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Queen’s hosted ‘Inside the Brexit Negotiations’ with Stefaan De Rynck

Former senior adviser to Michel Barnier, Stefaan De Rynck, recently spoke about his new book ‘Inside the deal - how the EU got Brexit done’ during an event at Queen’s University.

Pictured L-R are: Professor Katy Hayward, Jim Fitzpatrick, Stefaan De Rynck and Professor David Phinnemore

Presented by the Chief Executives’ Club at Queen’s and the UK in a Changing Europe, the event was hosted by Jim Fitzpatrick from Open Democracy with contributions from Professor Katy Hayward from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work.

“The book tells the story of Brexit seen from Brussels,” De Rynck said. “A different story from London.”

De Rynck explained that the unity among the EU 27 member-states in the Brexit process made a crucial difference, but it was not expected from the outset. “Unity was not something the EU initially took for granted. It emerged during the first months after the Brexit referendum. The clarity of the EU negotiation mandate helped EU negotiators to be patient.”

De Rynck claimed it was easier to negotiate with Boris Johnson than with Theresa May. He said: “Johnson accepted that leaving the single market would create new trade obstacles. May on the other hand asked for the impossible: frictionless trade outside of the single market and customs union. Still, Johnson and his negotiator David Frost adopted a more confrontational approach than May’s team during negotiations, partly for domestic reasons.”

In reply to a question from Fitzpatrick, De Rynck argued that the threats of a ‘no deal’ had no impact on the EU in its approach to the negotiations. Instead, he found, a negotiation style based on positive engagement and offering value to the other party is a more fruitful way to achieve results. “There is no point to negotiation if you completely reject what the other party wants from the outset,” he said.

Asked by a member of the audience if the Protocol had been done “to” but not “with” Northern Ireland, De Rynck said: “Having a functioning NI Executive during negotiations could have been a game-changer. The EU, with the support of Queen’s University faculty, reached out to NI stakeholders during the negotiations, but it was mainly the responsibility of the UK government to involve NI in the process.”

Were other outcomes possible, perhaps with different personalities, Fitzpatrick asked. De Rynck replied that this was mainly a question for the UK. He added: “The role of the EU was to defend its own interests in response to UK requests.”

Speaking about the event Professor Katy Hayward said: “The UK-EU Withdrawal negotiations have forever changed the geopolitical context for Northern Ireland. This event was a good opportunity to better understand some of the decisions and dynamics behind them. Only by having such conversations can we begin to move beyond conflicting narratives and blame-games about the past towards better appreciation of what is needed now for the post-Brexit future.”

Featured Expert
Photo: Professor Katy Hayward

Professor Katy Hayward

Professor of Political Sociology and Fellow at the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice
School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work (SSESW)
Photo: Professor David Phinnemore

Professor David Phinnemore

Professor of European Politics
School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics (HAPP)