What will happen when Britain sits down to negotiate a new relationship with the European Union? The Open Europe think tank decided to find out with ‘war games’ in Westminster this morning. Expert negotiators representing the UK, EU Commission, Germany and France among others tried to figure out how a new Europe could be built that works for everyone.

Tory MP and member of the No.10 Policy Unit Andrea Leadsom ably batted for the UK, based on the principles in her Fresh Start manifesto. Not surprisingly, she clashed with France, Germany and the EU Commission representative John Brunton. He was against fundamental change and was ‘amazed’ at the UK’s position, particularly Leadsom’s view that the ‘free movement of labour should not be free movement of access to welfare’. Leadsom in return was ‘amazed at his amazement’.

When I spoke Leadsom about her ‘shopping list’ of demands, she said that ‘cherry picking this absolutely isn’t’ and the only negotiation topic unique to Britain would be a ‘justice and home affairs opt-out’, due to the fact our constitution is based on common law. Everything else she raised was ‘designed to create a globally-competitive EU’, to make it ‘flexible and more democratically accountable’.

Leadsom was impressed with how the ‘negotiations’ went but felt some the representatives weren’t being realistic:

‘It was even-handed, those member states who supported or were open to the idea. The commissioner representative, he was very keen to say you can’t change anything. You can, it just requires the political will to do it.’

But did the exercise serve any purpose? Leadsom thinks so, telling Coffee House that the gaming of the negotiations may serve as a potential template for Britain’s actual renegotiation:

‘It’s ridiculous to think that the EU can never revoke anything. So I’m quite optimistic and I certainly feel this morning, as a starter for 10 was quite positive. People were learning a lot about each other. If we had the kind of sixth or 12 months to negotiate, we would have made some real progress.’

‘If the real negotiations start as this has started, it would be a good starting position’

This afternoon, Open Europe will be gaming how ‘Brexit’ negotiations might go. We’ll be reporting on how that goes later on.

Tags: Andrea Leadsom, EU, EU reform, Open Europe, UK politics