Yesterday was full of tumultuous hubub. It was as if Olivia Pope had jumped off the pages of a Scandal script. We watched for people to play their hands and waited for the chips to fall. All because of an agreement made on Friday by the Cabinet. I believe the deal is acceptable but many do not, so I will try and layout my thoughts as to why it is.
This deal is very much Brexit, we are leaving the jurisdiction of the ECJ, ending freedom of movement, leaving the customs union and single market. Those are facts and not just technicalities.
Whilst this is in theory an opening gambit, it very much is not. Theresa May has been sounding out leaders of EU countries and EU bureaucrats for months. She has been proposing ideas and taking stock of their reactions. An important part of these negotiations is allowing the EU to feel like they have defended the 4 freedoms (their red lines) whilst also allowing Britain to get as much as possible. It has become clear that to do this smaller less public negotiations will be more effective. Thus Theresa May has decided to leave aligned as small segment of the economy. Whilst leaving the distinct possibility to diverge later. Crucially this divergence does not have to happen all at once.
It is clear we are leaving the ECJ’s jurisdiction. We will give ECJ rulings where applicable “due regard”. It is very unclear what this means at the moment. Taking trade agreements as examples this could mean where laws overlap and are similar ECJ rulings would be taken into account as precedent. That does not mean we have the accept those rulings, but only they should be taken in account.
Freedom of movement will come to an end, but that doesn’t mean we will never have an other EU migrant. Nor is that something anyone wants to happen. Freedom of movement is something the EU wants and we must leverage this to extract a much as possible. For that reason I am not appalled by the idea of a preferential system for EU citizens, as long as it is reciprocated and we get a fair price for it. It can not be freedom of movement, the right to leave should not be assumed but requested. Criteria must be met, visas gained, criminal record checks passed and a clear economic benefit to their migration seen.
Over 80% of our economy will be entirely unaligned with the EU, and that is the 80% that is growing fastest. The remaining 20% will see alignment to a common rule book, until we decide to diverge or amend this common rule book. Most of the contention seems to focus on the common rule book. A rule book we mostly helped shape and build as part of the EU. A rule book we actually quite like in the most part. Britain doesn’t have the time, money or desire to spin up standards bodies. Not to mention many of these standards are set at a global level and not just an EU level.
All and any changes must be approved by a “parliamentary lock”. People claim this is sovrenty in name only, but it is name only if you don’t use it. A nuclear deterrent is only a deterrent if you are willing to use it, and so must this be. Being outside the EU will mean politicians should feel emboldened to not tow the EU line, and more freely object when desired. The mechanism for dealing with a rejection is not outlined yet, but it would be foolish for the UK to not require the EU to negotiate. These small concessions will stagger our exit from alignment in a way that is much more palatable to business. It could in affect result in “cherry picking” that isn’t “cherry picking”, a purely bespoke deal in a few years time. By delaying these negotiations the EU doesn’t get egg all over its face and we get what we want.
This alignment is about helping the EU swallow the bitter pill of Brexit without them choking, without them fearing more will leave. So the deal we get must appear dull, but that doesn’t mean the deal we end up with has to be so.
There are very many areas of this deal that could be improved and toughened up. But in a bid to appear generous and not to concede too often Mrs May may have taken a larger step than necessary hoping to force the EU to concede too.
Brexit will not be done once the EU and UK sign a deal. It will be imperative the prime minister takes a lead in forming Global Britain and challenges the EU to develop and keep up without fear.