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Inside the Deal: How the EU Got Brexit Done
Inside the Deal: How the EU Got Brexit Done
Inside the Deal: How the EU Got Brexit Done
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Inside the Deal: How the EU Got Brexit Done

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As a close aide to Michel Barnier, Stefaan De Rynck had a front row seat in the Brexit negotiations. In this frank and uncompromising account, De Rynck tells the EU’s side of the story and seeks to dispel some of the myths and spin that have become indelibly linked to the Brexit process. From the mood in the room to the technical discussions, he gives an unvarnished account of the deliberations and obstacles that shaped the final deal.

De Rynck demonstrates how the EU-27’s unity held firm throughout, while the UK vacillated, changed negotiators, changed prime ministers and changed their aims and tactics. Attempts by the UK to run down the clock and issue ultimatums to force the EU to acquiesce are shown to have had no effect on the course of events. Instead Barnier’s team was successful in protecting EU interests, in fulfilling the mandate defined by 27 national governments while still agreeing different forms of Brexit with two UK prime ministers.

For the EU, Brexit was not, as some UK commentators and politicians liked to portray it, a fight with the UK. It was a fight to get a deal that worked for the EU.

Release dateJan 24, 2023
Inside the Deal: How the EU Got Brexit Done
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Stefaan De Rynck

Stefaan De Rynck was a senior advisor to Michel Barnier, the Brexit Negotiator for the European Union. He has worked as an EU civil servant on financial regulation, the single market, transport policy, sustainable urban development and on EU Treaty changes. He has a PhD in political and social sciences from the European University Institute in Florence and teaches at the Public Governance Institute of the University of Leuven in Belgium.

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    Inside the Deal - Stefaan De Rynck


    There is still scope for compromise, the German chancellor Angela Merkel commented on the ongoing talks. In London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared the trade talks are over. It was 16 October 2020, two months before Johnson agreed to a deal. On that day, Michel Barnier said in a press conference in Brussels that he was ready to intensify talks. Simultaneously, David Frost, Johnson’s negotiator, lamented in a tweet that the EU refused to accelerate negotiations. Barnier looked with incredulity at yet another bizarre situation created by a British government searching for a Potemkin confrontation. After ten days of standstill, talks resumed. I am not sure why this political drama was needed, Barnier told his team of a hundred EU negotiators who were eager to go back to work and conclude a deal. Brexit in London was a different tale from Brexit in Brussels.

    Initially, the victory of the Leave vote in the June 2016 referendum caused a shock in Brussels. It happened one year after the EU overcame sharp divisions between member states in order to avoid Grexit, the exit of Greece from the eurozone. There were tensions between governments on migration flows and rule of law violations by Poland and Hungary. The crisis Brexit would cause could and probably will dwarf them all, said the BBC’s Chris Morris on the day after the referendum. Many thought Morris was on point but the story turned out differently. The political crisis in London never crossed the channel. EU member states preferred to engage in fights with each other on migration, economic and monetary union, climate change, or the EU budget, to name but a few issues. For Brexit, the EU acted as a united club while Westminster tore itself apart. EU leaders concurred from the start on what to do and adopted a clear negotiation mandate for the European Commission and Michel Barnier. Paradoxically, the UK was less clear than the EU about what it wanted from Brexit, at least until December 2019 when Johnson won a comfortable majority and, in his words, Bob’s your uncle.

    London and Brussels: a different Brexit story

    In what sense was the story in Brussels different from London? Four Brexit fallacies expose a misreading of the EU and its positions within the UK government and some media. A first fallacy was that delivering Brexit needed a confrontational approach with Brussels. That is why Boris Johnson compared himself to the hulk and commentators claimed he was a tougher negotiator than an ineffectual and hapless Theresa May, who failed to stand up to EU bullies. May, however, was more successful in getting concessions from the EU as she and her team chose a less adversarial approach, which opened up more space for finding creative solutions compared to the sterile conflict and confrontational tactics of Johnson and his team. Barnier never felt that reciprocating with confrontation would produce any benefit.

    A second fallacy was that the EU conspired with Remainers. Dominic Cummings, the strategist of the Vote Leave campaign and top aide to Prime Minister Johnson during most of 2020, keeps this view alive today. The perception that Barnier wanted to sabotage Brexit ran deep. Some Brexiters thought his aim was to punish the country and inflict insufferable pain to force a change of mind. Remainers who thought Barnier was on their side equally misunderstood his goal. Many MPs came to talk to him but never found support for overturning Brexit. On the contrary, the evidence shows Barnier got Brexit done twice with two different deals, a first time with May in November 2018 and a second time with Johnson in October 2019. You do not need a negotiator for no deal he used to say. EU leaders and the European Parliament agreed to the two different Brexits, whereas the UK Parliament rejected one and eventually opted for the more distant of the two.

