Ministers are slowly forging a consensus—around an outcome that is legally, politically and practically impossibleby Jonathan Lis / December 22, 2017 / Leave a comment
If you thought December was Brexit’s rocky peak of political torture, bear in mind that we only survived the grassy foothills. We took six months to resolve literally three issues; we now have ten months to address closer to three hundred. Here is what we can look forward to in 2018.
First—and this may seem obvious—the government is going to have to decide what it wants, both for the supposed two-year transition and the final deal. Although little should surprise us anymore, you may raise an eyebrow over the fact that 18 months after the EU referendum, and nine months into the Article 50 negotiating process, neither of these positions has been remotely finalised. While the government is negotiating with itself, it cannot negotiate with anyone else.
The good news is that the government appears to be slowly forging a consensus. The bad news is that ministers’ demands are legally, politically and practically impossible.
The key to the transition period will be to start calling it a transition, not an implementation period. There will be nothing to implement. Astonishingly, Theresa May and David Davis still insist that we will be able to negotiate a full, bespoke trade deal by October next year, which will then be applied over two years. The EU’s deal with Canada—which is less comprehensive than the agreement demanded by the UK government—took around five years, and did not also involve untangling 45 years of economic and political integration. David Davis, however, thinks that a deal he compared in complexity to the moon landings can be completed in ten months. The EU has categorically ruled out the possibility of negotiating such a deal before we leave, but the prime minister will not be deterred. The fact that such an overtly absurd position is costing us almost every inch of trust, credibility and leverage we still have does not seem to trouble her in the slightest.