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.