    A third fallacy accused Barnier of being a dogmatic theologian of the EU rulebook who blocked national governments and businesses from introducing economic rationality in the talks. Liam Fox, the trade secretary in May’s government, stated in August 2018 that member states should abandon Barnier’s ideological purity, echoing earlier appeals for pragmatism to German car and Italian prosecco producers. On various occasions, however, Barnier and his team spent political capital on convincing member states to give ground to the UK, most notably on May’s proposed solution for Northern Ireland. Yet another paradox was that this EU concession became a Pyrrhic victory and May’s political death knell. Pro-Brexit MPs thought the plan was a trap by Brussels to turn their country into a satellite state in the EU’s orbit. The EU in contrast saw daunting complexity in outsourcing to UK authorities the application of EU rules on goods entering the single market.

    A fourth and final fallacy is that the EU always budges at the last minute. Johnson’s rhetoric during his first months in office reinforced this proposition. He pledged to ditch the backstop for Northern Ireland and deliver Brexit do or die by 31 October 2019. When concluding the deal, he nurtured the perception that this threat had made the EU more malleable. In reality, Johnson decided to budge well before the last minute of the talks and conclude negotiations by agreeing to checks for goods crossing the Irish Sea. The fallacy that the EU would cave under pressure at the very end misread the negotiation dynamics and the internal cohesion of the EU. It also confused two different power games. Late-night summits, stand-offs and concessions between EU leaders are common because they aim at finding a compromise that satisfies everyone inside the EU’s political arena, where countries have power because of EU membership. The power game between the EU and a country that decided to give up membership and therefore its influence over the EU was entirely different. This fallacy, in other words, underestimated the decreased UK influence on EU politics because of Brexit and overestimated the impact of no-deal threats.

    An episode from when I worked with Barnier earlier on the single market for financial services between 2009 and 2014 illustrates this loss of influence. The EU adopted new rules after the banking crisis. George Osborne at the Treasury and British diplomats skilfully navigated the legislative process to make sure their preferences and interests ended up in EU law. Cameron and Osborne worried about losing influence once there was a more united banking policy of the eurozone members. When designing the banking union for the eurozone in 2012, Barnier and member states went out of their way to accommodate the UK’s rights as a member of the single market. There was budging to Osborne whose influence on the outcome came from the UK being an EU member, from treaty provisions on the functioning of the single market and from the status of the UK in financial services. Once the UK decided to leave, it no longer had any power over EU financial regulations. Pro-Brexit pundits often claimed the EU needed the City and would come round to accommodate the UK, which underestimated how being outside of the EU fundamentally changed their country’s position. To paraphrase a tweet by the Luxembourg prime minister Xavier Bettel, it was possible to negotiate opt-outs from EU provisions when the UK was half-in, as a member, but it was impossible to negotiate opt-ins from the outside.

    How to explain those differences?

    How does one explain why the story was so different in London than in Brussels? Part of the explanation had to do with UK media. One of my tasks in Barnier’s team was to interact with British editors, reporters and columnists and have informal conversations in order to promote a better understanding of the EU’s arguments and logic. On my first visit to London in 2017, a senior editor told me in our Westminster village we do not understand enough about the EU to hold our government to account. Such lack of knowledge was not typical for this editor or indeed for the UK. It pervades newsrooms across the EU that privilege a national lens for looking at EU affairs.

    Some influential reporters and columnists in London never bothered to understand the EU and wrote about its Brexit positions based on UK sources. They called or whatsapped UK ministerial, parliamentary or civil service sources and explained to their readers or listeners why the EU was intransigent, unreasonable or even devious. Pushback by British journalists in Brussels against story angles of their London desk, based on their plethora of EU and national government sources, often failed to have an impact. Not all UK media succumbed to unbalanced reporting on how the EU handled Brexit, but this bias against the EU and in favour of the UK government applies to media that reach a wide and diverse audience.

