The EU has made it clear that it want’s the UK to withdraw the Article 50 notice to leave the European Union. Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, Jean-Claude Junker, President of the European Council, French President Emmanuel Macron and other senior EU figures have in the past few days said the UK can think again about leaving the EU.
Clearly the message has been co-ordinated: this is the end-state of negotiations the EU is aiming for. They have made it obvious that any other ending will cost the UK. The same message came from Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister when she presented her government’s analysis of the Brexit options.
This is probably why May’s government has not done any end-state analysis, or if it has is not admitting it.
We are now headed for some bloody months in UK politics. First the two big parties in Westminster have to admit that there is a possibility that we will not be Brexiting. That is going to be hard for them.
But they are unlikely to get anything better than the Canadian trade agreement and that would have would have substantial costs for the UK in trade in goods and services. A Norway-style deal would provide the market access business needs but would cost more in contributions and with no seat at the table making EU rules would mark a significant loss of sovereignty.
Labour has been criticised for not saying what it wants achieved in Brexit negotiations other than a good deal for the UK, but it has ensured that it will not have to go back on previous statements except, “We are leaving the EU.”
Whether we would need a second referendum — would the present parliament even be capable of agreeing the question? — a general election, or a cross party agreement is impossible to tell. All we know it that there will be a lot of bitterness.
Anyone who has read former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis’s book Adults in the Room on his battles over his country’s bailout will know just how tough, and nasty, European negotiators can be. The evidence so far is that the UK negotiators are no match for them.
In the end, will a UK Government be prepared to say: “We are cutting off our nose to spite our face”? That is the question Mrs May will have to answer if she decides to go for “no deal” or the Canada option.
She might just avoid this by going for the Norway option, but at a big price for the country.