Thursday, 7 September 2017

Brexit: genuinely fearful for the first time

So back to Brexit. Not thinking about it for 9 days allowed me to rest a little and think about other things. Season 5 of Prison Break is fantastic and I've started watching Game of Thrones, because I just can't not jump on a good bandwagon. I also ordered my preparatory reading material for my Masters, which begins in a couple of weeks. The range of books I'll be starting with are refreshingly compact. It isn't until the second year that the scope of study widens somewhat. 

I can't say, though, that my break from following the Brexit calamity has rejuvenated my sense of optimism. Only today, as reported by Business Insider, David Davis closed the door on an exit through EFTA/EEA. Davis falsely described the Norway option as being "more difficult, more complicated and less beneficial", and then went on to say that Britain "will no longer participate in the EEA agreement once it leaves the European Union."

Intriguingly, the report goes on to note: "the government is considering whether it needs to take formal steps to 'confirm our withdrawal'. Davis then adds: "we are considering what steps if any we might take to formally confirm our withdrawal from the EEA agreement." I wrote about this particular issue here last month. It's important to stress that Davis' comments here are enlightening. They tend to suggest that if we were to pursue EFTA/EEA, then there is indeed scope for using the EEA as a bridge during negotiations, rather than leaving both it and the EU simultaneously. 

Leaving aside the merits of the Norway option for a moment and whether EFTA/EEA presents Britain with a solid alternative to EU membership, ruling such a move out is an absurd negotiating move to make. It is not as if we have all the cards or the advantage in this stand-off. In turning our backs on a valid and workable Brexit, we restrict the scope of our bargaining power. 

There is then the infuriatingly persistent myth that the European Union is punishing Britain during negotiations and behaving in an entirely unreasonable manner. To assert this is to utterly misunderstand the mechanics of treaty and Single Market withdrawal. The reality is that upon leaving the EEA, the UK becomes a 'third country', which necessarily equates to the re-imposition of currently absent border and customs checks. This will be hugely damaging to trade flow, and varied and extensive customs cooperation arrangements will have to be agreed upon. 

There has been a certain arrogance attached to the British government's attitude towards negotiations. Every position paper thus far published has either been vague or written on the assumption that this 'third country' problem simply will not materialise and life will go on as normal. I can promise readers that it will not. This is why I am, perhaps for the first time, fearful for the future of the country as we edge towards a default no-deal spectacle. And a spectacle it will be. May's reported speech later this month could well signify the start of something I've been dreading: abandonment of negotiations and pursuit of the WTO option, or at least a serious threat to do so. 

Threatening to do so won't, as has been suggested, force the EU into progressing talks. Brussels doesn't need to be forced into anything. By definition of our leaving, they are in the driver's seat. This is precisely why it has always been crucial that the country adopts a settlement which keeps trading ties as tight and harmonised as possible whilst we reduce any scope for political subordination. They will not blink first, we will have to. Brexit from here on out has to be considered a problem that we are charged with the burden of thinking our way through. 

And this is exactly what we aren't doing. The government is still haggling over issues which should have been ironed out in the early summer. This is the price we pay for invoking Article 50 without a clear understanding of the issues and then for holding an unnecessary election which achieved nothing in any way useful. Mark my words, Brexit will be the Tory Party's Iraq war when this is all said and done. They will be left demoralised and will take years to recover, with or without Jacob Rees-Mogg as their leader. 

The financial settlement is partly a moral issue and partly an economic one. It is true that money is not mentioned within the specifics of Article 50 (which, by the way, are pretty vague), but that does not mean the UK does not owe a compensatory payment. It is unclear what we have signed up to in the form of grants, subsidies or initiatives that we would have continued to pay for had we retained membership of the EU. David Davis should concede defeat over the issue and accept a fee if negotiations are to develop. 

Time is indeed running out. We have but a year and a half to reach something. Anything. My gut feeling is that we're headed for the WTO option; the worst of all worlds. What depresses me most is that this government's handling of proceedings has stripped me of any excitement and optimism that I once had. Fear, not of leaving the EU but of doing so in dismal fashion, is something I am now acutely aware of. I was a small part of this. People like me, however informative or honest, will get the blame when this all crashes. I'm extremely worried. 


  1. But if we stay in EEA we don't regain control of our borders. What was the point of leaving? That's not regaining sovereignty so it's not what we voted for.

    1. There's much to be said about this issue. It's complex and not that simple. Article 112 of the EEA Agreement allows EFTA EEA states unilateral ability to suspend any of the four freedoms. This is a starting point. More about this soon.

    2. Where on the Referendum ballot did it mention borders? The Norway model, even if it required joining Schengen, still 'respects' the result of the Referendum.

  2. Hi Oliver,
    I'm an EU migrant and allegedly we all are very worried and blah blah blah but I'm having a lot of fun in the last year or so just by reading the news.

    What I find funnier is this thing that none of you is ever responsible from shooting your own foot, never.

    I'm ok with you leaving the EU, in fact I think it was the only thing that should be done after lying to people saying the referendum was binding. You've to leave and I personally would be disappointed if you try to backtrack now ...but leaving could have been managed much better.

    If Cameron and May wanted to make evident all their misery and limitations then this is an amazing job. This is exactly why is so surprising to me that it has taken you all this to realise that looking for Brexit with this government in power you've f+ up yourselves.

    It's a great social experiment to observe how easy they can manipulate you at their will and keep you "blind" for so long.

    Seeing your approach being so similar to theirs I would say you'll negate it until your last day on earth, it was someone else, a conspiracy, someone from Pluto, whatever, whoever but not you.

    I see this can mean a lot of suffering and pain, and that's not funny at all but every action we take has consequences and more when none of you wants to admit your clear responsibility on this current mess.

    You put us all here. You now has the responsibility to make a success of it and of course are accountable for its result and future outcome; truth is that before you're hit your government will have already blamed us, and the chavs you would like to blame will have fallen after us all, and without us around they will want to point to those they identify as the ones lying to them as otherwise they would need to admit they are responsible from their own actions but that's not how your culture works.

    How did you think the EU was going to bend over again this time and come to you on their knees begging you to stay is something that still nowadays is core to all these pseudo-decisions your government takes everyday. And of course it's always another one's fault, for sure.

    I'm looking forward for tomorrow session of this neverending Circus called Brexit. Love it.

    Welcome to reality and have fun.

  3. I'm betting all my friends £100 that Britain will collapse before the EU. Sadly my bet looks better every day.

  4. Our blogger is worried that when the excrement hits the fan he will get the blame, I can assure him that, whilst the blame merry-go-round will get to him and his vote leave brethren eventually, like the Iraq war, it will probably take a decade or more and require some sort of inquiry or something.

    First in-line for blame will be the EU itself of course, followed by my fellow remain voting citizens who talked the whole thing down (t.b.f. were getting the blame already for that). Next up will be all the countries who won't do "10 minute" trade deals with us, and then when the economy crashes it will be the unemployed, disabled etc (as is usually the case with these things, see the great financial crisis and austerity) who will be punished.

    Finally, after a lot of water has gone under the bridge those that encouraged us to first leave the EU, and then interpreted this binary decision as "let's scuttle our own ship as we depart" will finally get the their comeuppance, but like so many other Great British Ddebacles, it will be too little, too late.