A transition has been agreed but the road to an orderly exit is still strewn with obstaclesby Jonathan Lis / March 28, 2018 / Leave a comment
Last week’s European Council summit was a success. The transition deal was signed off. Theresa May seemed to enjoy genuine cordiality with her European colleagues. And in solidarity with the UK, the European Union even took the unprecedented step of recalling its ambassador to Moscow in the wake of the Skripal poisoning.
You could be forgiven for thinking that after two years of chaos, one year of shambolic negotiations, and exactly one year until we leave, Brexit is now, finally, on track. You would be mistaken.
Friday’s European Council conclusions lay the problems bare. The EU repeats its usual talking points—being outside the single market and customs union “will inevitably lead to frictions in trade” and “negative economic consequences” for the UK. That we now gloss over such outright betrayals of Brexit’s key pledges should tell us what we need to know about the project, and our political class’s limp acceptance of its oncoming toxicity. But there is more.
First, the EU will not acquiesce to the government’s ambitions. Contrary to Theresa May’s grand plan outlined in her Mansion House speech this month, the summit conclusions reiterate that a free trade deal “cannot amount to participation in the single market or parts thereof,” and outside the customs union, there will be “appropriate accompanying rules of origin”—which means that UK products being exported to the EU (including Ireland) will have to reach a certain threshold of British-made components to qualify for preferential access. That, too, must mean border checks, as currently take place on the border between Sweden (in the EU) and Norway (in the single market but not in the customs union).
Second, the EU has reiterated that if the UK wants a deal, it will not be able to under-cut Brussels on issues such as state aid, competition, tax and regulation. There is a specific reference to “public procurement markets,” which means that even after 2020, we will not be able to stop EU firms bidding for public contracts. Post-Brexit passports may then be blue, but not British-made. May already agreed to much of this at Mansion House, but it stands as a reminder to hard Brexiters that they will be “taking back control” of nothing much at all.