Negotiating strategy                         

 

If and when the UK gives the EU notice of its intention to withdraw, there will be negotiations.

 

Everyone seems to believe that these negotiations will be about trade, and will determine the basis on which we trade with the EU after we leave.  They think we have a choice:  a “hard Brexit”, where we cut all ties with the EU, and trade with them under basic WTO rules, with tariffs and quotas on our exports and the City locked out of Europe; or a “soft Brexit”, where we keep access to the Single Market and the Customs Union for goods and where the City keeps the “passports” that allow it to offer banking services to the Euro zone.

 

That is almost certainly a complete fantasy.  There is probably only one option – hard Brexit. 

 

Article 50 of the EU provides for negotiation of “arrangements for withdrawal” – of all the usual divorce things – custody of the kids (citizens living in each others territory), division of property (how much the UK owes the EU in unpaid contributions and in commitments to long-term investment projects – maybe 60 billon euros), all that technical stuff.  The negotiations will “take account of the framework for the UK’s future relationship” – whatever “take account” means – and that’s all.

 

The only official word we have is from Cecilia Malmström, the EU Commissioner for Trade, who on BBC TV, back in June, “first you leave, then you negotiate”.  Anyway, it’s obvious that a union can’t negotiate with one of its members – obvious to the tidy Continental statute-law mind, if not to the fuzzy British common-law mind.

 

No one has yet dared to ask Theresa May directly at PMQs “will the negotiations include trade – yes, no or I don’t know”.  She would have to answer “no” or at best “I don’t know”.  That’s what she’s keeping secret.

 

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