Having listened to a great deal of commentary about the complexity attach it on to the Brexit negotiations, I have come to the conclusion that there are two separate projects underway, one which is comparatively straightforward and the other being very complex.
The straightforward project is leaving the European Union. As the Prime Minister has said “Brexit means Brexit”. And so the answers to all sorts of questions ought to be very easy:
- Does the UK remain within the single market? No.
- Does the UK remain within the customs union? No.
- To what extent will the EU principles of free movement of labour continue to apply between the UK and the EU? Not at all.
- What will be the ongoing jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over British affairs? None.
- What will be the continuing effect in UK law of EU law? None.
- What happens to the rights of European fishermen to fish in British waters? They end.
- What happens to the U.K.’s contribution to the EU budget? It stops.
- What happens to the various European subsidies of activities within the UK? They stop too.
- Do there need to be special arrangements whereby Scotland can remain a part of the EU? No.
- Will there be a tariff on goods and services exchanged between the UK and the EU? Well, that one does need negotiating. The answer is probably going to be something between zero and World Trade Organisation bound duty rates. Among the leading trading nations of the world, these rates are pretty low at around 3 or 4%. The party with the problem here is not the UK’s, but the EU’s. On the one hand, the EU will be want to be seen to be “punishing” the UK leaving the party, but on the other hand, it is more in the interests of the EU than the UK to negotiate a low rate, or even zero, because the EU sells more to the UK than the other way around. But wherever the negotiation ends up, it is not going to be a disaster for the UK. Countries like the USA, Japan, Canada, Australia etc happily deal all around the world without the need for membership of the EU. And ironically, the higher the rate, the better for the UK exchequer, which will be collecting in these tariffs instead of paying out for EU membership.
The trick to keeping it simple is avoiding strings being attached. The UK says to the EU, “Let’s agree a number. But it is not going to be conditional on us obeying any of your rules”.
Of course there are going to be some horse deals and trade-offs around the fringes. How generous is the UK going to be about EU nationals presently living in the UK, whose right of residence will come to an end? That, of course, should depend on how generous the EU is going to be about UK nationals living in the EU on a similar basis. It is hardly rocket science.
That is the easy project. The much more complicated project is what you do if you are a Remanian, and you want to go through the motions of paying lip service to the referendum vote to leave the EU whilst at the same time keeping the UK as closely bound as possible within the EU web. That is fiendishly complicated, and the more time is available to accomplish that, the better. Furthermore, it is highly desirable for this complicated project to put in place transitional arrangements, preferably for a very long time. The essential message you need to get out is that this whole business is so complicated that it can never happen. The importance of the EU as an export market for the UK has been shrinking in recent years as the EU gets increasingly marginalised on the world stage. A Remainian’s job is to slow down as much as possible the revitalisation of the UK’s links with the rest of the world, and to talk up the importance of the EU.
And the number of people in the corridors of power who are saying that Brexit is all frightfully complicated is indicative that there are still a lot of people in the corridors of power who remain Remanians.