On Monday, The Guardian reported that the Government is quietly dropping its existing approach to Brexit negotiations, which centres around the principle of both retaining full access to the European single market and gaining full control of immigration to the UK. Theresa May’s promise to the electorate in her Lancaster House speech in January indicated that Britain could very well “have its cake and eat it too”, thereby taking the path of least resistance upon existing Europe.
While the saying is confusing on its own (why would one have a cake and choose not to eat it?), the idea that the EU would happily allow unfettered trade access to the single market without enforcing any rules around free movement is more baffling, and officials working on the Brexit deal have apparently caught up with this fact. They are now telling ministers that the best-case scenario is a binary choice between “a high-access, low-control arrangement” which would closely reflect EEA membership, or “a low-control, high-access arrangement” which would look more like a classic free trade deal, such as the agreement recently signed between the EU and Canada.
A spokesperson at the Brexit department has denied any change of tack since the election, but the UK negotiators will know better than anyone about the need to soon settle on a direction for negotiations, if they haven’t done so already. After all, there may not be too many cakes left on the table when it comes to ‘last minute crunch talks with the EU, as the 27 aren’t exactly famous for their hospitality. Just ask the Greeks.
The tales of Timothy
Nick Timothy has taken a battering since the election last month. Blamed for devising a failed campaign strategy which insulated Theresa May from her cabinet colleagues, and for authoring a Conservative manifesto that left voters feeling queasy, the former co-chief of staff to the Prime Minister is once again under fire for his influence on the Government’s Brexit strategy.
It has emerged this week that Timothy sought to control the Prime Minister’s approach to leaving the EU by exercising “a stranglehold over Brexit policy”, which according to a leading civil servant, “meant many Brexit issues were never properly discussed between departments.” The Financial Times has reported that Timothy “hounded ministers and officials”, preventing collaboration on issues crucial to securing a good deal.
The easiest way to make headlines in politics without facing consequences is to offer anonymous quotes to journalists criticising the recently departed. Nick Timothy has been subject to a lot of this, and while his approach to governance has been shown up by the election results and subsequent “revelations”, surely the greater issue is the negligence shown across the board by those we have entrusted to steer the UK out of Europe. The Financial Times article quotes another official who claims that, “we have not had a detailed discussion across departments about what the impact of leaving the single market will be for specific sectors of the UK economy”. The official added the worryingly obvious caveat, “this has to change”.
A legal landmine
One sector that may receive a post-Brexit boost is the legal profession, according the UK’s most senior judge. Lord Neuburger, President of the UK’s Supreme Court, said that “left to our own common law devices”, British judges would have more freedom to respond to world-wide developments. He argued that Brexit will “not alter the fact that lawyers and judges in the UK are as internationally minded and expert as they have ever been” and said that he expects leaving the EU to act as a “spur” for further improvements, including to dispute resolutions, an area in which UK legal services excel.
Different legal interpretations provided by European law and the system of common law used in the UK has caused difficulties for businesses and legislators in the past. This issue has been cited by some eurosceptics as a reason to break away from the European Courts or the EU altogether. However, the view that Brexit will be good for the British legal system is by no means held universally across the sector. Lord Chief Justice John Thomas also chimed in on the matter this week, expressing frustration around the lack of progress towards a mutual recognition of rulings between the EU and UK, and concern for the future of Britain’s £26 billion/year legal industry. The new justice secretary, David Liddington believes such warnings to be based on a “lie” about the legal profession in Britain which will “continue to be expert and world-respected.”
I’ve got a bad feeling about this
The campaign director of Vote Leave doesn’t want to leave any more. Well, he does, but he sounded less confident than one would expect about the prospects for a successful Brexit in a twitter exchange this week. In response to a question from Financial Times legal commentator David Allen Green, Dominic Cummings – of creating highly questionable bus slogans fame - said that he could foresee “some possible branches of the future” where leaving the EU will be an error. He also oddly claimed that calling a referendum was a bad idea in the first place.
Cummings is not alone in expressing sentiments of regret. A Survation poll published earlier this week found that 54% would vote to remain in the EU if the referendum were held today. While these polls fluctuate and mean very little, an issue upon which the majority of the public and Dominic Cummings clearly see eye-to-eye is their faith in the Government’s current strategy. The former Vote Leave director says he expects Brexit talks to be “botched”, while less than a quarter of respondents to the Survation poll support the Government's current strategy of leaving the customs union in order to pursue a series of free trade deals.
We should be more like… New Zealand?
One of the free-trade deals the UK is set to pursue in a post-Brexit world could well be with New Zealand. And according to the new chair of the European Research Group, Suella Fernandes, the small South Pacific nation has a lot more to offer than simply a less encumbered marketplace for British products. While the All Blacks are set to hand the British and Irish Lions a lesson in rugby greatness in the final test this weekend, Fernandes believes New Zealand’s history of trade and success in the agricultural sector provides a lesson to help steer the UK away from its economic dependency with the EU.
New Zealand doesn’t pay subsidies to its farmers and Fernandes believes that UK’s agricultural sector would benefit from opening up to drive efficiencies and competitiveness in the sector, the way the Commonwealth nation was forced to after its major trading partner – the UK – cut ties and formed a pact with Europe in the 1970s. She said that New Zealand provides “a great example of how a country with similar features to the UK” can thrive when it embraces the global marketplace.
New Zealand does benefit from a well-managed and profitable agriculture sector. However, some believe the country has suffered as a whole from shifting terms of trade, and other effects of associated market liberalisation since the ‘70s, with inequality rising sharply and industries outside of agriculture failing to prosper in the intervening years. New Zealand’s “over reliance” on agriculture is the major contributor to the country causing the second highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP in the OECD.
This is all to say that the UK should be careful from where it takes guidance, and the potential impact of overhauling its trading alliances throughout the world. Anyway, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops in the land of the long white cloud. This is the same place where roving gangs of school kids take time out of class to hunt down furry pests, after all.