Conservative Prime Ministers returning from Europe with bits of paper don’t have an enviable track record. Mrs May is no exception.
Managed regulatory divergence seems to me to be a fudge to kick the can down the road a little further and, like all such phrases, is open to the misinterpretation of one’s choice. In any case, all current EU law is on the UK statute book.
One of the many reasons that I voted ‘out’ was to remove this country from the direct jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and the continued imposition of EU law within these shoreses (multiple plural to include Northern Ireland plus assorted coastal rocks). Of course, any post-Brexit UK lad, lass or corporation wanting to do business in the EU will have to comply with EU legislation (as is the case for visiting any other country) but that does not mean that they should apply here. I, and I suspect most of the majority of this country who voted out, did not vote for ‘divergence’ but an end to EU/ECJ jurisdiction as soon as possible.
It is, IMHO, the EU’s call whether it chooses to make Brexit an existential threat. Either we get access to the single market on zero tariff terms (which I concede rather undermines the point of the EU in its current guise) or we go to World Trade Organisation terms. The only minor fly in the WTO option is that it might adversely affect the City of London. But it might not, and the financial services sector has a habit of crying wolf (exactly the same argument as made for the euro) as well as not spotting systemic risks (as per the Lloyd’s debacle and the 2008 crash). The City is the world’s financial centre, and the EU is only about 20 per cent of world GDP (and falling). I am not persuaded that compromising Brexit to avoid a quantifiable risk (which could probably be mitigated) is sensible. It is not what I voted for either and, having worked in the City for a decade or so, I am well aware of the potential challenges.
I view the furore over the Irish border thing as ludicrous –although I do see the Irish concern (we’re their major trading partner and much of their exports have to transit the UK). Tying the UK to EU agriculture policy is unacceptable to me (the CAP fiasco being another reason I voted No). The fact is that, were the Republic not a part of the EU, we could fix a deal in five minutes. As it is, we have to negotiate with EU representatives who act on behalf of Ireland (and 26 other countries). If Ireland wants a good deal, or more than a 1/27th say in it, then it needs to get out of the EU – or get the right to do its own bilateral deal, which comes to the same thing (or so the EU insists).
I don’t have much of a problem with the ECJ having a consulting role on the rights of EU citizens in the UK, provided of course that it understands that consulting courts are inferior to UK jurisdictions (i.e. English and Scottish law). Which is a pretty pointless consultation really, raising the question as to what is really intended.
I am not happy that the three million EU citizens already here will have the right to bring their families to UK. We do not have the housing or infrastructure to support them, as all parties agreed the other week in the run-up to the Budget. I am happy that those who had residence rights prior to the referendum, or indeed until the invocation of Article 50, should have the right to reside here as long as they wish.
And I’m content that there will be some payment at some time (£40bn to £50bn seems about right), if, and only if, there is a deal on terms acceptable to the UK. The current offer isn’t, and therein lies Mrs May’s problem. The price she is prepared to pay for the trade discussion is unacceptable.
There are now going to be several political battles running in parallel. Within the Conservative Party, Ken Clarke, Mrs May and the Cameroons are hoping that they will be able to hold the majority of the party to a soft (verging on infinitely delayed) Brexit; IDS and the rest that the Remainers will be persuaded that failing to deliver a Clean Brexit (Liam Halligan’s term: read the book reviewed here) is electoral suicide. While the Tories famously didn’t split over the Corn Laws, maybe it’s overdue. In the EU, the argument about whether we’re going to start trade talks will kick off. As none of the EU members has any interest in speeding the Brexit process, I’m not holding my breath.
Which means that, come January, Mrs May is going to have to go back to Brussels and tell them that she has been pushed too far, can make no further concessions prior to trade talks and walk out.
I suspect that if she did, the EU would be back like a shot (a hard Brexit hurts them more, and leads almost inevitably to a de facto IrExit). And if it takes them a little longer, so what? (It won’t, because they need to be able to use the City, inter alia to sort the euro). We can then get on with life.
However I don’t think that is in Mrs May’s character. So this charade will drag on. At some stage there will be a new party – either a Tory Exit party, with the Cameroons and Remainers joining the New Labour bit in the centre. Or the other way, with an electable Ukip, leaving the Tory Remainers to be a centre party.
Either of those is likely to split Labour too, into Corbyn Momentum and, er, New Labour 2.
Which perhaps brings me to the oft-forgotten point that Brexit was a massive rejection of the government system (remember that the EU, Conservatives, LibDems and Labour all supported Remain). Which is why this is more significant than the Corn Laws and why it is not going to be solved by a simple textual fudge from Brussels.