    The explanation for the different narratives between London and Brussels goes deeper than media bias. The UK has a history as an awkward EU partner and member. Margaret Thatcher got a UK-tailored rebate from the budget. John Major’s main EU achievement was to obtain opt-outs in Maastricht. Gordon Brown signed the Treaty of Lisbon by himself, skipping the ceremony with the other EU leaders. David Cameron, one of a few prime ministers who did not attend the award of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the EU, took the Conservative Party out of the influential European People’s Party. The EU and the UK hardly agreed on the meaning of EU membership. It is no surprise therefore that they interpreted the meaning of the Leave vote differently. Some people even thought that leaving and obtaining more entitlements from the EU was a realistic proposition. Boris Johnson claimed during the campaign that a Leave victory would lead to a better deal than what Cameron had negotiated in 2016, as if Brexit would boost London’s power in the EU. UK officials would interact with EU business leaders and government representatives throughout the negotiations, often aggressively attacking them for not showing the flexibility the UK deserved. Why did you close the door so quickly on negotiation options, some queried.

    These claims to entitlements underestimated the gravity of the British referendum, which was not comparable to earlier referendums in Denmark, Ireland, France and other countries where voters had rejected proposed reforms to EU treaties as part of a national ratification process. In those cases, the EU gave additional reassurances or opt-outs to help reverse the result of a first referendum. National governments made additional pledges to convince the public to vote otherwise a second time as part of a deliberative process and national debate on the way forwards. The 2016 vote on UK membership differed in nature and was more comparable to referendums on EU accession. Norway did not vote again after rejecting membership in 1972 and 1994, nor did anyone ask Norway to reconsider.

    Cameron’s referendum raised an existential question on what it means to be a sovereign country and offered a binary choice between in or out. After a majority voted leave, EU countries and institutions took note, regretfully, of the rejection of continued membership and urged the country to get on with leaving. The comparison with the reaction to the Greek referendum in July 2015 illustrates the difference. When a majority of Greek voters rejected an EU aid and reform package, it kicked off frantic weeks of bargaining between Athens, Brussels, Berlin and other capitals. Prime Minister Tsipras, EU institutions and governments engaged in a hard-nosed fight but with a view to keep Greece inside the eurozone. This dynamic never even started with the UK. For the EU, Brexit meant a radical change whereby the UK would become a third country overnight on the day of its exit. It would have to work hard to earn any future benefit as an outsider, under the laws of international relations between countries, in a clash of interests outside of the common rules and procedures of EU membership. Timothy Garton Ash and Anand Menon, two British academics with a good understanding of the EU, argued this approach was shortsighted. Underlying their critique was an assumption that Brexit could be managed as yet another step in the UK’s journey of defining its special relationship with Europe, no longer as a member but as an ex-member with privileges. The expectation that the EU had to change its architecture and way of working to accommodate the UK’s choice to leave followed logically from that view. Barnier’s mandate, however, gave him no flexibility to design a new UK–EU union. No national government leader asked for that, sticking to their mantra that the UK had to bear the consequences of its own choice.

    Misreading the EU on Brexit

    The expectation that Brexit necessitated EU reforms underpinned May’s search for a bespoke relationship and informed Labour’s position that full membership of the single market was compatible with restrictions to free movement of EU nationals. It informed the Scottish government’s demand to remain in the single market and customs union while the rest of the UK left. In 2020, Boris Johnson and David Frost demanded fewer benefits than May but equally felt entitled to a better treatment than any other third country. Frost wrote to Barnier in May 2020 with a list of benefits the EU had granted in trade negotiations to Japan, Canada, South Korea, Mercosur, Chile and Mexico, adding elements the EU offered to New Zealand, and wondered what made the UK unworthy of getting all those combined precedents. The EU did not think the UK was entitled to get the accumulated rights of all its existing agreements with all countries around the world.

    The UK’s expectation had a damaging impact on its negotiation tactics. It spent time and resources on trying to sway the EU into adopting another mandate than the one defined by EU leaders. May tried to change EU principles with bilateral pressure on capitals in order to peel them off from a united front. Frost thought a combination of threatening no deal and not making much progress in the initial stages of talks would create a war of nerves and a pressure cooker that would shift the EU into dropping core demands. The EU, however, was immune to such confrontational pressure that failed to create any benefit for the UK. The adversarial approach even backfired as it galvanized the EU’s unity on crucial occasions. When Johnson’s government announced in September 2020 that it intended to violate international law and disrespect its legal obligations on the Northern Irish and Irish border, did 10 Downing Street think this move would strengthen its hand? Barnier and his team felt it strengthened the resolve of EU countries to stay firm just before the endgame of negotiations. May made a similar miscalculation just before her endgame at the Salzburg summit in September 2018, where her choice for confrontation surprised her fellow government leaders who closed ranks to reject her bespoke model.

