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Analysis

Doesn’t Davis realise? Brexit deal clarity is not his friend

by Hugo Dixon | 11.04.2018

David Davis wants clarity on our future relationship with the EU before we quit. The snag is the more detail emerges, the more people will wonder: “What’s the point of the whole goddamn business?”

The Brexit secretary has won a battle inside government with Oliver Robbins, Theresa May’s chief Brexit negotiator, to push for clarity in the next stage of the Brexit talks, according to The Times and The Telegraph. The Times says:

“Robbins wanted to resist a ‘big bang’ negotiation in the coming months and was suggesting that Britain could sensibly aim for a broad, high-level document agreeing the principles for the future EU-UK relationship… The Brexit secretary has argued that the UK and the EU will ‘get pretty substantively close’ to a free trade agreement by October, suggesting just technical details would be left until after Brexit. Mr Davis is also understood to have argued a broad brush approach would cause ‘problems in parliament’ and leave parts of the Tory party in uproar.”

Just because the Brexit secretary has won this internal battle, of course, doesn’t mean he will get the clarity he craves. After all, it takes two to tango – and the EU will need to agree to a meaty “framework” for our future relationship. It is currently focusing on nailing down the details of the divorce, including how to avoid border controls in Ireland.

Detailed deal will spell out loss of control

But just imagine Davis gets his way. What would a detailed deal look like? Much depends on how the Irish question is resolved, but it’s increasingly clear that the prime minister is going to have to cross two of her red lines to get there.

First, she’ll have to abandon her cockamamie plan for a “customs partnership” and instead embrace a customs union with the bloc, meaning we couldn’t have much of an independent trade policy. Second, she’ll have to agree to follow a huge chunk of the EU’s rules without a vote on them – and ditch her unrealistic scheme to diverge from those regulations if we don’t like them.

In other words, the deal will spell out in painful detail how we are going to be turned into a rule-taker – both with respect to trade with the rest of the world and the EU’s own internal market.

The prime minister proposed following the EU’s competition policy and rules for the pharmaceuticals, aviation and chemicals industries in her Mansion House speech last month.  Now the EU wants us to agree not to slash environmental rules post-Brexit to ensure a level-playing field, while the Confederation of British Industry is saying a bonfire of industrial regulations would mean more costs than benefits.

Isn’t it clear to Davis how the salami-slicing will end? The EU will say that we’ll have to commit to keep high standards on employment policy and tax too.

There are lots of good reasons for keeping EU standards in all these areas. After all, the UK has spent 45 years carefully crafting the rules so they are fit for purpose.

But there’s a big difference between sitting at the table making the rules and waiting outside to take dictation. Regulations aren’t static. As each year goes by, we’ll be turned into what Jacob Rees-Mogg, the hardline Tory Brexiter, describes as a “vassal state”.

If all this becomes clear, people will realise that Brexit is about losing, not taking control – and might decide they don’t want it after all. The Brexit secretary should be careful what he wishes for.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

3 Responses to “Doesn’t Davis realise? Brexit deal clarity is not his friend”

  • David Davis already has clarity from the EU. All he has to do is to tell them that he aims for a reciprocal arrangement on trade tariffs, tell them what he wants on freedom of movement & residency rights of EU citizens already here. He also needs to tell them which eu laws he wants to get rid of, what rights he wants to give us & whether he will recognise the ECJ. Unfortunately, He would not want to alienate the UK population, so there has not been a song and dance about this, but it looks like our rights are those in the human rights act 1998, far less than with the eu. He is also keeping it close to his chest as to which laws he wants to repeal, for similar reasons. The votes on article 50 & the EU withdrawl bill would indicate that vast swathes of labour & environmental laws will go & anti tax avoidance legislation that comes into effect in 2019 will not be adopted by us. In other words, they are signalling in our parliament a Hard Brexit & going onto WTO tariff in addition to a loss of 20bn of EU banking insurance & pensions. David has said it himself, his policy is to dabble and do nothing for as long as possible until we sleepwalk into leaving the EU in March 2019, with the false sense of security that we are ‘in transition’. When not a lot appears to happening in the economy, they will quietly go through the process of getting rid of eu laws on paper, to take effect after transition. They hope to get re elected because they think people are too stupid to know what has happened.

  • It is the loudest voice that will be heard, unfortunately. Pro Brexiters are firmly in control of our media and have the money to rubbish thoughts that are opposed to theirs. They have been at the negative comments program for 30 or 40 years and have only to dog whistle up issues that have been repeated time and time again without regard to truth and honesty.