Britain will not enjoy special privileges just because it was once a memberby Christopher Grey / July 23, 2018 / Leave a comment
It has become a truism that Brexit is characterised by attempts to cherry pick aspects of European Union membership, to the extent that “cakeism” has been elevated from feeble joke to national strategy. What underlies this strategy is not merely opportunism, though, but a fundamental misunderstanding to the effect that having been a member of the EU means that some special status is available to Britain.
Thus rather than face the reality that leaving the EU means being third country, Britain expects to retain a kind of “alumnus” status. No longer a member, but still entitled to wear the tie and have preferential access to the school sports facilities.
Such an expectation has long been evident in the Brexit negotiations, with calls for the EU to be “more flexible” and “more imaginative” so as to create a “bespoke arrangement.” The fundamental flaw in this is that the EU is a multi-lateral, rules-based organisation governed by treaties. It’s true that there are various forms that being a third country takes—hence the fevered search for this or that “model,” from Ukraine to Canada. But none allows, or could allow, Britain to both be and yet not be a third country.
Almost every metaphor for Brexit is flawed and tired. But it’s as if someone sells their house and then expects to go on sleeping there, and to use the garden at weekends. “But I lived here for 40 years, doesn’t that mean anything?” The answer, of course, is “no”; and refusal to accept it will ultimately lead to the police being called in. That’s the way the rules work.
This expectation of alumnus status is evident in many of the contortions around participating in aspects of the single market and customs systems. For example, the current (very unclear) proposal that the UK would collect tariffs on behalf of the EU as part of a “Facilitated Customs Arrangement” has at its heart the proposition that as an ex-member the UK can be trusted to do so. But it’s not a matter of trust: it’s a matter of a system of rules which the UK is choosing to leave.
A similar misapprehension can be seen in relation to EU agencies. As recently as April 2017, David Davis was claiming there was no reason why…