Monday, 23 October 2017

Brexit: further down the rabbit hole


Today Theresa May told the Commons "Both sides recognise that the timetable was set out in the Lisbon treaty, which does indeed refer to the future relationship. The withdrawal agreement can only be considered and agreed taking account of the future relationship. It is important that we negotiate that future relationship, so we have both the withdrawal agreement and the future partnership, and the implementation period then is a practical implementation period."

It is still the case that this government believes the whole shebang will be wrapped up inside the two years of Article 50. But then, as is the convention now, May is contradicted by Barnier only a few hours later. Barnier said negotiations over the future would be highly complex and would take many years before they could be put to the national parliaments for ratification. He said: “The two phases are difficult. The second will be very different and will last several years".

Barnier gets it. May does not.


This puts us in dangerous territory. The Brexit Taliban are already plumping for a no deal exit and this is confirmation that May's quickie divorce is not going to happen - and her Florence aspirations are not deliverable. Barnier, not for the first time has driven a horse and cart through May's misconception. Just three weeks ago he stated it as clearly as could possibly be said.
We have little time between now and October/November 2018 to reach an agreement on the orderly withdrawal and – as the British government has requested – a possible transition period, for which the conditions have been clearly defined by your resolution in April, again today, and also by the European Council's guidelines.

This period will be short and supervised, and will involve the full regulatory structure, as well as budgetary and legal conditions, and the role of the European Court of Justice. It was your request to have a short transition period. It is our right to say that this will be subject to the conditions of the Single Market. We were not surprised by this request for a transition period. We foresaw it. We will discuss it at the appropriate time, and that time has not yet come. I would need a mandate for this. I would like to tell Mr. Farage a simple legal point: the trade deal you want cannot be signed by a Member State of the Union. You need to have legally left before we sign this trade deal.
The only thing that has thus far prevented this flaring up into a major row is that May continues to ignore every message from Barnier - and our media is incapable of recognising the significance of what has been said. Eventually May will have to come to terms with reality but until then we are in a bizarre state of denial while the clock ticks down to zero.

As to the implications of Barnier's musing that we will end up with a Canada deal, he is only really taking Mrs May at her word. If May is intent on total regulatory independence, leaving the single market, ending freedom of movement and ditching the customs union, a more generic FTA is all that really remains.

Though this is more in line with the aspirations of the hard Brexiteers, they had not envisaged such a deal taking years nor have they ever acknowledged the complexity of such a process. Any process that takes us beyond the next general election is one that gives Labour an opportunity to change tack toward the single market. Being hostile to the idea we can expect the ultras to sabotage the process to ensure that we leave without a deal.

It is only a matter of time before the elephant in the room becomes visible. There was never any chance of concluding a bespoke Brexit deal in two years. When confronted with this reality the Tories will seek to blame EU intransigence and claim they have no choice to to walk out. God help us now - because nobody else will.

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