New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Politics
  2. Brexit
20 July 2017

The Conservative problem? They don’t know what they want from Brexit

The government sees leaving the EU as an objective in of itself, which is one reason why it is bungling it. 

By Stephen Bush

What are the areas of contention in the first stage of the Brexit talks? There are two big stumbling blocks: the so-called “divorce bill” and the rights of the three million citizens of the European Union living in Britain and of the British diaspora living in the EU27.

The “divorce bill” relates to the question of how much the United Kingdom owes to the bloc. It relates to programmes and budgets agreed on and in some cases begun before the UK voted to leave. As I’ve written before, the divorce analogy doesn’t really work: it’s much more like leaving a dinner with friends before the bill has arrived. If you have ordered dessert, and it has already been whipped up, you still need to leave enough to cover your share even if you are skipping out on the final course.

The United Kingdom has agreed in principle that it will pay its outstanding commitments to the European Union. What is keeping the sides apart is a different account of how much the United Kingdom owes, not whether or not the United Kingdom owes money.

There are good arguments on both sides. Obviously, the United Kingdom should pay for budgets it already agreed to while still in the EU. But, as British budgetary contributions have paid for assets – buildings, software,  and so on – the United Kingdom has a strong case that some of the cost of those assets should be deducted from the final total. And, with the British government seeking a Brexit deal that means the UK continues to participate in EU-wide research and security programmes, there is a case, too, that the cost of the UK’s exit bill should take that into account. (If the United Kingdom is still paying into and participating in Europol, the EU-wide security programme, then those payments should be deducted from the Brexit bill.)

But the difficulty is that the United Kingdom hasn’t laid out what it sees as a reasonable calculation and expectation for the bill, which is one reason why negotiations on this area aren’t proceeding.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

That speaks to the wider problem of the government’s Brexit policy. Although there are a few exceptions, most Leave-backing Conservative MPs don’t really have a plan for after Brexit: leaving is a destination, not a staging post to anything else. It is the end of the process, when of course the most important questions around Britain’s Brexit deal hinge on the shape and size of the British economy and the direction of British policy afterwards.

It was summed up by Michael Gove’s one-word answer to Mary Creagh’s question about how the United Kingdom would regulate the chemicals industry after Brexit. This is an industry that is Britain’s largest manufacturing export sector – it exports around £50bn a year – adds more than £15bn to the British economy and is of increasing importance to UK plc.

 His response?

“Better.”

Content from our partners
An innovative approach to regional equity
ADHD in the criminal justice system: a case for change – with Takeda
The power of place in tackling climate change