When hard Brexit meets hard reality

The two-year clock for agreeing Brexit begins. Finally time to confront the hard reality of it whilst shouting that Brexit is not inevitable.

It’s T-Day. At 1.20pm (Brussels time so 12.30pm UK time) today Sir Tim Barrow will hand the prime minister’s notification of withdrawal letter to European Council president Donald Tusk to trigger Article 50.

This will kick off the two-year timeframe for negotiations outlined in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Newspaper reports say the letter is a six-page document. During his Today interview on Radio 4, the chancellor Philip Hammond said that the letter will “go further in expressing how we want to take the negotiation forward and how we see this negotiation developing”. Let’s hope it does a better job of it than the government’s white paper!

The Guardian’s politics live blog has a good summary of Hammond’s interview. In his interview, he also notes that not being members of the single market and customs union will have “some consequences”. So not the “exact same benefits” then? Quelle surprise! As The Times report on this points out “why would the EU allow us, or anyone, to enjoy the “exact same benefits” without paying exactly the same price, or higher?”

We accept that because of our requirements, because of the requirements that the British people specified in the referendum result, we will not be members of the European single market, we will not be full members of the European customs union.

And not being members of those entities has some consequences. It carries some significance. And the European Union understands that.

Philip Hammond, chancellor of the exchequer

Yes, the EU understands that. But does Britain?

From Hammond’s quote above, it’s worth noting his use of “our requirements” and “the requirements that the British people specified in the referendum result”. The “requirements” he mentions are simply the “requirements” the government has decided them to be – pushed by the hardest Brexiteers. The single market and customs union were not on the ballot paper.

The Guardian has a good piece on the eight key points that will be covered in Brexit negotiations from timing to ratification. In it, you can start to see where the Brexiteers’ hard Brexit meets reality. For instance, it’s impossible to have a deal with “special carve-outs” for specific industries because it would be in breach of WTO rules on comprehensive free trade agreements. The issue of Northern Ireland’s border will have to be considered with more than warm words. What’s perhaps most interesting in the Guardian’s analysis is over the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The prime minister has insisted that Britain no longer be within its jurisdiction. But the paper points out “taking back control is one thing, but pretending that Britain can have 100% sovereignty while still being a member of the international community may not be sustainable”.

The Financial Times reports that there are signs the government’s position isn’t as “rigid” as it has maintained so far. If that’s true, we can only hope that it doesn’t really believe in all the Brexiteers’ rhetoric. But the government has more than a tough job of negotiating Brexit with the EU. It also has to start managing Britain’s expectations. If we can’t have the “exact same benefits”, the government needs to say so. And there is also the risk to the “precious” Union. The Scottish government yesterday voted in favour of another independence referendum. Northern Ireland still don’t have a government and the Welsh government remains in favour of retaining single market membership through the European Economic Area. Today could also mark the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom.

Europe in the driving seat for Brexit

Here’s a quote from Tory peer Michael Heseltine in the Guardian:

Our friends and allies in Europe will now tell us what conditions we must accept to trade in our largest market.

This is the moment when the empty phrases and undeliverable promises of the Brexiters will be replaced by the hard reality. They will decide. We will be told.

The hard reality is that Britain will be negotiating with a trading bloc that has a population of around 450m. As Samuel Lowe points out in his blog, the EU along with the US are the superpowers of trade. As superpowers, they are in the driving seat in negotiations (it’s part of why the EU-US trade deal has proved so tricky) – particularly when it comes to standards and regulations. And Britain will inevitably need to follow one of them to get a trade deal.

To show just how much better they are at this (they have, after all been negotiating deals for 60 years whilst we are currently struggling to fill hundreds of jobs to negotiate Brexit), the EU already have their first response to the Article 50 letter ready. The Guardian has a report of a leaked copy of a draft European Parliament resolution setting out its principles for negotiations.

As sad as it feels for those of us who still passionately believe remaining in the EU is the best possible deal, this is also when the Brexiteers’ hard Brexit finally meets hard reality. We’ll keep fighting to make sure it does and shouting loudly that Brexit is not inevitable.

Image: © BarryTuck /
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