May has seen off Boris but can she win over the EU?

Irish Daily Mail - - News - Der­mot Ah­ern

SOME cyn­ics will say that David Davis and Boris John­son waited un­til af­ter the week­end to an­nounced their res­ig­na­tions as it had been made clear to all min­is­ters at­tend­ing the Che­quers meet­ing that if they re­signed, there and then, their min­is­te­rial car would be taken from them. Maybe the two for­mer min­is­ters wanted to avoid the ig­nominy of hav­ing to or­der a taxi home.

One way or the other, it had been com­ing for a long time. The next few weeks will de­ter­mine whether this is an or­ches­trated at­tack on British prime min­is­ter Theresa May. What­ever about Mr Davis, I can­not see Mr John­son re­main­ing docile! In fair­ness to her, Mrs May has shown huge strength and re­silience in hang­ing in there.

On the other hand, given the de­tails of the British ne­go­ti­at­ing stance to hand, she might have been bet­ter not to have been so adamant about with­draw­ing from both the Sin­gle Mar­ket and the Cus­toms Union. As some­one who had been on the Re­main side be­fore the Brexit vote, she could have adopted a nu­anced ap­proach: That the vot­ers had not voted to leave the Sin­gle Mar­ket and the Cus­toms Union specif­i­cally.

How­ever, she adopted the po­si­tion of ‘clean break’ from the Euro­pean Union mainly due to po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions, given the pre­vail­ing at­ti­tude of the Con­ser­va­tive party. How she ex­pected to pre­side over a clean break from the EU is beyond me. They have been long enough in the EU to know ‘break­ing up is al­ways hard to do’, es­pe­cially from a bloc as so­phis­ti­cated as the EU.

IT has taken the British gov­ern­ment more than two years to get its act to­gether. In the mean­time, the po­lit­i­cal machi­na­tions in West­min­ster have been the laugh­ing stock of the rest of Europe. The de­ci­sion ar­rived at by the British cab­i­net last Fri­day is aimed at the mid­dle ground of the Tory party – and to­wards the Labour Party. The hard re­al­ity of Brexit has dawned on the ma­jor­ity of the Tory party, es­pe­cially given the very strong mes­sage from the wider British busi­ness com­mu­nity.

How­ever, what was agreed on Fri­day will not go down well with the ma­jor­ity of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers across the rest of the EU mem­ber states. Clearly, propos­ing a ‘com­mon rule­book’ for in­dus­trial goods and agri­cul­tural prod­ucts, but ex­clud­ing ser­vices will grate with many across Europe. It will be seen as the British try­ing to ‘cherry pick’ as it goes out the door of the EU.

The EU from the start of Brexit has in­sisted it will not coun­te­nance any pro­pos­als from the UK which al­low it to re­tain some ben­e­fits of the Sin­gle Mar­ket while at the same time be­ing able to do free trade deals with the likes of the US. Since the pub­li­ca­tion of the UK’s White Pa­per, sources from Brus­sels have re­it­er­ated this view but have done it in a gen­tle but firm way, ob­vi­ously con­scious of the po­lit­i­cal tightrope Mrs May is walk­ing in West­min­ster.

But no bet­ter man than the re­fresh­ingly blunt Lib­eral leader in the EU Par­lia­ment, Guy Ver­hof­s­tadt, to say it as it is: He stressed the need to guar­an­tee the ‘in­tegrity of the Sin­gle Mar­ket’ while at the same time declar­ing that the EU would not ‘out­source’ its com­pe­tence to col­lect tar­iffs, the lat­ter be­ing a ref­er­ence to the UK’s pro­posal to col­lect these on be­half of the EU on im­ports des­tined for the EU.

At the end of the day, the rec­on­cil­ing of the ir­rec­on­cil­able will come down to raw pol­i­tics. The EU has been po­lit­i­cally tip­toe­ing around these is­sues in or­der not to make Mrs May’s po­si­tion worse. But it is clear that her White Pa­per pro­pos­als are re­garded by the EU as an open­ing shot: That more com­pro­mises will have to be made by the UK. Mrs May, for her part, will em­pha­sise she has no more room for ma­noeu­vre. She will adopt the fall­back po­si­tion com­monly used by mem­ber states when they dis­agree with EU pro­pos­als: She will threaten that any other per­ceived con­ces­sions by her, in any fi­nal deal, will not get past the UK par­lia­ment, and may could lead to a UK gen­eral elec­tion. Such a turn of events would blow all time­lines off course, lead­ing to great un­cer­tainty, which is in no-one’s in­ter­est.

And while all that seems a dif­fi­cult cir­cle to square, on top of that, there is the not-so-small mat­ter of get­ting the par­lia­ments of the re­main­ing 27 mem­ber states to each ap­prove the fi­nal Brexit deal. Even if Mrs May got her West­min­ster par­lia­ment to agree a deal, any one or more of the re­main­ing states could hold up any deal ap­proval by main­tain­ing that their own na­tional in­ter­ests were be­ing com­pro­mised.

There is a long way yet to run in this sorry saga. We can ex­pect many fur­ther twists and turns be­fore it’s fi­nally put to bed!

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