Friday, 20 October 2017

The biggest Brexit fantasy of all

It is oft said that the Brexit Taliban are fantasists with a wholly unrealistic view of what can be achieved. If anyone was living in a fantasy world it is me and my fellow travellers who believed a successful outcome was possible. In a hypothetical world of competent government a measured and intelligent Brexit was indeed possible, but that is on a planet that isn't this one. For it to succeed we would need a media that is a magnitude better than it is and a government substantially less incompetent.

Regular readers will be aware that I now put the chances of a successful conclusion to Article 50 talks at less than ten per cent. I have seen no signals that suggest adequate progress is being made, nor do I see so much as a glimmer of understanding from our  government. If David Davis does have a command of the issues then he is a master at concealing it.

What we should be mindful of, however, is that the public face of Brexit is worlds apart from what is likely happening under the hood, much of it is happening behind closed doors, and many decisions are made in private. We are not privvy to the thinking of the officials involved.

Today there has been the suggestion that some progress is being made and that there are means to unlock the talks, namely a suggestion that scoping for the future relationship will take place under the aegis of Article 50. This has been described as an olive branch from the EU which would seem to suggest the EU is keen for things not to go off the rails, but I think this more an act of sympathy than a result of UK political pressure.

This, though, does not really solve anything in that there will still be no agreement without satisfactorily resolving the three phase one issues, and even scoping talks on trade will come to an impasse since this government has only a vague idea of what it wants and that which it does want is neither practical nor possible.

We should also note that whatever is agreed for Northern Ireland will have major ramifications for the future trade agreement and that will box the UK into a corner of accepting a substantial raft of EU rules if not the entire EEA acquis. This is where the Brexit Taliban will throw their toys out of the pram as like an artillery barrage.

Owen Paterson is leading this charge, repeatedly making mention of mutual recognition of standards and conformity assessment, implying that we should have a free hand in being able to set our own regulations without reference to the EU or consultation with it. As much as this does not facilitate frictionless trade, it is not happen. The EU cannot make such an exception for the UK.

All the EU is able to do inside the aegis of Article 50 is give us some indication as to what a transition will look like and what freedoms we will have inside it. This again is likely to disappoint the ultras in that they believe they will be able to substantially diverge during the next negotiations while signing new free trade agreements.

I cannot see this happening under any circumstances since it would weaken the integrity of the single market outside of any formalised framework and there is a good chance there will be few if any free trade agreements to bring into effect. The shape of any FTAs will largely be dependent on the sort of future relationship we have and no third country will enter discussions until they know what Brexit looks like in finality. Any deal they strike will have ramifications for their EU trade and will need to assess it accordingly.

The more we talk about trade the more the the Ultras will be confronted with the legal and practical fallacies of their their position. The only way they will get the autonomy they speak of will be the WTO option, but that comes at the expense of most of our EU trade and much beyond. Rather than accepting the inadequacies in their own position they will further blame EU intransigence, expanding the narrative to present it as though the EU were seeking to keep us under their control.

All the while the politics on the domestic front will continue to deteriorate and the fleeting goodwill we see on display today will rapidly evaporate. The ignorance of our own government combined with the infighting will continue to obstruct any progress and it is likely that we will simply run out of time about the same time as the EU loses all patience.

Having said that, I am not known for being especially optimistic. I may well have miscalculated somewhere or there may well be a miracle waiting to happen. I do not know. What I do know is that the any measures to unlock talks can only really kick the can down the road. The only way I see a successful conclusion is if this government gets up to speed and tunes into reality. But that really is a Brexit fantasy. There is nothing to suggest that could ever be a reality.

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