It has always been the nature of the EU that little which is said publicly has much to do with the underlying realities and “drama” has to be injected into just about everything. A prime example at Council of Ministers meetings is the apparent need to hold “make or break” meetings well into the early hours to try and paint a picture of a “Titanic struggle to reach a final agreed position” when one suspects that it was all tied up well before hand by the civil servants before anybody actually arrived at Brussels.
With this in mind, what to make of the current state of the Brexit negotiations and if they are actually that bad, what is the best course of action for the UK to take ?
Hard to Say
It is hard to say precisely what is happening right now. Has a broad agreement already been reached in principle and is all the public angst and inappropriate ‘leaks’ just part of the inevitable shadow puppet show that distinguishes all EU decision making or are the negotiations really still up in the air ? Frankly in broad terms there should certainly be unanimity by now on the direction of travel and the civil servants should be just teasing out the legalities and fine details. If this is not the case then we need to move the whole thing along with a Plan B, which Theresa May has always pointed to as a possibility.
At the heart of the matter is still an EU that is torn between two conflicting desires, to keep trade and co operation with the UK flowing uninterrupted but also not making it look too easy in case others want to follow the UK out of the EU. There is also the ‘dreadful thought’ around what happens if the UK becomes highly successful outside of the EU, what impact might that have on the EU and how much harder would it be to remain united in the face of such an outcome ?
There are an awful lot of people in Brussels who find the whole Brexit ‘thing’ highly inconvenient and virtually unforgivable which is why the UK is seen as a love/hate relationship by them, many of the same people who want to ‘punish’ the UK at the same time, want to remain ‘friends’, it is all very upsetting for them. Perhaps the biggest problem for them is not specifically the UK but the gradual realisation that the EU as it now is or at least, thought to be will not remain the same in the near future, it is bound to fracture in a number of ways.
This of course was inevitable from the moment the Euro was created, the eurozone alone creates a two speed EU of those in the single currency and those outside it which is further exasperated by bigger and smaller economies at different stages of development. For the original members of the EU (Common Market), the UK may represent an important export market for their goods, for newer former Communist Bloc members, access to work opportunities for their citizens and the subsequent repatriation of money from the UK to family ‘back home’ is far more significant.
Play by Our Rules They Say…
The EU decided that they would control the negotiations so before any trade agreement can be discussed, the UK must settle the divorce terms, the issue of EU citizens in the UK and the question of the Irish border. Fortunately the British Government has quite rightly ignored these diktats and issued position papers on the things that matter for both parties and these hinge around continuing trade and mechanisms for settling any disputes that subsequently arise.
The issue of EU citizens should be fairly simple to sort out on a quid pro quo basis. The Irish border is another matter because a ‘frictionless border’ as people in the North seem to be demanding, is perfectly feasible but in the short term may require that there is a customs/immigration border on the UK mainland for people entering and leaving the mainland. In time this could be obviated by the introduction of sophisticated identity/residence ‘cards’ which might prove to be an inevitable step for the UK going forward anyway not just because of residence but also as the basis to access welfare, benefits and government services generally.
As to what is often referred to as the “divorce bill”, that would be total nuts for the UK to concede anything at this stage of negotiations. Sure the EU is losing a net contributor and some 10 Bn Euros a year from their budget but trying to rob the UK with demands for a ludicrous sum of money to plug this gap is not the way it works. If they had got their collective fingers out of their bottoms when Cameron asked them to cut him a deal on immigration, we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place, its their own fault.
So the way this goes is simple, they need to understand that Theresa May needs a good deal that looks about right and the amount of cash the UK agrees to continue paying will be predicated by the nature of that deal. The more positive it looks, the fairer it looks to both sides, the more money she can agree to either in one off payments or in on going contributions for specific programs.
It would be illogical for the EU, cosmetic appearances apart, not to have the mindset to strike a quick deal to end any uncertainties for businesses right across the EU. Some of the stories floating around about how difficult it might be for ‘Brits’ after 2019 to travel in Europe fit into the category of “Don’t be so stupid !” Can one imagine Europe forgoing the British tourist trade ? Hardly likely one might suspect.
So Plan B has to be, be prepared to walk away from the table and if necessary, do it. Continue paying our rightful dues until March 19th 2019 and then, goodbye, let it be their problem rather than ours. Within the UK, there are people who according to them, know better than the majority of us that ‘Brexit is a bad thing’ and will seize on every negative story about Brexit to prove “We are right” but they are not the train is in motion and now unstoppable.
The real enemy of our economic future is uncertainty so rather than let the UK economy suffer the death of a thousand cuts by prolonging these negotiations, far better to do a ‘cliff edge’ break and sooner rather than later. We should learn from the French, what they would have done by now is to just walk away from negotiations with a Gallic shrug of the shoulders, if you are leaving anyway and the people across the table just aren’t serious, why not just get on with it and leave them to worry ?