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31 March 2017

How Theresa May’s Brexit deal could please everyone but the Leave elite

Most voters will accept a Britain that is weaker on the world stage and is a ruletaker rather than a rulemaker.

By Stephen Bush

Good morning. The European Commission has produced its draft response to Theresa May’s Article 50 letter.

The contents are no surprise: there will have to be “sufficient progress” on the terms of exit before there is a discussion of the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU27, although discussions relating to Northern Ireland will also be discussed in that early phase.

And a smooth exit from the single market will require that Britain continues to follow EU regulation, to accept the arbitration of the European Court of Justice, and to continue to pay into the EU budget.

That leaves the deal I outlined at the start of the week very much up for grabs: Britain continues to staff Europol, to participate in EU-wide research, pays a figure that is smaller than its overall contribution now but is larger than its current net contribution , and in exchange receives the access to the single market it needs to keep the British economy going and full control over immigration policy.

That deal would almost certainly break the back of any attempt to restore Britain’s full-fat EU membership and is far closer to uniting most Remainers and Leavers than Theresa May’s rhetoric. Most Britons will certainly accept a Britain that is weaker on the world stage and is a ruletaker rather than a rulemaker as far as the European Union is concerned. The bulk of Remainers and Leavers wanted the British government to control immigration – but without suffering an economic hit. And that deal would deliver that, in the main.

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But what it wouldn’t deliver is the mirage favoured by much of the Brexit elite aka “sovereignty”. Of course, the blunt truth is that if you want to trade with the European Union or the United States, and increasingly China too, you have to follow the regulatory rules they set and arbitration mechanism they choose. As anyone who has worked in retail could tell you, your rules are set by the strictest of your customers, which in this case is the EU.

It would be a beautiful irony if Britain’s Brexit deal pleases everyone but the people who did the most to bring Brexit about.