There are some who will wish to pretend that the result of the general election had no bearing whatsoever on the Brexit negotiations the UK government has entered into with the EU Commission; there are others who will try and overstate the result’s effects, many going as far as to declare Brexit “over”.
While we live in odd political times, neither of these theses rings true.
I have very recently co-authored a report on what should happen now and, on the flipside, what likely actually will happen in regard to these negotiations entitled: A Very British Brexit:How Brexit can succeed both politically and economically.
For hard Remainers, the notion that such a thing is possible is anathema; to the hard Leaver, the fact that such a thing would have to be spelled out is equally absurd. Yet the truth is, if we are indeed leaving the European Union (which looks inevitable now), it is beholden on we centrists to at least pitch ideas regarding how this transition can be done in as painless a way as possible – painless, that is, for the whole of the UK population.
What makes this all the more pressing is what the current arrangement that governs the country means for Brexit. The DUP appear to have one red line in regards to Brexit: no hard border between north and south Ireland. This means that the “no deal” option favoured by some on the Brexit Right is now effectively dead, unless they are willing to fold the current government and welcome another general election at the worst possible time for the Conservatives, which I have my doubts about.
Putting this possibility to one side, the timetable we sketch out in the paper seems far and away the most sensible one.
In March 2019, Britain leaves the European Union with a transitional deal, meant to last for five years, during which the UK is inside of both the single market and the customs union, a sort of Norway+. This will mean during this transitional period that freedom of movement will still apply (although the government can use an emergency brake for a period), and that Britain will still be under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
During this five-year transitional period, Britain can then arrange for a post-single market, post-customs union future. Perhaps five years in the end will not be enough and there will need to be an extension, but the plan would be for this half a decade to be sufficient.
There will be some who will say the EU Commission might not be willing to offer such a transitional deal, but the UK does have one thing to offer: money. The EU needs it, and would have trouble turning down British funds in return for such a deal. The EU wants Britain to have a worse deal than it would have if it remained an EU member: paying more for virtually the same thing, I believe, would count in this regard.
To hard Remainers, this will sound like an admission of defeat – after all, in this plan we have outlined in our paper, Britain does indeed leave the European Union. To hard Leavers, this will sound like an admission of defeat in the opposite sense – the idea of having to accept freedom of movement and ECJ jurisdiction for another five years cutting against the grain of why we voted to Leave in the first place, not to mention still giving over taxpayer money to the European Union.
Yet this is where we are for many reasons. A no deal situation with the EU would not just be potentially catastrophic for the British economy – the Tories have essentially signed away their ability to do so with their DUP deal.
As it happens, the plan we lay out in the paper is not a bad one for the United Kingdom, all things considered. The hard truth is, Britain is either better off remaining a member of the EU or trying something radically different, a plan that may fail spectacularly but may work out in the end.
Neither of those possibilities appear to be politically open – therefore, pragmatism should be the order of the day here. Let’s stay safe.
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