The City of London's top Brexit envoy has slammed Brussels’ approach to negotiating with the UK as “bewildering” and “reckless”.
Documents seen by City A.M. show former Lib Dem Home Office minister Jeremy Browne, the City of London Corporation’s special representative to the EU, is also fearful that the bloc is “affronted by the idea of London remaining brazenly unaffected” by Brexit.
In a series of colourful dispatches sent to UK ministers and trade bodies from across the continent, Browne tells of Switzerland’s dream of a so-called “F4” alliance with London, Hong Kong and Singapore; Estonia and Latvia’s desire for the UK to remain “a bulwark against Russian aggression”; and Poland’s “myopic obsession with the size of Britain’s exit fee”.
When it comes to siding with UK interests, Browne finds Finland and Sweden’s hearts are in the right place, although “their herbivorous nature prevents them from grabbing the steering wheel”.
Italians, meanwhile, “retain a sentimental affinity for Britain” and are judged to be more “conciliatory than the French or Germans”.
In a dispatch from May, he revealed his concerns over the way Brussels is handling negotiations. He said: “Some brinkmanship is inevitable, but it requires good judgement about where the brink is. The inability of Brussels to comprehend British politics, or read the British character at the most elementary level, is bewildering; reckless even.
“It is true that the British often suffer from similar failings, but the relevant consideration with Brexit is the interaction between the EU and Britain. If Croatia was leaving we would all have to brush up on the psyche of the Croatians, but they are not.”
Despite his frustrations, Browne believes “negotiations will ultimately succeed, or at least not wholly fail”.
He added that in various areas there was “a recognition of the scale of the City of London, and acknowledgment that inflicting excessive harm on London would have negative consequences for the EU27 as well as for Britain”.
“At the heart of everything sits the same recurring dilemma for both the British and the EU27,” Browne said. “The British must decide between a sovereignty-inspired freedom to diverge from the EU27 rule book and the pragmatic business benefits of maintaining some alignment.
“The EU27 must choose between also leaning towards business-friendly pragmatism or a conscious pursuit of non-cooperation to demonstrate to the potentially faint hearted that ‘Brexit cannot be a success’.”
As an example, he pointed to the debate over the fate of euro clearing. “Nobody disputes that the system currently works in practice, but the EU27 (or, more specifically, the Eurozone) has a supervisory and quasi-nationalistic desire to prevent business continuing as usual in London post-Brexit,” he said.
“There is a technical dimension to their position, but they are also affronted by the idea of London remaining brazenly unaffected. The London perspective tends to be coldly pragmatic: ‘if it ain't broke, don’t fix it’.”
The government will next week publish the first of a string of new position papers on issues such as customs arrangements and Northern Ireland, ahead of the resumption of Brexit talks in the autumn.
Negotiations have been tense so far, with Brussels accusing the UK of coming to the table unprepared, a charge denied by Brexit secretary David Davis' team.
A City of London Corporation spokesperson said: “These memos are the corporation’s key points from meetings across member states with government representatives, financial institutions and a host of trade bodies.
“These reports, published regularly as part of our policy and resources committee, are intended to make sure UK policymakers and businesses are kept informed of our discussions at these meetings.”
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