It’s possible, of course, that the latest words from the President of the EU Council are just posturing; part of the process of setting expectations before serious negotiations start. But his statement that the choice is between a hard Brexit and no Brexit at all is a blunt one, and is interesting in that it’s the first time, as far as I’m aware, that a senior figure in the EU has raised quite so plainly the possibility that the UK will change its mind about the whole thing when it truly comes to understand the implications.
Many of the statements from the Brexit side indicate that they will simply assume that this is nothing more than posturing. After all, much of what they’ve said to date seems to assume that they really do believe that the other 27 members will see the UK as such an attractive market for their goods and services that they will give the UK a better deal as a non-member than they get themselves as members. One has only to put it in those terms to see the fatal flaw in the argument – if an ex-member can get a better deal than (or even an equivalent deal to) a member, why would anyone choose membership? But then, I keep forgetting – the UK is a special and unique state, entitled to special and unique treatment.
I’m not sure that threatening people with legal action before they even sit down to negotiate is ever the best strategy, but that’s apparently what Liam Fox did last weekend. His argument was that other parties negotiating with the EU thought they were negotiating with 28 countries collectively, and they will feel so badly cheated if only 27 countries end up as part of the deal that they will sue those 27 for not allowing the 28th to remain part of the deal. I see his point, but don’t understand why they’d sue the 27. Surely they’d sue the one which walked away from participation, despite having been an integral part of the negotiations up to that point? But then, I keep forgetting – the UK is a special and unique state, entitled to special and unique treatment.
There are signs that some Brexiters are starting to have concerns about the direction of travel. It’s not that they’re changing their minds about Brexit – they still want that, just not the type of Brexit which the government seems determined to achieve. They were probably foolish enough to believe David Cameron, when he said before the referendum that if the vote went the ‘wrong’ way from his perspective, he’d carry on and try to negotiate the best deal that he could. If he’d said that, actually, he’d stand aside and let the more rabid Brexiters do all the negotiating, maybe they’d have been a little more cautious.
Having declared so definitively that, as far as the UK government is concerned, the one non-negotiable part of any deal is that the UK is going to keep the foreigners out, I’m not sure that there’s much else left to negotiate about. Almost everything else flows on from that position, and that’s all Donald Tusk is really saying. It’s simply a matter of spelling out the implications, not of changing them. But then, I keep forgetting – the UK is a special and unique state, entitled to special and unique treatment.
If only I could be as easily convinced about that as the government seem to be.