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Analysis

May’s latest transition flip-flops show how bad Brexit is

by Luke Lythgoe | 23.02.2018

Theresa May looks set to cave completely on her transition deal with the EU. Her latest u-turn on EU citizens’ rights; her call for a flexible end date; EU plans to cancel our budget rebate after 2020: it all points to a lengthy, expensive transition with the UK following EU rules, but without a vote on them. How’s that a good Brexit?

In her latest quick-fire u-turn, May will pull back from her pledge to limit the rights of EU citizens moving to the UK during the transition period, according to The Times. This reverses a stance taken just three weeks ago, which was strongly opposed by the EU.

This is good news for the UK economy. Years of uncertainty over their future rights would discourage those talented, hard-working EU workers who help our economy hum.

May’s flip-flop could also help her secure a transition deal at next month’s EU summit, and so avoid driving the economy off a cliff next March. But she will also have to cave in on another of her red lines and accept that the UK will follow new EU rules during the transition; and she’ll probably have to spell out how she’s going to avoid the return of border controls in Ireland too.

The new volte-face won’t please the hardline Brexiters. Ringleader Jacob Rees-Mogg took the opportunity on BBC’s Today programme (listen from 2:30) to say he would be “astonished if Mrs May made a u-turn of that kind” adding that she is “a lady of great backbone”. His politeness barely veiled the threat that his 60-odd Tory backbenchers are more than willing to make life difficult in Parliament.

Tory Brexiters will be particularly displeased with an extension of EU citizens’ rights in light of another of May’s u-turns earlier this week. The government wants the transition end date to be determined by how long it takes to “prepare and implement… new processes and systems”. This leaves open the possibility that the transition will go on and on and on.

If the EU agrees to a longer transition it will again be on their terms, with the UK remaining a rule-taker and paying large sums into the EU budget every year.

Which brings us onto May’s next transition setback: we’ll lose our budget rebate if the period goes beyond 2020, a senior EU source told The Guardian.

The current net cost per year without the rebate is roughly £12 billion. If we need an extra three years, as seems quite likely, that will be another £36 billion on top of the £39 billion the prime minister has already agreed to pay for our divorce bill. That means a total payment of about £75 billion.

It’s not just Brextremists who will be unhappy about becoming a “vassal state” and losing our rebate. Patriotic pro-Europeans won’t be happy either. There is, of course, one way to avoid a cliff-edge, remain one of Europe’s big powers, keep our rebate and prevent the return of border controls in Ireland: stay in the EU. It’s not too late to stop the madness.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

3 Responses to “May’s latest transition flip-flops show how bad Brexit is”

  • Madness indeed but the cliff edge is getting closer and what can stop it? Nothing seems to deter the government from continuing on the path it has set out. Mrs Thatcher’s rebate sacrificed, a future return to the EU on terms much worse than we have now and so it goes on. And Labour still messing around on the principal issues.

  • Yes David, there is a kind of bloody mindedness about the dogged pursuit of a clearly illogical purpose. But what the government needs is a face saving device, something to let it off the hook. A follow up referendum could fit the bill.

  • As a remain voter I agree with previous comments, but unfortunately we have to go through this because of the referendum result. I think it’s an open secret that a second vote will happen but how do we get to that point? First we have to see the final deal and if there is something on immigration to give some face saving it might succeed. I was listening to phone ins on radio shows for several years before the vote and it was clear that this was going to be a difficult issue for the remain side.