A former ambassador to the European Economic Community says that Britain could be headed for “EU membership minus, minus, minus”by David Hannay / January 3, 2018 / Leave a comment
Photo: Wiktor Dabkowski/DPA/PA Images This is the season when pundits are required to make predictions about the coming year. So, here goes. By the end of 2018 most of the main decisions about Britain’s proposed exit from the European Union will either have been taken or will be a lot easier to predict than they are now. Thanks a lot, you may say, for a fine piece of obfuscation. But that is about as clear as it gets in a political scene characterised by electoral volatility and intra-party confusion; and there are a lot of moving parts. The Brussels scene will be dominated for the first few months by the negotiation of standstill arrangements—still called in government double-speak an implementation phase—which will leave Britain still in the Single Market and the Customs Union and subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice for a fixed period of around two years after March 2019. Whether those arrangements contain provision for that period to be extended if, or more realistically when, that two years turns out to be too brief to reach full, implementable agreements on the new relationship, will be a crucial question. If they do not, then it is all too likely that the cliff edge will merely have been postponed and that businesses will have to face up to two pretty wrenching adjustments, one in 2021 and another at an indeterminate point after that. As to the negotiations for a new partnership, the government seems to be hell bent on discarding from the outset the solutions most likely to benefit the economies on both sides of the Channel, continued membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union. But beyond that it still seems to be completely at sea about what it does want, on tariffs, on non-tariff barriers, on regulatory alignment or divergence, on competition and state aid policies, on the immigration rules which are to replace free movement, on the details of Britain’s post-Brexit agricultural and fisheries policies and much else. But without clarity on these matters serious negotiations on the new partnership are unlikely to get very far. The 2017 Brexit negotiations over the divorce settlement terms were necessarily confrontational; and the kindest thing that can be said about them is that the government finally saw sense and conceded the main points on which the EU27 insisted—every one of them at variance with the promises made by the Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum. For the 2018 Brexit negotiations to succeed, they will need, in contrast, to concentrate on the mutual benefits to both sides from agreement and to avoid confrontation. Bluster will not work. Talk of no deal being better than a bad deal will have no credibility. Mutual benefit from a uniquely close future relationship on foreign and security policy, on the fight against international crime, including terrorism, and on cooperation on scientific research and innovation will be easier to demonstrate than over trade and economic policy issues. And the practical arrangements needed to avoid hard border controls between Ireland and Northern Ireland will certainly require much more specificity than the endless repetition of the mantra of regulatory alignment. Can this all be done in 2018? Impossible to say at this stage. Will it amount to more than EU membership minus, minus, minus? Not likely. It will be for parliament, in the first place, to reach a decision on the deal, or on the prospect of no deal. And that fortunately has been secured by Dominic Grieve’s amendment to the government’s EU Withdrawal Bill. Brexit Britain: the future of industry is a publication which examines the future of UK manufacturing through the prism of the recently released Industrial Strategy White Paper. The report features contributions from the likes of Greg Clark MP, Miriam Gonzalez, Richard Graham MP and Frances O’Grady. If you want to know all about where industry is headed in Brexit Britain, you can download the whole Brexit Britain: The future of industry reportas a fully designed PDF document. To do so, simply enter your email below. You’ll receive your copy completely free—within minutes.