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16 January 2018

Theresa May risks not fulfilling Brexiteers’ fantasies as EU calls for stricter transition deal

The EU27 have issued fresh demands for the period immediately after the UK leaves the bloc.

By Stephen Bush

Get ready for no deal? Michel Barnier’s negotiating mandate has been tightened by the EU27, with stricter terms on immigration, external trade agreements and fishing rights during the period of transition after the United Kingdom leaves. Alex Barker has the details in the FT.

Driving the new terms: member states from central and eastern Europe. Actually, while there’s plenty to criticise about the government’s approach to Brexit, if you interpret the referendum result as primarily about immigration and free movement – and it’s hard to square any other interpretation with what we know – then you were always going to have a collision between the democratic pressures on Theresa May to deliver border control and the democratic pressures on the leaders of the CEE states to delay that control for as long as possible. So either you have no deal or someone blinks.

As there is another democratic pressure on the PM – not to have a no deal exit which would cause economic chaos and almost certainly usher in a Labour government – you’d assume that when push comes to shove, the United Kingdom will blink. That’s been the pattern of the talks thus far in the main.

As Rafael Behr captures well in his column today, that’s the inevitable fate of a third country in a negotiation with a much larger bloc. As far as the trade-offs over trade go, the hope of Brexit is that what you lose by being “bullied” by the United States, China, and the European Union, you gain by doing deals faster with economies of equivalent size and by doing your own bit of bullying to the global south. There are all sorts of problems, not least public opinion, with that approach: but the biggest problem for May is that it doesn’t fit the fantasy of why we left, which she has done nothing to ease in the country at large and to which she owes her position at Westminster.

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