Thursday, 4 October 2018

More of the same.


Today in Brexit tedium: You all saw the Barnier tweet reiterating that a Canada+++ is available and has been from the beginning. The ultra brexiters have taken that to mean an FTA plus whatever fiction they want tacked on to it. They are dishonestly claiming this as a vindication of their position, conveniently ignoring that the EU will not agree to begin talks on any such agreement unless the UK signs up to an NI backstop. The EU is entirely consistent on this.

The ultras claim that a Canada+++ deal where they get to define what the plusses mean means that we don't need a backstop, Two problems here. The EU won;t agree to it and secondly, the details of their proposal has the same basic flaw as Chequers which the EU already declined.

All the same, the Brexiters will use Barnier's tweet for domestic leverage and for propaganda purposes ignoring that fact that Barnier has not narrowed the options down, rather he is re-stating ONE of the available options. The EEA, for the EU is still on the table.

So really it's another day where there is plenty of Brexit noise but no progression in terms of understanding and we are still waiting on Mrs May to bite the bullet and face the reality that she has to choose one of the options defined by the EU.

As you ought to know by now, Chequers is an attempt to reconcile the regulatory issues in order to produce a whole UK solution which removes the necessity for an NI backstop. She wants a partial EEA with unilateral divergence powers. No chance, Lance.

May has at least understood that there is no frictionless trade without regulatory alignment but is desperately seeking a means to find a solution that the EU will accept which also appeases the ultra Brexiters. No such solution exists.

So now she has the choice of an FTA which categorically will not be adequate for the purposes of maintaining frictionless trade and one that requires a backstop she has permanently ruled out. So she has two options... no deal or EEA+.

Here the EEA is not making it easy for May because Barniers advisers are listening to flawed advice which says an EEA solution must also have a customs union, which is a Brexiter red line and one red line we can pretty much all agree on.

This is a tactical error on the part of the EU in that they haven't really considered what they want thus are doing nothing to nudge the UK in the right direction and are increasingly making the more viable solution less politically viable for May.

As much as we are not seeing honesty, competence or clarity from the UK we are not seeing any tactical acumen from the EU nor are we seeing any kind of pragmatism or creativity. There is too much bad blood and I can't say I blame them.

The only way there can be a withdrawal agreement is if both dies come to an accommodation on the NI backstop. Personally I do not see what the fuss is about since it is only activated in the event that no solution can be found in the second Brexit phase.

If May was smart she would emphasise that aspect of it and sign it just to get the withdrawal agreement in the bag. Barnier has been keen to de-dramatise it and May could very easily play along by speaking more vaguely about a future whole-UK solution.

If I were May I would sign up to it, get the Withdrawal agreement in the bag and then resign immediately after Brexit and that way it's up to the Brexiters to find a way around backstop activation. It boxes them into the EEA and she won't even have to make the decision.

Ultimately the EEA was always the only viable solution and for all this fannying around May could have saved herself a massive headache by showing a bit of backbone but she has fallen victim to her own self-imposed red lines. She shot herself in the foot.

Being that May has all the decision making capabilities of a rabbit in headlights I rather expect she will pull a flounce at the last minute, expecting the EU to chase after her with an emergency offer to avoid no deal. I don't think they will. The stunt will backfire.

The ultimate conceptual mistake May has made is believing this was a negotiation where the relationship could be built from scratch rather than having to design an interface to a system of rules. She assumed the EU can and will bend its own system for the UK.

This is the one reality that has escaped May, most of the Tories, all of the think tanks, half of the British press and the broader public. They just don't understand the EU machine and the two sides are speaking different languages.

At this point if Parliament was reading the writing on the wall they would by now be asserting their own authority and looking to force May into the EEA but there lacks the coherence and the foresight so it we are all passengers of events awaiting the depressingly inevitable.

All of this, though, was predictable - and predicted - even on my side of the argument, but saner voices were sidelined by all the clever little boys in various Tory think tanks who said we could get a better deal. Now we all pay the price for Tory arrogance.

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