With Theresa May's heavily trailed Europe speech rapidly approaching, the commentariat have gone into a kind of speculative overdrive as they feverishly try to second guess the shape and form of any revised Brexit offer the Prime Minister might make. Tales of a two year transition period and a £35 billion Brexit bill have been bandied about for the last week, and will no doubt become even more speculative as the big day draws closer.
People shouldn't get their hopes up. As I explained in an earlier article, it seems unlikely that any deal offered by Britain will be sufficient to satisfy the EU negotiators, regardless of what each member state might privately think.
If, and it's a big if, the figure of £35 billion is even reasonably accurate, it cannot simply be forked over without expecting something in return. Such an offer will surely be conditional on the UK exiting both the Single Market and the Customs Union in March 2019. This would allow the UK to negotiate trade on its own while retaining tariff free access to the Single Market for a short period. It will also deliver on Britain's commitment to the current EU budget period which ends in 2020. This all seems quite reasonable, generous even, but Michel Barnier et al have thus far proved completely unwilling to accept any offer which is not an exact continuation of the current status quo.
Britain is often accused of wanting to have its Brexit cake and eat it, yet it's the European Union which has steadfastly sought to retain every advantage it currently enjoys and give nothing in return.
For reasons that have never been fully explained, the EU seems to believe it can easily extract tens of billions of pounds from a leaving member state in return for a vague promise of future trade talks, with no certain outcome. Nobody in their right mind would accept that kind of dodgy get rich scheme pitch, and the Prime Minister must know the political and financial folly of such a lopsided arrangement.
Instead of engaging in constructive discussions, Brussels has embarked on a counterproductive campaign of deliberate discourtesy every time the UK has offered a solution to any Brexit problem. This cannot be an accident, just look at their responses so far…
Theresa May is "living in another galaxy" when it comes to the colossal, nebulous and ever-changing "divorce bill."
Proposed customs and border arrangements are "a fantasy."
An offer regarding citizens' rights is a "damp squib."
The Irish border proposals are "magical thinking."
Conclusion: the EU has no interest in reaching any kind of pragmatic, mutually beneficial accommodation with the first nation ever to cut ties with this increasingly authoritarian bloc. They can't risk setting a dangerous political precedent as they know for sure that other nations will follow. It's becoming increasingly clear that the no-deal Brexit scenario was probably decided within hours of the referendum result.
This will be the background behind the Prime Minister's speech on Friday. She may be gracious and accommodating, or combative and confrontational. In fact it doesn't really matter which approach she adopts because the response has already been decided. It'll probably take under an hour for the inevitable hoots of laughter and derision to pour forth from the Brussels bureaucrats and their metropolitan media enablers.
We're wasting our time.
Image courtesy of Michal Zacharzewski at FreeDigitalPhotos.net