3 December 2019

Free Exchange: Raoul Ruparel on how to negotiate a Brexit deal


It’s the Brexit Election – at least according to some broadcasters – yet we’ve had relatively little scrutiny of what ‘getting Brexit done’ actually means if Boris Johnson does win his cherished majority.

To shine a light on the next phase of negotiations, I caught up with one of the key players involved in putting together the Withdrawal Agreement. Raoul Ruparel spent two years as Special Adviser to then Brexit Secretary David Davis, followed by a year in 10 Downing St as Theresa May’s Special Adviser on Europe.

I began by asking him if he was surprised that Boris Johnson managed to land his deal back in October.

Raoul Ruparel on…the EU’s negotiating style

The EU were quite effective at using briefings and getting stuff out into the media to apply pressure to the UK side. So when they wanted something to be public, it became public. And they leveraged that quite well.

I think there’s there’s lots of lessons to be learned from the first phase – I think the key one is about how to structure of negotiations

The separation between the first and second phase of Brexit – namely the Withdrawal Agreement and then the future relationship –  came from the sequencing that the EU wanted. And I think that has ended up creating problems…it’s meant the Northern Ireland had to be brought forward and you had to find a complete solution separate from the entire future relationship.

On…the next phase of Brexit

I think getting a trade deal with the EU in 11 months is incredibly challenging by any sort of historical standard.

I don’t necessarily sign up to the view that it’s inconceivable you could get a trade deal done. But it would probably be quite a narrow and quite a shallow trade deal rather than a particularly comprehensive one. So it’s just a question of what you’re really aiming for.

I think Australia and New Zealand are likely to be easy to do deals with. I think  there is potential to do a deal with India, but you will very quickly get into quite a tricky area about visas and immigration.

On…a trade deal with the US

One of the things the US is very likely to want to see is a significant opening of the agricultural market. So there’s going to be a lot of tension there, and it’s harder to see that being solved easily or quickly.

On…Boris’ deal

I think 95% of Boris’ deal is the same as Theresa May’s.

The political declaration can quite easily be changed or built on. So I would say it’s a useful guide in some places. But I don’t think it’s something that will be stuck to religiously in the next phase of negotiations.

On…getting Brexit done

The day after we leave, nothing’s going to have changed, really, and will still look like we’re in the EU for all intents and purposes. So things will stay very similar next year, or even beyond.

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John Ashmore is the Editor of CapX