Former Chancellor George Osborne returned to public view last week to warn that, although the people of the UK had voted for “Brexit”, they had not voted for “Hard Brexit”. As a matter of straightforward fact, he was completely correct.
However, what if “Hard Brexit” is the only type of “Brexit” on offer? I suspect that is the word from the grape vine of UK diplomatic channels, and is the reason the Prime Minister is creeping that way.
We need to be very clear. The invocation of “Article 50” merely determines the route by which the UK would leave the EU. It does not determine the future relationship between the UK and the rest of the EU; nor does it even clarify whether or not the UK may be able to retain membership of the European Economic Area (the “Single Market”) or the European Union Customs Union. Were it to become apparent – as it may already have through diplomatic and legal channels – that leaving the EU also automatically means leaving both the Single Market and the Customs Union, this would mean “Hard Brexit”. That is a straightforward matter of fact; there is nothing that can be done about it.
Upon leaving the EU by “Hard Brexit”, the UK would then have the option of seeking further negotiations to soften the blow. However, any sort of association would be subject to ratification by all 27 remaining members – in each case at least through one legislature, usually through two, and in some cases via referendum (noting that the last such attempt was rejected by the Dutch in a referendum this year). At every stage, each country will seek to extract an extra concession or two, and even then it only takes one to reject it – leaving the UK firmly “Hard Brexitted”.
All the discussion so far focuses on what type of “Brexit” the UK wants or should go for. More important, in fact, is what type of “Brexit” the rest of the EU wants. The EU is bossing the UK around, and that is why there is only one type of “Brexit” available – the “Very Hard” kind. The “Very Hard” kind which is not in the UK’s interests, and that no one actually voted for…