“When will the Brits stop their internal debate about what they want out of Brexit and start to be realistic?” It has been a fair question. And the answer is: when Article 50 is triggered and the European Council replies.
The prospect of the negotiations appears to have concentrated British minds wonderfully. In place of occasionally absurd rhetoric playing to the gallery, coded messages of potential compromise littered Theresa May’s notification letter: acceptance that trade within the EU will mean UK companies living within EU rules; an orderly exit, with transition periods; “deep, broad and dynamic cooperation” as a new trading environment is finalized; recognition that the four freedoms in the single market are indivisible; no “cherry-picking”; and, even, that free movement can extend through the implementation period.
The ‘Gibraltar’ row should not detract from this. While the ‘Sun’ fans the flame, serious work can be done on putting the withdrawal agreement principles in place, enabling work to begin on the ‘deep and comprehensive economic partnership agreement’.
In the negotiations, cards remain stacked somewhat higher on the Commission’s side of the table. Theresa May’s “no deal is better than a bad deal” is so obviously a nihilistic absurdity that it is in no sense a clever negotiating ploy. It is abundantly clear that walking away, the tactic beloved of negotiating “hardmen”, is potentially far more damaging to the UK than it is to most EU Member States (the Republic of Ireland excepted).
The UK needs a better strategy. Threatening a loss of security cooperation is not it. Losing access to the London’s financial markets won’t happen either. But meeting the EU’s future budget liabilities and commitments is a credible card.
They say that after the emotional trauma, divorce often resolves into a deep and bitter argument over the financial assets and future liabilities. So it will be in this case. Nor does divorce necessarily lead to a “deep and special” partnership. In this case, it needs to follow the money!
Follow Andrew Lansley on Twitter at @AndrewDLansley