I’ve tried to avoid reading about Brexit for the past year because it makes me feel sad, but things are getting interesting now and I’ve been watching it unfold in the news with bemused and morbid fascination. We’re nearly two years on since the referendum, so a reasonable time to take stock of what has been achieved.
The EU 27 swiftly set out their position. It wasn’t controversial stuff:
The UK chose to leave, so they’ll leave and lose access to the benefits of being a member. The EU will manage the exit in a way to cause the least damage to the EU, and hopefully the UK (but they’re the ones that chose to leave, so…). Brexit, as far as the EU is concerned, is not a negotiation. It is a legal process and a damage limitation exercise. The EU have held firm with this view, however the UK fundamentally misunderstands it as intransigence.
The UK, under the Chequers proposals, asks for the impossible: access to the single market - but not all of it, just the best bits; the ability to strike their own trade deals (with who, nobody yet knows); to opt out of freedom of movement, paying into the EU budget and being under the jurisdiction of the ECJ. The EU aren’t particularly enthusiastic about these proposals.
The UK has been banging its head against this wall for the past six months. Theresa May, now smelling a bit desperate, tried to use an EU summit in Salzburg this week as an opportunity to go over the head of the intractable negotiators and appeal to the generosity of the individual member states. This failed quite spectacularly.
So, what’s the UK do do now? Theresa May, without benefit of a better plan, threw a wobbler and said that it would be Europe’s fault if Britain crashed out without a deal, and that it was up to them to prevent it happening. The irony is delicious. One of the stated aims of the referendum was for the UK to become masters of their own destiny and ‘take back control’. I wondered what that would look like then and now we know: it’s the UK begging the EU to give them a leg up out of the massive hole they dug and threw themselves into.
And here we are, six months closer to Brexit with an unworkable plan. Theresa May can’t control her own back bench MPs. No one knows what the Labour Party stands for.
For a very readable view of the current status of the EU talks, read Chris Grays Brexit Blog. For a giggle (or a cry), read these reports of meetings between the PM and Angela Merkel.