Confusion and Delusion 

Yesterday morning, briefings from both sides in the Brexit negotiations were confidently looking forward to announcing a deal on the phase 1 “divorce” package.

Then, after Theresa May slipped out of a celebratory meeting in Brussels to take a call, it was all off. Instead, the PM gave a 49 second press conference and fled.

Confusion and delusion are the words that spring to mind about the PM’s conduct. How could she get into such a situation? How could the DUP tail wag the government dog at the very last minute?

But beyond the immediate drama and loss of face for Theresa May, there is an underlying problem.

Is there any kind of Brexit the PM can deliver? She put forward a “hard” Brexit at the general election and was rebuffed by the electorate. She has now put forward a “softer” Brexit, at least for Northern Ireland, and seen that rejected by the DUP and a few dozen of her own backbenchers. The rest of Europe is wondering what, if any, kind of deal she can deliver.

The internal contradictions of her own policy are coming home to roost. At her conference speech in October last year, she ruled out staying in the European single market or the customs union – yet maintained that there would be no hard border in Northern Ireland. The rest of Europe was eager to hear how, if you turn that border into a customs border, you can avoid customs controls. In the end, glib talk of “innovative” high-tech solutions gave way to acceptance that, in essence, you can’t. Nor can you make it a regulatory border with divergent regulations on each side without practical consequences.

As Keir Starmer said: “Fantasy met brutal reality”. May eventually conceded a solution that would in effect allow Northern Ireland to stay in the single market.

Within minutes, Scottish and Welsh Leaders and the Mayor of London asked for the same, to preserve jobs in their areas. If it can be done for one part of the UK, why not for others?

Which then begs the question, why not for the UK as a whole?

This would also be an answer to the DUP plea for Northern Ireland to have the same regulations as the rest of the UK. It would also allay the fears of businesses over costly customs checks and new tariff arrangements. And indeed some government ministers seemed to say just that, and envisage a Brexit with the whole UK aligning its market rules with the EU.

But such a “soft” Brexit is not acceptable to the hard Brexiteers within the Tory party, who are already voicing their opposition to it.

Looks like the only Brexit the Tories can deliver is a cliff-edge departure from the EU with no agreement on anything at all.

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8 Comments

  1. It looks to me like the Prime Ministers actions in Brussels yesterday were a sort of political confidence trick – claim one thing but sell another. She knows that the only solution to maintaining the Belfast Agreement is for Northern Ireland is for it to stay in the single market and customs union. She can’t say that because of the lack of support in her own party so agreed to use the mish-mash of ‘regulatory alignment’ to fudge the issue in the hope of a deal. Alignment wouldn’t solve tariff or country of origin issues anyway (so wouldn’t prevent the need for a border) but was only designed to get the UK over the 3-initial points hurdle anyway. Some commentators have interpreted it as ‘in the EU in all but name’ but in reality, it is almost meaningless as it is so unclear. She intended to sell the triumph of moving the next stage of the EU talks by pretending that all three parts of the deal were agreement while in reality what she was prepared to agree was meaningless waffle. I think the fact that the European Commission was prepared to agree a term like ‘regulatory alignment’ is the first crack in the otherwise impressive degree of competence, resolution and clarity shown by them in the negotiations. I appreciate that they probably did it only so as to allow the talks to move on but it really isn’t in anyone’s interest to ignore reality.

    Theresa May presumably didn’t clear ‘regulatory alignment’ with the DUP first out of fear that they would reject it but hoped that they wouldn’t object when it was publicly announced. The ’20 minutes later’ press conference by the DUP must have really annoyed her.

    Today’s announcement from David Davis that ‘regulatory alignment’ is meant to apply to the whole of the UK seemed to be made up on the spot and his claim that that was what the announcement in Brussels meant was nonsense.
    Slowly and surely the wall of reality is coming home to the Leavers and the Government. Bit by bit they are coming to understand that Brexit is and will be a disaster, that the UK has almost no negotiating position and the best deal is the one we have now and are voluntarily giving up. The next best deal is the Norway option. We absolutely have to stay in the single market and slowly public opinion is accepting this.

    How about this proposal – continued exceptional membership of the EU at no cost. Easy – each percentage point rise in inflation costs the UK an additional £4.1bn in debt interest. This is because of the amount of inflation linked borrowing the Government has made. That figure is from the OBR by the way. The 2.4 percentage point rise in inflation over 2017/18 will cost in that period, in terms of higher interest payments, £9.8bn. This is much more than our net contribution to the EU. Therefore, remain in the EU – inflation falls to where it was before and we not only save enough to pay the EU net contribution but we have money left to spend on the NHS.

  2. Staying in the SM & CU works for goods, but does it also work for services? Services account for the lion’s share of UK export revenues.

    • Ken, yes staying in the Single Market works for services – it is what we have now as members of the EU and services account for the majority of our exports (can’t remember if it is either 60 or 80% but it is certainly huge). Services in the single market mean for example that professional qualifications are recognised throughout the single market and that banks have what are called ‘passporting rights’ to market and sell financial products throughout the single market.
      Here is a link to a page on the benefits of the single market for services:
      https://ec.europa.eu/growth/single-market/services_en

  3. Apart from the continuing shame and embarrassment of our “leaders” making yet another drama into a crisis, the rush of Scotland, Wales and London’s leaders to demand the same continued membership of the single market to ‘protect jobs’ does rather beg the question that if staying in equals job security, why would anyone in their right mind demand to leave?

  4. “Tout sauf les Institutions” : this was Prodi’s idea for organizing EU relations with its eastern and southern neigbours. In a nutshell, it meant that these countries could participate in all sectors of EU policies as conceived/directed autonomously by Brussels.

    Such a system would miracously simplify future EU/UK relations.

    The “only” price to pay would be an (admittedly heavy) political one as UK would no more have a say in the drafting and management of these policies. Also, it would exclude any kind of bespoke arrangements to suit particular british needs or desires.

    Too simple ? May be worth considering, though, in the absence of any other workable solution. JGG

  5. It seems that those BREXIT politicians have vested interests in international markets and investments. They will be worried about EU regulating their businesses and cracking down hard on tax havens. These are people who oppose “excessive regulation”. “What did the EU ever do for us”.

  6. Following the incoherent, can-kicking fudge on the Irish border issue, we have David Davis’s incredible statement that – eighteen months down the line – he has prepared no impact assessments on the effect of Brexit on the nation’s future. With 29 million jobs, our food supply, energy and health services at risk, we are flying blind into a Brexit storm without compass or predictable destination.

    But are there really no impact assessments? Deceit is so integral to politics today, it is just as likely (as failed FOI request responses seem to indicate) that impact reports do exist, but the revelations are too frightening … that Brexit is a reckless ideological experiment in which only a rich minority can profit and survive.

  7. Agreed. It is a reckless ideological experiment by the ruling class, who will presumably profit from the removal of most, if not all, workers’ regulation. Unfortunately they seem to have carried out an extensive brainwashing project since we joined the EU, blaming many of the problems they created on it and avoiding scrutiny of their own policies. I despair.

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