UK has no plan for #Brexit – and cannot ever have

From Friday’s News Letter (Belfast):

It is a well worn analogy that if people want high public spending and low taxes – but they cannot have both. So it is with the UK Government’s “plan” for leaving the European Union – it wants both free trade and absolute border control, but it cannot have both. Regardless of last week’s vote in the Commons and the ongoing proceedings in the UK Supreme Court, we do not know which it will prioritise (indeed, the evidence is that the Cabinet is firmly split on it).

Of course, the real issue here is that it does not matter. All this talk about the UK “not showing its hand” is nonsense, because the truth is it has already shown its hand. That is why the UK Government will have no influence on the terms of “Brexit” once it triggers Article 50 – and is why it is foolish to be in such a rush to do so on a timescale dictated by the tabloids.

The UK Government’s “hand” is that it will leave the EU come what may. That being the case, it has no negotiating position. What will happen now is the European Council (in other words a collective of the remaining 27 EU Heads of Government) will determine the terms. The UK will be in no position to reject any of them, because it has already decided it has to leave regardless. This is the most monumental act of folly the UK Government has embarked upon since Suez – then, as now, it has taken no account of the global position.

The notion that the EU will not be too hard on the UK because of its economic trading interests is also so flawed as to be dangerous. The UK’s own economic interest is clearly to remain in the EU (the decline of its currency alone since the referendum is just one obvious piece of evidence for this); but it has chosen not to do so. Likewise, whether it is in the EU’s economic interest to offer the UK favourable terms is irrelevant; it is plainly in the EU’s political interests to offer deeply unfavourable terms. This may cause it marginal economic damage to the EU (though nothing like as much as it will to the UK, as the rest of the EU accounts for a much larger share of UK trade than vice-versa), but it will see off the prospect of any other country considering departure.

A much more sensible strategy after the referendum would have been to use the result to pursue a much less political union, and to pursue much greater repatriation of powers up to and including greater oversight of labour mobility. Had the UK elected this route, it would have found itself with allies among the remaining 27 member states, while still absolutely respecting the result and the motivation behind the overall “Leave” majority. That would have been a much more effective way of not “showing its hand” ahead of negotiating a new relationship, probably formally outside the Union, from 2020 or so.

However, the UK has adopted a ridiculous strategy, showing the only card it had before it even had to play it. It will not be a “Red, White and Blue Brexit”, it will be a “Take it or Leave it Brexit”, dictated from Brussels not London. That both the Government and the Opposition cannot see the madness in this is the clearest sign that we should probably be glad this crazy year is almost over.


5 thoughts on “UK has no plan for #Brexit – and cannot ever have

  1. A well written piece, I don’t buy this argument that the EU will punish the UK, as you quite rightly point out the UK is punishing itself, why would the EU add to Eurosceptic agitprop by being nasty to the ridiculous.

    The UK could have been an agent for the Diversity of the EU and unity from the EU respecting boundaries, but to be quite honest the UK has yet to grasp Unity in Diversity in its own Union as a source of strength, not merely regional issues (eg. Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, London and other regions of England), but the democratic diversity of opinion and the diversity of trades and skills it has in its inventory.

    Having MEPs talk about a “Disunited Kingdom” simply highlights the UK is fighting the majority of it Brexit battle against itself.

  2. 1729torus says:

    The longer the UK draws out negotiations, the more the forces of nationalism will start to consolidate and corrode it, and the weaker it will get.

    Nicola Sturgeon is going to keep salami slicing foreign policy powers by pushing the boundaries. The Scottish Greens are going to gain seats in addition to the SNP too if polling is correct. These people are actual Republicans who want Scotland to start applying for observer status at various UN organisations and set up its own diplomatic corps. Demographics + Overton Window means nationalism will grow and get more radical.

    Plaid Cymru and UKIP went Wales to start talking to Dublin about EU funding. So Wales will start to drift too apparently.

    Gavin Robinson said Ireland could represent NI in the EU. We have to ask, if Scotland is turning more Republican over time, where does that leave Ulster Unionism?

    If the UK gets weaker in foreign policy terms, it will be less able to influence events abroad and this will feed back in and produce further decline. This will loosen the ties holding the UK together… The precedent is the disintegration of the Soviet Union, without a sufficiently benign external environment it started to collapse under its own weight.

    Theresa May’s secretive and autocratic style might cause devolved governments to fear they are being thrown to the wolves and consider pursuing their own options.

    There is no reason the fragmentation can’t afflict England either – what if Sadiq Khan visits Dublin to discuss financial regulations? What if Birmingham decides it wants to be cool like Scotland and London? What if Yorkshire suddenly starts reminiscing about the Harrying of the North alongside Thatcher?

    The Russian Federation nearly fell apart in the 1990s on the back of the Soviet Union’s collapse after all. The Republic of Tatarstan ended up getting substantial autonomy as well in particular.

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