Cliff effects, cherry picking and transitional arrangements

Brexit is a disaster for the English language. And we don’t mean the fact that an EU official close to current European Commission chief Brexit negotiator, Frenchman Michel Barnier, allegedly claimed recently that Brexit negotiations will take place in French – quelle horreur! No, we mean the exponential increase of arcane terminology which tangibly means something very important but which gets banded about as if everybody is “au fait” (understands) with the meaning.  Of course, the biggest problem is that there is no political consensus over exactly what any one of these individual terms actually mean! Even so, here’s our attempt to offer a short explanation of just a few of the essential Brexit gobbledygook.

First up: “cliff effects”. A very visual concept which helps describe the problem – i.e. a sudden change or cut off. In a Brexit context, as elsewhere, avoiding cliff effects (falling off the cliff) is very important. The biggest potential Brexit related cliff effect often cited is what will happen to investments, economic relations, access to markets when the UK formally leaves the EU if there is no divorce settlement/new deal (2 years after article 50 notification – so likely to be March 2019 assuming May sticks to her promise of notifying by end March 2017). It’s impossible to answer this at the moment but mitigating cliff effects will form an important part of the negotiations.

Next up: “cherrypicking”. Not such an obvious visual term but essentially it means taking those parts of an agreement or deal which one likes whilst leaving the parts which one does not like. In a Brexit context the UK government would like to cherrypick some parts of EU law and policy – access to single market for goods and services, co-operation in counter-terrorism, funding for R&D/universities – and disregard others – primarily free movement of persons, supremacy of EU court ruling and EU budgetary contributions. Whilst ultimately a bespoke deal between the UK and EU may well provide some cherries for the UK, it is highly unlikely the EU will give it the biggest, juiciest ones. The consensus on EU side at the moment is no cherrypicking at all. It should not be forgotten that the UK is already the best in class at EU cherrypicking – no euro, no schengen, opt out from justice and homes affairs co-operation etc.

Last up: “transitional arrangements”. This should be understood in the literal sense – providing an temporary solution as we move from one reality (EU membership) to another one (a new bi-lateral UK/EU27 relationship). The biggest political problem with agreeing a general transitional arrangement is that for the UK government it would effectively constitute some form of status quo – most likely EEA or EFTA membership or a variant thereof. This directly contradicts how the UK government are interpreting the referendum result so is perhaps politically unfeasible. However, such a temporary solution would reassure the business community and mitigate economic fallout. Another variant could see the UK government pushing for specific transitional arrangements for some sectors (the financial services sector for example is keen to secure this). The problem with a sectoral approach is that it adds another layer of complexity to the negotiations. And after all, it would be hard to convince the EU that it’s in its interest to allow the UK to “cherrypick” by providing a “transitional arrangement” to avoid “cliff effects”.

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