Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Brexit that the Brexiteers deserve

Whenever ignorance is threatened by reality it will very often become more aggressive in reasserting itself. The Brexiteer aristocracy have decided the staying outside the EEA is a sine qua non. What we do not see however is any coherent alternative offered. Certainly nothing that puts any flesh on Mrs May's "British Option".

Almost uniformly though, the point about negotiating retention of the EEA is that it gets us out of the EU while also maintaining the best possible "access" to the single market. Any other way will require first a divorce settlement, a transitional agreement and a final trade deal.

As discussed previously, modern free trade agreements create joint institutions and working groups for continually evolving relations, formalising cooperation on market surveillance, customs, biosecurity, food safety, trade complaints and dispute resolution. Negotiations are about establishing the institutional architecture. We already have that yet now we propose to pull out of it and replace it with nothing - yet without that, the system doesn't work. You don't even have a system.

So if it isn't to be Efta, for the duration of the transition, the adjudicating authority will most likely be the dreaded ECJ. Negotiating a system to maintain any agreement would be considerably time consuming and there is no reason to believe the cut-off dates for the transition period would not be continually extended as they will fall outside of the Article 50 framework. If you doubt me, just look at any major rollout of any other government scheme. (see Universal Credit)

By the time such arrangements start to take effect it is more than likely the opposition will have got its act together and replaced Corbyn, and Mrs May's popularity will have tanked by then. By 2025 we could very well be looking at a very pissed off electorate and a remain inclined opposition who will seek to leverage the transitional arrangements as a permanent association agreement rather than take the hit of permanently losing market access. That could even end up as Brexit in name only.

By attempting it all in one go the Tories are introducing a number of high risk negotiations where some member states decide that they are only too happy to freeze out UK competition. The risks of talks failing increases where we will then have to plead for emergency measures to stop the whole thing crashing. Even if the government were competent with a handle on what is involved in a comprehensive FTA it would still be a risky business.

If in the slender chance that this government can accomplish an agreement it will likely be several parallel agreements lacking the safeguard measures and opt out inherent to the EEA agreement where we will in future be forced to make concessions to the EU to replace market access we have voluntarily surrendered. In fact, were I a remainer, I would be cautiously cheering on this government in the knowledge that their incompetence will likely see us in the EU for longer - and possibly permanently subject to ECJ decisions without a mechanism for negotiation.

As ever we hear a torrent of demands and assertions from Brexiteers about what they don't want but remain unable to flesh out anything credible as an alternative. It seems the only Nordic option they are willing to consider is Ragnarok.

For people so obsessed with a "quickie divorce" they have bizarrely turned their backs on the on route that gets us out the fastest in favour of seeing us lingering in the EU for a while yet until we sort out all the details. Therein lies the opportunity for remainers. If they get their act together and win power before the process is complete, we could end up half in, half out after all. By then, for all the shortcomings of the EEA, Brexiteers will wish they'd had the good sense to get out while they could.

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