Monday, 3 October 2016

Mrs May is giving nothing away

Mrs May would prefer to keep quiet about what she has in mind. Politics, however, does not work like that. She has to say something. And in true conference form she has successfully given the media something to churn over while saying nothing at all.

Her Great Repeal Bill is, as others have observed, an administrative step that would need to happen in just about any eventuality. Something needs to happen to nullify the effect of the European Communities Act. It only suggests a hard Brexit if she is not intent on using Article 50 - which she categorically is intent on using. We will be seeking a negotiated exit therefore the WTO option is dead.

That though should not be news in that the WTO option was so incredibly daft that there was never any serious risk of it happening. Having ruled out a Swiss bilateral arrangement and having ruled out Norway, she has, as EUreferendum notes, ruled out everything. So we are back where we started. Brexit means Brexit.

That said, if we are going to adopt the EU acquis into British law, that suggests at the very least a transitional agreement whereby things stay the same for a time. That is very much the Flexcit approach - that Brexit is a process not an event. This means May will be seeking a comprehensive agreement centred around mutual recognition with all the "free trade" trimmings. Unless these are flexible arrangements it is more than likely that we will continue to adopt "EU rules".

As it happens the EEA is still the best means of achieving that in two years and has all the necessary infrastructure - but the hint is that Mrs May does not seek single market membership while at the same time seeking the same level of particpation. When you add all the peripherals and sundry legacy arrangements it might as well be the EEA for all the difference it makes. So I wouldn't be calling this a hard Brexit by any means.

But then we are still in fantasy land here. Mrs May still wants to have her cake and eat it - and all this is said without any reference to what the EU is thinking. Mrs May seemingly wants the EEA agreement without having the EEA agreement. Now why would the EU want to spend eight years developing something similar purely for the benefit of Mrs May? If the EU consents to such a path (and that's a big if) we will be wasting a lot of time and resource to end up with somethng we could have had without all the fuss.

There is still a way to go before triggering Article 50 and Mrs May is giving nothing away. She has set down a few markers but nothing concrete. She still has wiggle room to use the EEA as a template and the chances are she'll have to. The hard fact of the matter is that Britain needs the most comprehensive agreement possible, if not as a settlement then as a departure lounge. The question is whether May will use the same departure lounge as everyone else or whether she will demand a VIP lounge. She is entitled to ask I suppose.

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