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Why the UK has the weakest hand in the Brexit negotiations

Britain, and Leave regions in particular, are far more economically vulnerable than the EU27. 

Eighteen months after the EU referendum and nine months after Article 50 was triggered, the British cabinet is finally holding its first discussion on what the UK's final relationship should be. The Brexiteers have long argued that Britain holds "the best cards" in the forthcoming trade negotiations. "You'll sell less prosecco," Boris Johnson warned Carlo Calenda, the Italian economic development minister, last year. The same is said of German cars and French cheese. In short: Europe needs Britain more than Britain needs Europe.

But a new University of Birmingham study efficiently exposes this as the wishful thinking that it is. "The UK and its regions are far more vulnerable to trade-related risks of Brexit than other EU member states and their regions," it notes. "As such, the UK is far more dependent on a relatively seamless and comprehensive free trade deal than the other EU member states. Mercantilist arguments popular in the UK media, which posit that the UK trade deficit with the rest of Europe implies that on economic grounds other EU member states will be eager to agree a free trade deal with the UK, are not correct."

Britain is estimated to be 4.6 times more exposed than the rest of the EU - with the majority of member states facing almost no exposure at all (though Ireland is a notable exception). While only 2.64 per cent of EU GDP is at risk because of Brexit trade-related consequences, 12.2 per cent of UK GDP is threatened. And in a cruel irony, the UK regions which voted Leave (such as the Midlands and the North) are significantly more exposed than those which voted Remain. 

It's for these reasons (as well as the desire to deter other member states from leaving) that the EU can afford to enforce its red lines: that Britain cannot "have its cake and eat it" (retaining the benefits of single market membership while ending free movement), that there will be no bespoke deal for the City of London and that it must follow all EU rules and regulations (including new ones) during the planned two-year transition period.

In Phase One of the Brexit talks, Britain wasted months refusing to accept the EU's demands before doing precisely that (over the Irish border and the £35-39bn divorce bill). Phase Two is likely to prove little different. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Arsène Wenger. Credit: Getty
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My biggest regret of the Wenger era? How we, the fans, treated him at the end

Arsenal’s greatest coach deserved better treatment from the Club’s supporters. 

I have no coherent memories of Arsenal before Arsène Wenger, who will leave the Club at the end of the season. I am aware of the Club having a new manager, but my continuous memories of my team are of Wenger at the helm.

They were good years to remember: three league titles, seven FA Cups, the most of any single manager in English football. He leaves the Club as the most successful manager in its history.

I think one of the reasons why in recent years he has taken a pasting from Arsenal fans is that the world before him now seems unimaginable, and not just for those of us who can't really remember it. As he himself once said, it is hard to go back to sausages when you are used to caviar, and while the last few years cannot be seen as below par as far as the great sweep of Arsenal’s history goes, they were below par by the standards he himself had set. Not quite sausages, but not caviar either.

There was the period of financial restraint from 2005 onwards, in which the struggle to repay the cost of a new stadium meant missing out on top player. A team that combined promising young talent with the simply bang-average went nine years without a trophy. Those years had plenty of excitement: a 2-1 victory over Manchester United with late, late goals from Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry, a delicious 5-2 thumping of Tottenham Hotspur, and races for the Champions League that went to the last day. It was a time that seemed to hold the promise a second great age of Wenger once the debt was cleared. But instead of a return to the league triumphs of the past, Wenger’s second spree of trophy-winning was confined to the FA Cup. The club went from always being challenging for the league, to always finishing in the Champions League places, to struggling to finish in the top six. Again, nothing to be sniffed at, but short of his earlier triumphs.

If, as feels likely, Arsenal’s dire away form means the hunt for a Uefa Cup victory ends at Atletico Madrid, many will feel that Wenger missed a trick in not stepping down after his FA Cup triumph over Chelsea last year, in one of the most thrilling FA Cup Finals in years. (I particularly enjoyed this one as I watched it with my best man, a Chelsea fan.) 

No one could claim that this season was a good one, but the saddest thing for me was not the turgid performances away from home nor the limp exit from the FA Cup, nor even finishing below Tottenham again. It was hearing Arsenal fans, in the world-class stadium that Wenger built for us, booing and criticising him.

And I think, that, when we look back on Wenger’s transformation both of Arsenal and of English football in general, more than whether he should have called it a day a little earlier, we will wonder how Arsenal fans could have forgotten the achievements of a man who did so much for us.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.