on the table and who is involved
  • Agreeing the terms of the divorce, including budget matters and the respective rights of nationals living in the UK and EU, which have to take account 'of the framework for [the UK’s] future relationship with the Union'
  • Negotiating the future UK-EU relationship, including trade arrangements
  • Establishing the UK’s new relationship with non-EU countries and international bodies, including setting up deals with non-EU markets previously covered by EU trade agreements.

None of these will be simple two-way negotiations between the UK and EU. During each phase the UK Government will need to manage a different combination of domestic stakeholders and engage with a range of different negotiating partners. At their simplest, these negotiations could be thought of as being between the UK Government and the EU.   Negotiations between UK and EU chart But the EU is not a single entity. It is composed of three key European institutions: the European Parliament, European Council and European Commission and 27 other member states, all of whom will have views on the process and will need to approve the final deal. chart-2-vb Nor is the UK Government a single entity. Different actors within the UK have different views of what it should aim to get from the deal – and the UK Government will need to manage multiple negotiations with domestic players to address their different interests. As we argued recently, the devolved administrations must be involved in the negotiations. Local government will also want a seat at the negotiating table to ensure that individual councils’ needs are met. At the same time, Whitehall departments will be vying to ensure their interests are represented, whether it’s BIS over export, investment and trade; Defra on common agricultural and fisheries policy or the Home Office on continued access to cross-border security arrangements. chart-3-vb Brexit negotiations will also involve decisions about the UK’s future relationship with international institutions and other countries. Exiting the EU will mean having a separate seat at key international institutions. At the WTO for example, this will involve re-negotiating and agreeing the terms of UK’s relationship and commitments. If the UK wants to maintain the preferential access to non-EU markets it currently has, it will also need to negotiate deals with countries currently covered by EU trade deals – such as South Korea, Singapore and Canada. And, there is no way of avoiding negotiations with the EU spilling into NATO - given membership of the two organisations is broadly similar; the UK may well need to increase its contribution to the defence budget in return for deals struck as part of its divorce arrangement with the EU. chart-4-vb The UK’s exit from the EU won’t be simple; it will involve managing multiple negotiations at the domestic, regional and international level – many at the same time. The success with which these multiple negotiations are managed will be crucial to determining whether the UK gets the best possible deal. It is likely to involve some difficult choices and trade-offs along the way.


Dear Paul,
Many thanks for your comment. We totally agree, but have decided to provide a high-level illustration only. We will be undertaking further work in this area to explore who the key negotiating players are and what their interests are, which will include discussion about the countries you mention.

Dear Nehal, it might be worth adding The Republic of Ireland and Spain individually to the picture given the specific border and other issues.