    The need for an adversarial approach to negotiations with the EU featured repeatedly in opinion pieces in various UK media and affected the choice of words and metaphors. Commentators like Fraser Nelson writing in the Daily Telegraph depicted negotiations as a poker game, urging May to call Barnier’s bluff at a time when all his cards were laid out on the table. Some UK pundits thought that negotiations seemed to need underhand tricks to beat the opponent, whereas the EU’s focus was to find common ground to conclude a deal. Those same pundits do not use a similar frame to describe UK negotiations with the US, Australia or other countries. The misconception meant some commentators interpreted Barnier’s actions or words wrongly, as if they were cunning EU moves to outfox the UK or boost specific views on Brexit in the Westminster debate. His job, however, was not to shape UK thinking but to defend the EU. Barnier was never interested in confrontation with the UK and in playing games inside British politics.

    Structure of the book

    This book consists of four parts. The first part begins in June 2016 and ends in December 2017. Chapters 1 and 2 look at how the EU built its unity early on and Chapters 3 and 4 show how that unity and accompanying transparency bore fruit during the first six months of negotiations. Part I ends on 8 December 2017 when Juncker and May reached a first agreement on the exit terms, dubbed freedom day by some British newspapers.

    The second part deals with 2018. Chapter 5 analyses the negotiations from January to March on the transition period. Chapter 6 explains the origin of the Barnier staircase, an iconic slide, at least for Brexit nerds, which offered a menu of possible relationships, whereas May wanted something that was not on the menu. Chapter 7 exposes the divisions between what some ministers promoted in London and what UK negotiators advocated in Brussels. Chapter 8 tells the story of how EU and UK negotiators managed to calm down the politics after a tumultuous Salzburg summit in September 2018 and find a provisional landing zone on the future relationship.

    Part III covers the negotiations on the Irish and Northern Irish border. Chapter 9 starts with October 2016 and describes a political dance between Ireland, the Commission and member states, in a build-up of the unbreakable EU solidarity with Ireland. Chapter 10 discusses May’s Pyrrhic victory in obtaining a UK-wide customs regime as a backstop solution, an insurance if all else failed. Chapter 11 shows how Johnson moved gradually away from ditching the backstop to accepting a Northern Irish-specific solution already in September 2019. Chapter 12 explains how Johnson subsequently executed a quick shift from his initial position in October 2019.

    The final part discusses the negotiations on the future relationship with Johnson and Frost in 2020. Chapter 13 explains why the agreement has no provisions on foreign policy and external security cooperation, including on the satellite navigation project of Galileo. Chapter 14 deals with the level playing field and explains how the EU prepared since October 2016. It tells the amazing story of how in 2020 the UK initially rejected all EU proposals and ended up with unprecedented requirements. Chapter 15 considers Frost’s war of nerves regarding a new trade relationship in 2020, letting months pass by without progress and turbocharging concessions at the end. The book concludes by looking back at these tumultuous years of the EU–UK relationship and argues that a better understanding of what the EU is, of both Brexiters and Remainers, is an indispensable element for a better future.

    Part I

    Uniting the European Union

    June 2016–December 2017


    No negotiation without notification

    I am more pessimistic than at the start of our dinner, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told Prime Minister Theresa May on his way out of 10 Downing Street. It was late in the evening of 26 April 2017, nearly a year after the British people had voted to leave the European Union. A few weeks earlier, May had notified President Tusk of the European Council of the UK’s departure planned for March 2019. The conversation between the prime minister and the Commission president started pleasantly. Juncker is good at small talk and putting people at ease. Michel Barnier, his Brexit negotiator, and his counterpart David Davis reminisced briefly about the 1990s when they represented France and the UK in the preparations for the Treaty of Amsterdam. By the time the EU leaders had signed the Treaty in 1997, French and British voters had kicked both politicians out of office and Tony Blair overturned John Major’s opt-out of the EU’s social chapter. Blair wanted to put the UK back at the heart of Europe.

