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Analysis

Summit deadlock means no deal or bad Brexit deal

by Luke Lythgoe | 20.10.2017

This week’s EU summit confirmed it: Theresa May is between a rock and a hard place. She is faced with either a bad Brexit deal or crashing out without a deal at all. No wonder the prime minister seems paralysed.

In a post-summit press conference, May said now was the time to “assess and reflect” on how progress can be made. Let’s do that then.

The u-turns in the prime minister’s Florence speech weren’t enough to convince the other 27 EU countries that “sufficient progress” had been made in the withdrawal part of the negotiations to move onto talking about our future relationship.

May offered £18 billion in Florence to secure around two more years of access to the EU’s market after we leave. She is rightly worried about the economy falling off a cliff without such a transitional deal. But there is no hiding the fact that she will have to offer billions more to meet our past financial commitments if she is to unblock the talks. Even the prime minister didn’t deny she had told other EU leaders over dinner in Brussels that she would.

EU Council president Donald Tusk tried to be encouraging by saying reports about a deadlock – a word used by the EU Commission’s own negotiator Michel Barnier – were exaggerated. But this looks like a good cop, bad cop ploy to jolly May along and get her to make more concessions.

She will probably need to double the financial offer, as well as accepting that the European Court of Justice can be involved in securing EU citizens’ rights. The snag is this would invite a rebellion from the hard Brexiters in her party. Nevertheless, the prime minister seems so desperate to secure a transitional deal that she may yet do this.

But that won’t solve May’s problems because she will then have to grapple with what sort of deal she wants when the transition comes to an end. She hasn’t even discussed this properly in cabinet because it is such a hot topic. Either we stop following the EU’s rules but damage our economy; or we stay close to the EU’s market but have to follow its rules without any longer making them. Whichever option she chooses, this would be a bad Brexit – worse than our current position where we have full access to the market and are influential in setting its rules.

The other alternative is to walk away from the talks entirely, crashing out of the EU with no deal. Hardline Brexiters, including four former Tory cabinet ministers, called for this in an open letter on Wednesday. Although this is madness, we can’t rule out the possibility that the Tory party’s hellish dynamics will lead them to do something crazy.

Meanwhile the economy is already being damaged by Brexit. Prices are rising, wages are being squeezed, valued EU citizens are quitting and businesses are shifting operations abroad. Shouldn’t we ask again whether this whole venture makes sense? It’s not too late to change our minds.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

3 Responses to “Summit deadlock means no deal or bad Brexit deal”

  • All because the Tory Party cannot come to terms with 21st century Britain and our place working with our European partners and within the EU community of nations.

  • Theresa May follows the UK tradition of begging EU nations for flexibility. Or there will be a backlash from EU skeptics. John Major and David Cameron often got away with that. Why should Theresa May?

    Britain is leaving the EU. How will a Euro-skeptic ‘backlash’ in London harm the other EU nations? Britain will lose 27 export partners. Each of the latter will lose only one.

  • Brexit is and always has been the most idiotic, crazy, unwise and damaging public policy ever conceived.
    It should be getting through even mayhems thick skull that brexit is pointless, the only sensible and sane policy now, is to rescind the Article 50 notice, with an apology to all concerned.
    Then they could get on with the real job, of improving the functions of the EU, from within.
    Before the UK becomes more of a universal laughing stock than we currently are!