Monday, 16 January 2017

Nothing is off the table yet

A comment on Twitter has really nailed this issue for me. I've been trying to think of an analogy that is suitably graphic which properly communicates the process of Brexit. Brexit in surgical terms is like separating siamese twins. You can either do it in several surgeries to make sure both patients survive or you can use a stick of dynamite. The latter would be faster and more fun to watch but ultimately self defeating as neither patient survives and you are left with a big mess to clean up.

This by now ought to be self-evident but there is still a large and influential contingent of leavers who believe in the dynamite approach. Leavers tend to believe that the EU treaties are pipelines to the EU rather than making us a deeply intertwined part of it. We are not moored by ropes, we are integrated and joined by a million tiny fibres.

Whether not not the government has understood this remains to be seen but there is no possibility of Brexit without a long term transitional agreement and in some areas full separation may not be possible or even desirable. As a pragmatic leaver I still see massive scope for continued cooperation and if you have given the matter adequate scrutiny you will see that complex systems of governance are not so easily replaced.

In that regard, as much as the dynamite approach is not a workable Brexit proposition, it is not even a fallback position. The notion that we can walk away from the table is a wholly poisonous and stupid idea that would be an unmitigated disaster. To continually assert that there is any such thing as a quickie divorce requires a certain level of intellectual gymnastics bordering on mental illness.

Having said that I expect the speech from Mrs May tomorrow will clarify a few things. There are those who boldly declare that the Flexcit approach is dead, but if anyone's ideas will be dead and buried tomorrow it is those of the hardcore Brexiteers salvivating at the thought of lighting the fuse on the dynamite. One way or another, May will still be seeking a transitional exit simply because she has no choice. In that regard, unless she categorically rules out the EEA tomorrow, Flexcit is still very much in play. The noises made today by the WTO option brigade are the last cheers of the children before the teacher blows the whistle.

As much as we have seen a retrenchment of bad ideas today we have seen sources on the remain side, including Nick Clegg and The Guardian, waking up to the potential of Efta and the possibilities of invoking Article 112 to modify our arrangement on freedom of movement. It may be the case that those favouring a hard Brexit have considerable support, remainers and soft Brexiteers make up the majority by a substantial margin. I wouldn't be declaring game over just yet.

Though the UK media has taken it upon itself that leaving the single market is now a certainty, on the basis of a deeply flawed Telegraph report, more adult sources see it as I set out yesterday. EU Observer, a somewhat more dependable source, has it that "Theresa May aims to tell the EU that she is prepared to quit the single market if she does not get her way in Brexit talks, with one option being to turn the UK into a tax haven".

Being "prepared to quit" is somewhat different to an unambiguous declaration to quit. The media only takes it as read that we must leave because it believes that freedom of movement is non-negotiable despite the precedents establishing the opposite. I guess we'll find out tomorrow what Mrs May thinks. I think we can expect some clarity but her words will continue to be skillfully ambiguous.

If however, the media speculation is entirely correct then we all have a problem. Attempting a bespoke agreement, opening up many settled areas for renegotiation is an invitation for all the other member states to modify the various agreements that make up the EU and in so doing increases the risk of being jettisoned without an agreement. As much as that would be a disaster, even reaching that kind of impasse puts nearly all of the leverage in the hands of the EU. Yes, trainwreck Brexit would hurt the EU, but it would hurt us more. 

In the end though it's all in the hands of the gods. If at the conclusion Brexit sees us unnecessarily leaving the single market then remainers must acknowledge their responsibility for it. Peter Wilding of British Influence, Nick Clegg and many others have in recent weeks completely changed their tune in defence of the EEA when these people told countless lies about the Norway Option from the get go. Having then set about intercepting any decision through the courts, they have raised suspicions with leavers that there is a more sinister agenda - and when it comes to these people, there usually is. 

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