Brexit weekly briefing: Britain accused of 'chasing a fantasy'


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It’s all getting a bit antsy. In Brussels, where a whole host of withdrawal issues – from the role of the European court of justice to the UK’s stake in Euratom and the future of the Irish border – have still to be settled, they are not mincing their words. Britain is , one senior official said.

I am concerned because the pre-condition for fruitful discussions has to be that the UK accepts the consequences of its own choices … I have the impression that the UK thinks everything has to change on the EU’s side so that everything can stay the same for the UK.

Speaking at a conference in Portugal, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, had much the same message, accusing the UK of in the talks and seeking to “blame the EU for the negative consequences” of Brexit. His final sentence, in particular, pretty much sums it all up:

There is no ideology or dogmatism on our part. The UK can change its red lines. We simply ask for clarity. We need realistic proposals from the UK that respect the institutional architecture and integrity of the EU. It is the UK that leaves the EU. It cannot, on leaving, ask us to change who we are and how we operate.

Ivan Rogers, Britain’s former ambassador to the EU, , saying in Glasgow that the UK must face reality on post-Brexit trade and reject the “buccaneering blather” of hard Brexiters who “profess themselves free traders but have only a hazy understanding” of the practicalities:

The sooner we realise there are no perfect choices, that there are serious trade-offs between sovereignty and market access interests … and where it is purely notional and actually a material loss of control, the better for the UK.

In London, of course, government sources as “laughable”. The words were all a “public stance … This is what they do every time. As usual, we’ve heard it all before. There’s nothing they’ve said which concerns us.”

Meanwhile, the warnings about what is around the corner are piling up. The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, said Brexit had and the economy was 2% smaller than was forecast before the referendum, but the bank was ready to respond “in whatever form it takes”.

The head of HMRC, Jon Thompson, told MPs that the post-Brexit “max-fac” customs model favoured by Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and Michael Gove could , and and serious economic costs if the government adopts either of the customs models it is considering.

And the political pressures are mounting. Parliament’s Brexit committee demanded to know ; the Brexiter-in-chief Theresa May must revive her no-deal threat to Brussels; and Boris Johnson stressed again that the UK must come “fully out” of the EU customs union.

It’s all going swimmingly.

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The Guardian’s doesn’t mince its words either, describing the British government’s handling of the process as a “monstrous collective irresponsibility”. But it asks for help from Brussels, too:

The concept of being presented to British audiences now bears hardly any relation at all to the concept as it is grasped in Brussels.

This disparity is extremely dangerous. For weeks, Mrs May has been bogged down in debate about alternatives to a customs union, as if that is the thing on which a good deal depends. Viewed from Brussels, this looks like refusal to engage with underlying issues, and dereliction of duty to explain to voters what the true choices entail … The UK government has failed in its duty to level with the public about the scale of compromise and costs involved in .

The prime minister is running out of time to realign a delusional domestic debate with international reality. But she has allowed the two spheres to drift so far apart, it is hard to reunite them without triggering a hugely destructive political crisis. Such a combustion would be bad for the rest of , too.

needs help from Brussels. She cannot unilaterally devise a new, highly integrated model of close partnership. Far from fearing such a partnership as a dangerous precedent, the rest of the EU should welcome it as a sign that their alliance is both more resilient and more flexible than it has so far looked to many ordinary European citizens.

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Ah yes, and there was a referendum in Ireland, which will now legalise abortion. So the abortion spotlight will now shift to Northern Ireland’s very restrictive regime. Which might set the DUP against the British government, meaning:

Jon Snow (@jonsnowC4)

Who would ever have guessed the Brexit coalition would be threatened by abortion?