Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Understanding the options

Bankers are not generally the most obvious or reliable source of political truth, and I’m not sure that I place a great deal of faith in the prediction from Morgan Stanley that the current UK government will fall during 2018.  On the other hand, the chances of the government lasting for the full term seem unlikely, so 2018 is as good a guess as any.  On the basis of pure guesswork, there’s at least a 25% chance of it being correct.  But I was more interested in their succinct summary of the options for the outcome of Brexit talks:
“We expect the EU to offer a choice between a close relationship in which the UK can participate in the single market and customs union but will be bound by the EU rules of the game, and an arm's length relationship in the UK, in which the UK achieves full sovereignty over borders, courts and laws, but does not participate in the single market and the customs union.”
That struck me as a fair and realistic appraisal of the only two possible outcomes – continued membership in all but name, or a complete break.  And it puts the Prime Minister’s call to speed up the talks – to say nothing about the Brexiteers’ repeated insistence that the whole process is really amazingly simple - into perspective.  All it takes to bring about a speedy and certain conclusion is for the UK government to understand that there are only two realistic options possible, to decide which one it wishes to pursue, and to concentrate their negotiating efforts on tweaking the details of the chosen outcome to get the best of it.
The obstacle to progress is, in essence, a failure to understand that there is no third option under which the UK has an arm’s length relationship, is not bound by the rules, but continues to participate in all the bits it likes.  I understand the arguments for achieving ‘full sovereignty’ as defined by the Brexiteers, and I understand the arguments for retaining membership of the single market; but it’s obvious that for any country to have both would signal the beginning of the end for the EU, and is something to which the EU27 will never – can never – agree.  It should surprise me that that is not as obvious to the government as it is to Morgan Stanley.  Somehow, though, the current government has lost the capacity to surprise me when it comes to the EU – they can and will say anything, no matter how unrealistic or delusional.

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