Unless things change dramatically, it’s looking increasingly like Britain will leave the European Union without any kind of meaningful trade deal or reciprocal arrangements on citizens’ rights.
This will be a great disappointment to the vast majority of both leave and remain voters, but the latest round of talks in Brussels has demonstrated that both sides are approaching the negotiations from fundamentally different perspectives. Interestingly, these two divergent viewpoints neatly serve to illustrate the underlying tension behind Britain’s restive relationship with the European Union, and its true motivation for walking away.
Whilst frustrating and very concerning for everyone involved, the increasingly fraught Brexit process has finally killed any pretence that the European Project is about anything other than ever increasing political power. Don’t take my word for it, but look instead at the primary motivations of the opposing parties.
While the British approach is essentially pragmatic, focusing on trade, cooperation and partnership, the EU is concerned primarily with maximising political influence over the UK after March 2019. This is why the talks will most likely fail as neither side is capable of relinquishing what it sees as its own inalienable rights. The idea of EU institutions continuing to control UK law is anathema to the British, while the EU simply cannot imagine any kind of relationship with the UK which doesn’t involve direct political influence. Oddly enough, they’re easily able to imagine such a relationship with Canada and Japan, but the UK will be treated very differently. The reason for this glaring double standard is because the UK is now a clear and present threat to the European Project.
The increasingly acrimonious wrangling over EU citizens is an excellent example of these two incompatible viewpoints. Leaving aside any quibble over details, the UK has made a meaningful and substantive opening offer on citizens’ rights. Tentative discussion of a possible transition period for EU citizens living in or moving to the UK shows some level of flexibility, and a willingness to compromise on important issues.
In stark contrast, the EU has been exposed as utterly unwilling to accept the reality that it will no longer wield direct legal influence over UK affairs once Britain has withdrawn from the bloc. This is why their negotiators continue to indulge the fantasy of the European Court of Justice continuing its jurisdiction over EU citizens residing in the UK after March 2019.
One does not need a Master’s degree in treaty law to realise that such an idea is patently absurd and completely unworkable. An old friend of mine is married to a lady from East Germany (and an hour spent talking with someone who grew up behind the Iron Curtain is an education in itself). Is the EU seriously suggesting that my friend would have to appeal to one Supreme Court for his justice, while his wife would have to appeal to a different one for hers? What about their young child, where would he have to go when he grows up? Could he choose whichever he fancies? What happens if one Supreme Court rules against him, can he just run to the other like a child playing his parents?
No sovereign nation, of any stripe, can be expected to allow a foreign court to rule on issues of law within its own borders. The fact that drinking alcohol is legal in the UK does not save British citizens from arrest in Saudi Arabia. How could it?
The EU negotiators must know this because they are extensively educated, yet still they persist, in the full knowledge that such intransigence will probably scupper the whole negotiation process.
With each round of talks, my suspicion grows that the no-deal scenario has already been decided by Brussels. The EU knows the UK is leaving and there’s nothing it can do to stop that from happening. The only course of action left is to catch Britain’s fingers in the door as it walks out in a last ditch effort to discourage others from following.
It gives me no pleasure to say it, but there will probably be no meaningful Brexit deal. It’s going to get a lot nastier from here on in, and we can expect undisguised EU hostility to continue for many years after we’ve gone. We’d best get used to it now and adjust accordingly.