Life After Brexit: What We Need to Know (Now)

By Andrew Lansley

“The President of the European Commission has said 'no negotiation without notification'. Formally, he may be correct, but in practice there will be not just one, but two negotiations before Article 50 notification, which has now been officially put off to early 2017 at the earliest.

Why two? Because the first is a negotiation within the British Government to establish what Brexit means (as Brexit means Brexit is not a negotiating brief). The principal Leave campaigners each had their own view of what it means. With David Davis as Brexit Secretary, an analysis of his detailed approach, published in February this year, points to a Swiss-style set of bilateral agreements, and access to external trade deals. He acknowledges that it will be essentially a political negotiation, with member-states guided by national interests. Worryingly  for UK business, that suggests tariff-free access for goods, but limited access for services, loss of access to EU research programmes and the U.K. as a ' taker' of regulatory standards, not a 'maker'.

That is why there is a hard negotiation within the UK to come first. Access to the Single Market is the most frequently expressed objective of Remainers, many Leavers, and Scotland. European Economic Area membership is clearly the route to this, outside the EU, but Leave campaigners object to the implied commitment under that to free movement of people, acceptance of ECJ judgements and continued budget contributions.

Without 'informal discussions', the second negotiation in reality, with other member-states and EU institutions , in which the latter signal possible compromises on these key sticking points, Brexiteers will not enter Article 50 negotiations on the basis of EEA membership. And it is not realistic to discuss the Withdrawal Agreement unless and until one has a clear picture of how much is continuity and how much is changed, and therefore has to be put into the 'future relationship' treaty.

Theresa May has acquired great political authority in days. Soon, she will have to decide when and how to spend that capital. Will she visit the Norwegian fjords this summer or, as she has been happy to do for pleasure in years past, this year visit the Swiss Alps?