July 26, 2018
Brexit to become Chefsache
We were wondering about the swift decision by Theresa May to demote her new appointed Brexit secretary to be the de facto deputy in the Brexit talks. The Times delivers the fuller explanation. Brexit is about to become Chefsache - a matter to be dealt with by the heads of state and government in the European Council. This is a totally plausible development because a decision to let the UK crash out of the EU can hardly be taken at technical level.
Donald Tusk has yet to make a decision, but the paper writes that it is under serious consideration to devote the Salzburg summit in September to Brexit, and to allow Theresa May to hold direct talks with EU leaders. Angela Merkel is quoted as having expressed dismay at the sense of drift in the Brexit talks. The Irish in particular are getting very nervous about the no-deal scenario, and are expressing alarm that both sides are now stepping up their preparations for a no-deal Brexit.
The Salzburg summit is billed as a last chance to avert a hard Brexit, but our experience tells us to be cautious with statements about deadlines. The only real deadline is March - minus the time needed for ratification. We think that the December summit is a more realistic deadline, not September. They may even go all the way to March - and extend the Art. 50 period for a couple of months.
The article says that the European Commission has privately rejected Ms May’s white paper on the grounds that it would end the unity of the four freedoms. It also dismissed the customs arrangements for the Irish border as unworkable. EU leaders are more cautious at arriving at this conclusion because they have to weigh the sanctity of the four freedoms against the political and economic costs of a hard Brexit.
We also noted a comment by George Eaton in the New Statesman, who tries to explain why Remainers are so confident that the EU would encourage them to have a second referendum. What the Remainers, and Eaton, do not quite see is the EU’s position in the two different scenarios of a deal versus no deal. If there is a deal, it will not only be Theresa May’s deal, but also the EU’s. At that point, the EU itself will portray it as a take-it-or-leave-it choice, and will make it clear that there is no better deal to be had. We also think it is conceivable that May would formally ask EU leaders to foreclose on any extension of the Article 50 deadline. That would reduce the British parliament’s choice to accepting the deal or voting in favour of crashing out of the EU.
The situation could be different if there were no deal. The defeat of the meaningful-vote amendment has deprived parliament of its only real instrument to take matters in its own hands at that juncture. That leaves parliament with its only real option - to force elections by securing a vote of no-confidence in the government. We don’t think the votes are there on the basis of recent voting patterns. If Labour were to win an election before March, it could ask the EU to extend the deadline, but the EU would only accept that if the new government were to accept a plain-vanilla customs union/EEA deal, a plain vanilla FTA with a customs border in the Irish Sea, or a repeal of Article 50 following a referendum. But this outcome would require the following sequence of events: failure to reach a deal by May and EU leaders, majority in UK parliament to pass vote of no-confidence; a Labour victory with a coalition of pro-Remain parties; and a total U-turn on Brexit by Jeremy Corbyn. We think this sequences will collapse at the first or second step.