    Top British and EU aides attended the dinner conversation but purdah rules barred May’s closest advisers and architects of her Brexit approach, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, from participating. Eight days before, May had come back from a hiking holiday in the Swiss Alps and announced early elections to bring unity here in Westminster and make a success of Brexit. Although the UK was now officially in an election campaign, Juncker and Barnier still went to London, as it was high time to sound out the UK’s intentions. Three days later, the 27 EU leaders would meet in Brussels at a special Brexit summit for the adoption of their negotiation guidelines with the principles that would inform all EU positions.

    The Downing Street dinner was the first occasion to compare the EU’s approach with UK thinking. The elections would in any case not change much, people in Brussels thought, and most probably lead to a more effective Tory government until 2022, with a larger majority. Juncker’s team liked that prospect. Tony Blair, whom Barnier met in Dublin on 11 May, predicted a landslide victory for May and urged Barnier to keep all options open nevertheless. Blair wanted to recompose an anti-Brexit alliance for when the negative consequences started to become visible with the British public, he said. Barnier, in contrast, thought like Juncker that a solid majority would be good, create more political space for May’s government and boost the chances to avoid a chaotic exit without a deal. Juncker’s head of cabinet Martin Selmayr, a German civil servant and astute communicator, pushed the Commission’s spokesperson to take an unusual line prior to a national election in a member state by welcoming the prospect of a more stable majority.

    May’s first ideas

    Why did Juncker express pessimism when leaving Downing Street? During dinner, he understood May’s gambit would lead to a dead-end. The minute after Brexit, on 30 March 2019, the UK would no longer pay a penny to the EU, the prime minister stated. The EU delegation continued chewing on the starter of Cypriot halloumi cheese. UK migration law would apply to EU nationals in the UK, May continued, which meant a significant reduction of the rights of millions of people, Barnier replied. Students in the midst of their studies would face higher tuition fees to complete their degree. Family members of EU nationals could face deportation.

    May set out her view on the economic relationship, which did not lift the mood of the EU side on the prospect of finding common ground. The prime minister explained a model based on what she did as home secretary. The UK would first opt-out of all membership obligations and back in to those elements in the UK’s interest. She conveniently disregarded that opting-in on justice and home affairs was only possible owing to a specific provision in the EU treaties. Her way forward was the equivalent of leaving a golf club, stopping paying dues but still claim an entitlement to use the grounds to play a game whenever she wanted because the club needed her talents. Juncker and Barnier warned no EU government would play along with this logic. From the first day since the referendum, the EU defined a negotiation principle that EU membership mattered, in other words that a non-member could not have the same benefits as a member. If member states could leave the EU, have fewer obligations and choose a wide range of benefits, it could put the EU on a slippery slope to disintegration. Juncker pointed to a fundamental difference with the Cameron renegotiation, which was about decreasing UK obligations while not diminishing benefits. That exercise done collectively with 28 member states was not a template, he said, and EU discussions on Brexit would happen with 27 member states only, in line with the UK’s decision to become an outsider.

    Building the unity of the EU-27

    None of May’s early ideas came to fruition during negotiations but that was not a given in April 2017. The UK planned to break the EU’s unity. In the first months after the referendum, conversations in Brussels and EU capitals often turned to a fear that the Brexit shock would divide the EU and even unravel it. Relentless British bilateral diplomacy fuelled that fear. MEPs told Barnier to stop this parallel diplomacy against the emerging unity. One of the Visegrád prime ministers, the club of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Czechia, told Barnier he doubted his counterparts would join or sustain a united EU front. There was not much Barnier could do at that time other than continue to construct an approach together with all players, as he and his team still worked without established structures in the Council and without a mandate, which made that period particularly risky for the EU’s unity.

    The principle of no negotiation without notification helped build a united response. The morning after the referendum, Tusk and Juncker pushed other EU leaders to support this. No government, no EU institution, no national minister would engage in serious talks with the UK until the UK notified by formal letter its intention to leave. The principle of no negotiation without notification kept the UK out of all the EU’s work on Brexit and shielded Barnier’s team from the pressure that working immediately with the UK would have entailed. It created time to examine the situation and avoid rash decisions. France’s President Hollande and Juncker initially urged the UK government to notify its withdrawal right away, in July, but with the benefit of hindsight, a few months of internal EU preparations were welcome.

