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Exit Brexit scenario begins to take shape

by Michael Emerson | 09.10.2017

Brussels: Over here in Brussels, in and around Michel Barnier’s team there seems to be ever deepening exasperation about the lack of substance and credibility in the British position. Theresa May’s two landmark speeches of the political “rentree”, at Florence and the Tory party conference in Manchester, confirm only the thinness of their substantive position on Brexit matters, as well as the fragility of the government itself.

The transfer of Olly Robbins to No. 10 Downing Street is viewed as a sign of little confidence in David Davis, who has not impressed Brussels as chief negotiator. The next round of talks begin today. Davis’ press conference performances with Barnier have been utterly superficial, with implausible remarks about how great progress is being made, and how it is now for the EU side to show flexibility to make the next move.

Meanwhile, developments outside the negotiation chamber deepen the gloom from a British standpoint. The joint letter of the ambassadors to the WTO of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, Thailand, the United States and Uruguay over the adjustment of tariff quotas for agricultural produce has a message. The UK and European Commission had apparently agreed bilaterally on how to divide up the quotas. The ambassadors of these seven major agricultural exporting nations are saying “not so fast”. First, there can be no agreement at the WTO on these matters unless we all agree. Second, they are hinting at demands for further concessions on access to the UK market.

The UK’s place in the WTO was supposed so far to be the easiest part of the whole range of external trade policy issues to be resolved, since the UK is and remains a member state of the WTO. Obviously it is seen now that even this corner of the negotiations is going to be problematic.

To which has to be added the Bombardier affair, in which the protectionist Donald Trump is intending to impose huge (over 200%) tariffs on imports of Bombardier’s new range of aircraft that might mean a little bit of competition for Boeing. But the wings of these aircraft are made in Belfast, where the Bombardier factory is the province’s most important high-tech manufacturing establishment. So May immediately phoned Trump, following which the only response was Washington’s decision to further increase the punitive tariffs.

And now the boss of Rolls-Royce aeroengines is also expressing his concern over any departure from the status quo. Of course the Rolls Royce concerns, as well as the problem of the Northern Irish-Republic border, could be resolved at the stroke of a pen with a decision to stay in the customs union. But the Brexit Bolsheviks cannot accept that. It has to be hard Brexit at any cost.

With all this big mess stretching ahead indefinitely the view in Brussels seems to be moving towards the expectation that the Article 50 deadline of March 2019 will see no deal, and so over the cliff we go. The German industrialist’s organisation has advised its members to prepare for a “very hard Brexit”.  

When all of this gets clearer into focus, together with growing evidence of stagflation or worse in the economy, will the English lemmings indeed march resolutely off the cliffs of Dover? Led by Boris Johnson saying to the people “roar like a lion”. Or will there be panic among British business interests, and so on into financial markets, and so on at last into the perceptions of the public at large?

Then the government could fall, with fresh elections, and a new Labour-led government would look at the books of the Brexit negotiators. They could well then draw the conclusion that the people had to be consulted again in a second referendum well before March 2019. This would be informed by the state of the mess in the negotiations and the economy, and pose the question: “Keep on leaving, or Exit the Brexit?”

Michael Emerson is Associate Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), Brussels.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

5 Responses to “Exit Brexit scenario begins to take shape”

  • That these inept, third-rate Tory politicians have got the country into this unholy and appalling mess is almost unbelievable.

  • Why would anyone want to be goverened by the e u which in truth is
    France and Germany
    So they got there currency going the mighty euro
    Draghi what ever it takes 80 billion a month now down to 60 billion a month
    There’s not a share on the stock market that has a true value
    There’s a crash coming that will make 2008 look like chicken feed
    And there you have country’s that britain with others sons and daughters
    Gave there lives to free especially the French and of course Germany is still operating because of the marshall plan
    The yanks covering there backs of fear of Russia
    So britain is getting out why Because the so called European union
    It’s been a scam since its inception but so what when secone rate politicians
    From all corners can ply there trade for personal gain noting for the tax paying public
    But Britain had its own currency which has always been a thorn in brussels side
    Not like Greece cyprus portugal ireland which brussels can impose capitol controls on there banks
    So this is a different story because Britain won’t take the crap
    Of course you and your like can keep on with dispicable degrading talk
    But wait for the in fighting that coming between the riff raff in brussels
    When the funds are below the level they have been us’to
    52 embassy’s 500 vehicles spend spend spend no matter can be made up
    With the vat percentage coming from european tax payers and let’s not forget
    The 75% of all incoming tarifs collected by eu country’s have 25% for yourself
    So where’s the social cohesion ya that was a phrase the use to us back in the early days of the e e c when people thought there might be something to this
    But you had the faceless unelected in the background moved to quick with the euro and the feared word federalism
    You may disregard all the above and laugh but just wait you’ll recall this

    • “Gave there lives to free especially the French and of course Germany is still operating because of the marshall plan”

      ??? Do you just sort of bash your head repeatedly against the keyboard while recalling fragments of Daily Express headlines to write this stuff?

      Suggest reading some actual books about economics, history… and oh why bother.

  • In the event of the UK leaving the EU, the bookies had better shorten the odds of there being a revolution in my lifetime, which will sweep the whole corrupt Westminster system utterly away.