A former British ambassador to the EU asks whether the stalemate can be resolvedby Stephen Wall / September 24, 2018 / Leave a comment
The Brexit negotiations are indeed at an impasse. There is no proposal now on the table which can get through the House of Commons. In her statement after the Salzburg meeting, the prime minister attempted to disguise that unpalatable truth by blaming her own domestic debacle on the 27. The government is in a hole. Rather than stop digging, May wielded a pneumatic drill. Her invective is not supported by the facts.
Since the negotiations started, unity has been the priority of the 27. That has not changed. As soon as the Chequers plan was published, the 27 said that it was not a basis for agreement. The UK could not, as a third country outside the European Union, expect to have the benefits of membership without the obligations. Nor would the EU accept a third country managing tariffs on its behalf.
May has challenged the 27 to match Britain’s proposals with their own. But they already have. As far as the 27 are concerned, the UK can have a Norway-style arrangement by which we remain in the EEA i.e. in the single market, but not in the customs union. We would have to accept freedom of movement, but could make our own trade deals. Or we could stay in a customs union, without the obligation of freedom of movement but also without the freedom to make our own trade deals. We could even combine these two arrangements. Or we could have a free trade agreement (FTA) like Canada, only probably somewhat better.
The first two options combined would offer ways by which the government might meet its obligation, freely entered into, to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. But they are unacceptable to the Tory irreconcilables and therefore to the government, which depends on those Brexiteer votes for its survival. For the Brexiteers, anything which keeps us closely moored alongside the EU is anathema. They want the freedom of the high seas: adrift or barely afloat is for them a matter of indifference. The FTA option, even with bells on, would be a poor substitute for what we have now since it would not give us the ability to export our services, especially financial services, freely to the EU. The irreconcilable Brexiteers would happily vote for such an outcome. That might…