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
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.