May has seen off Boris but can she win over the EU?
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!
Brexit fractures: David Davis, Boris Johnson and Theresa May
Sticking the knife in: US president Donald Trump