Sunday, 25 June 2017

Brexit: room for optimism?

My assessment of how Brexit is going can vary on any given day according certain assertions made by senior figures. Occasionally one has to remind oneself that there are in fact two Brexits; the one going on behind closed doors and the one playing out in the media. The two are barely related and probably wouldn't recognise each other if they passed in a corridor.

I think it was a Daily Express journo last week who remarked that this isn't really a negotiation. These are proceedings. It is a technocratic process where the EU defines the agenda, the order of battle, and what Britain must agree to in order to progress to the next stage. Brexiteers can stamp their feet time after time but we will capitulate but cause there is nothing else we can do. We can neither expect nor demand concessions from the EU. At best they will concede to a fudge to make the climb-downs easier to sell.

Another feeling I'm getting is that the famed two year negotiating period is far less significant than we might have thought. There is no question of concluding anything inside two years. We are learning on the fly what will happen within the two years, but by some means or another we will be engaged in talks for some years to come before anything substantive happens in terms of the status quo. If this is not already assumed then it will be down to the government to ask for an extension simply because we do not have the means to transition. The systems are not in place and will not be for a long time.

For now the government is maintaining the line that we will negotiate a bespoke deal on trade, and they will hang on to this delusion for as long as is politically tenable. In a series of tweets, Brexit commentator George Peretz mirrors some of my own thinking in that the UK will set out what it wants from single aviation regime to Euratom, to swift movement of car parts to supply of legal and financial services, supported by an array of anxious businesses saying "we must have this or jobs will go".

At the is point the EU will reiterate its position that it does not allow cherry-picking from the single market. You're either in it or you ain't. It has always been the view of this blog that the EU is not especially minded to create an entirely new regime and new institutions for the sole benefit of the UK, and again the UK will be faced with taking what is offered or taking nothing at all.

Though the Brexit lamebrains and loudmouths like Redwood and Rees-Mogg continue to take a hard line, all the grown ups actually involved in the proceedings will point out that the UK does not have other options. It will then be down to the Tories to sell a single market agreement as a not-the-single-market FTA+.

It would take and act of extraordinary stupidity and hubris to walk away from such a deal - and though certain figures within the Tory party would, one suspects that, contrary to outward appearances, David Davis isn't THAT stupid.

In an interview with Andrew Marr, he implied that Theresa May was a mere "backdrop" to his leadership role in the proceedings which makes him pretty much PM in all but name. That's the feeling I get now. This is a caretaker government and nobody will rock the boat, accepting this unspoken dynamic for the full term.

In that respect there is the possibility that I overreacted at the appointment of Steve Baker, who might well be serving only as a confidence trick to maintain the outward appearance that the hard liners are still being given a voice.

In this, politically, it makes sense in that the government does not have to concede publicly to perusing a soft Brexit, rather it will happen as a consequence of Britain's lack of leverage - and by this point, David Davis, being an astute player at times, will present this single market fudge as the right deal and the one we were after all along. Until then, he doesn't want to spook the horses by saying the one thing that will depose Mrs May. "Soft Brexit".

Of course in the background we will still have all the histrionics on the opposite benches that we are charging headlong into "hard Brexit" but there was always a strong chance the reality of our predicament would be the ultimate decider. Ultimately if the UK government is unable to come up with a plan and direction for Brexit then the EU most certainly will. That default option will most likely be an EEA variant if not actually "the Norway option" itself. There is the possibility that the EU might have other ideas such as an association agreement or some other mechanism - but that would be an extensive undertaking it may not be inclined to pursue. Not least because of the impracticality.

I think if I go back into the archives of this blog I have floated this scenario before - probably even before the referendum. It has always been a strong possibility and the path of least resistance. It would take a concerted and deliberate attempt to derail it, and from where I'm sitting the Brexit ultras do not have the political capital to do it. The tide is going out on them and their case is weakened every time they speak.

This, though, is the optimistic assessment where the UK's lack of a clue will ultimately be, ironically, our salvation. There is still another possibility as outlined in this rather bleak assessment by Both are equally plausible. But as ever, we won't know until we know. Optimism though, is only if one downscales one's expectations of Brexit. The absence of a strategy has destroyed the revolutionary potential of Brexit. At this point a successful Brexit is just anything that isn't a total catastrophe.

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