September 21, 2017
Time to get serious about Brexit
Nick Timothy was one of Theresa May’s two most important advisers before the last election, and the co-architect of May’s relatively-hard Brexit position. He now writes in the Daily Telegraph, rightly in our view, that we should not expect May’s speech in Florence tomorrow to break the deadlock. There will be a polite but not positive reply from Michel Barnier and others. May’s speech will not be enough for EU leaders to agree that sufficient progress has been made to move the Brexit negotiations to the next stage. EU leaders will react similarly. Angela Merkel is still in an election campaign. Emmanuel Macron is focusing on his eurozone agenda, and Leo Varadkar will side with whatever the EU’s position is.
Timothy is right in all of these, as well as in his assertion that the EU is not particularly interested in Brexit as such, except in terms of the damage it could unleash. He encourages May to drop the old foreign policy goal of being inside the EU with the intent to prevent the EU from integrating, in exchange for the exact opposite position of staying outside the EU and supporting European integration of any country that wishes to take part.
Timothy notes that, in the long run, the trickiest issue of all will be to manage the divergence of UK and EU regulations. It will be unacceptable for the UK simply to take EU regulation as given, so the two sides will need to find a way to negotiate a balanced approach. He is urging his former boss to tackle the complexities of this issue, and is also urging ministers like Boris Johnson to stop their grandstanding because this is the surest way to a bad deal.
Chris Cook of the BBC has an interesting analysis about the absence of any serious preparation for a no-deal scenario. He writes that there are a lot of memos about it, but this is not the same as serious preparation. He makes the point that, if the no-deal scenario is so awful as not to be countenanced, then surely the UK must be in an extremely vulnerable negotiating position. It needs to prepare for a no-deal scenario if only to signal to the other side that there are limits beyond which the UK will not go.
He then compiles a to-do-list that would become necessary in a case of a no-deal scenario. The UK would need to equip its ports and airports with completely new procedures and personnel. They would need to install immigration and customs officers. He cites an estimate of between 3000-5000 customs officers alone. Computer systems will need to work in this environment. Controls for the transport of livestock will need to be introduced. Some problems associated with a hard Brexit are simply unsolvable. The UK would no longer be part of the EU’s aviation regime. British airlines would have third-country status. So, if the government is really serious about its threat to walk away from a bad deal, it will need to deal with these and lots of other technical issues.