    The decision by Juncker that only Barnier would do Brexit-related work inside the European Commission created a sense of reassurance throughout the organization in all sectorial departments. It absolved them from having to react to the new situation. Commission officials were generally nervous about an unprecedented situation with no rulebook on what to do. Some departments felt cognitive dissonance and resisted the idea of inflicting an act of economic harm and recreate barriers to trade obliterated by the single market, thereby underestimating the political significance of Brexit. The mere presence of Barnier and his small task force of around a dozen people took a poisoned chalice away from all departments and avoided uncoordinated reactions. It also meant all departments could continue focusing on what Juncker’s advisors called the positive EU story of new policies as opposed to the negative Brexit story.

    Barnier’s team was a mixture of people he worked with before and new recruits. He wanted experts on the budget and free movement rights, which were core parts of the withdrawal challenges, but he also recruited in 2016 specialists on financial services, competition policy, trade and internal security. He recruited advisors who were politically experienced and knew the ropes of Council and Parliament work, as well as a former negotiator on the EU–Switzerland relationship. A top legal team with experience in drafting EU and international law completed the small line-up.

    What did Barnier’s collaborators do during their first weeks? They mobilized the whole gamut of Commission departments and requested detailed reviews of each EU policy, an assessment of impacts and risks and scenarios for the future relationship, be it on trade in goods, police cooperation, environmental policies, social rights, financial services and data protection, to name but a few examples. Some analysts confronted May’s first indications on her red lines with existing EU–third-country relationships. Her choices seemed to exclude any model negotiated by other European countries with the EU. Various benefits the EU gave to Ukraine, Turkey, Norway or Switzerland were matched by obligations such as payments to the EU, accepting free movement of EU nationals, complying – at least indirectly – with the jurisprudence of the EU Court of Justice, or not having an independent trade policy, or a combination of such obligations. May rejected all of them.

    Barnier decided to travel to each capital and meet prime ministers and national ministers in charge of finance and foreign affairs. He sought to build a personal relationship with each head of government and gain their trust. His 2009–14 tenure as European Commissioner in charge of financial regulation and supervision had brought him in contact with many national leaders and the EU policy he conducted after the 2008 banking crisis was widely praised. The rapid creation of the banking union in 2012 to contain the eurocrisis had been an essential response. Those achievements were not enough, however, to secure the trust of EU leaders for managing Brexit, which seemed a political challenge of an even bigger magnitude at that time. Barnier’s initial ambition to visit each capital before the December European Council meeting led to a hectic travel schedule. He managed to visit more than half eventually, as he also needed to be in Brussels to meet top Commission officials and go back and forth between developing an EU approach with them and listening to each head of government.

    In each capital, he also tried to meet MPs, social partners and NGOs, offering his mobile phone number to interlocutors. He invited prime ministers to send a civil service delegation to Brussels for a working session with his team to review national concerns and priorities. Some countries such as Germany, France, Spain and Ireland already had Brexit task forces and administrative coordination structures in place, whereas other countries that were more remote from the UK had yet to consider the issue very much. Some raised specific concerns. Spain worried about health insurance and social security of British expats. Germany, in contrast to what Brexiters claimed at the time, did not lobby for its car or chemical industry but wanted above all to defend the integrity of the single market and exclude sectorial cherry-picking. German exports to the rest of the EU far exceeded what it exported to the UK, as was the case for all EU countries.

    Barnier could not build trust by going to capital cities just to listen. He reassured each government leader that the Commission would have a firm grip on negotiations and summarized his proposed approach with time-lines and drawings on a few visuals. He showed the same set of PowerPoint slides to the College of 28 European Commissioners, top officials in the Council, ambassadors, government ministers, the governor of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi, MEPs and Koen Lenaerts, the president of the EU Court of Justice, in a frantic schedule of meetings. A year before Theresa May requested a transition period in September 2017, Barnier told everyone that such a transition was inevitable before moving to a new relationship. In November 2016, Barnier wanted to amend a visual he had used a few times already in order to reflect that the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice would end in the UK at the end of transition. Can you draw a dotted line around the withdrawal and transition phase, he asked a collaborator, so that you get a box in a different colour from the future relationship? He wanted to show withdrawal and transition as part of a single box but visually distinct from the future. The dotted line showed that the Court’s remit ended in the UK once the future relationship started, in line with May’s red line from the Birmingham Tory party conference speech that the UK would break free from European judges. What May said in the UK to assert her Brexit credibility mattered in Brussels in terms of what future relationship was possible.

    Barnier reassured prime ministers his planned method of work would involve each capital in significant decisions. It was an important point to build unity. Some governments had felt excluded during the talks with Cameron on a new settlement. The Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico recalled to Barnier that many in the East had felt badly treated by the last-minute concessions to

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