Going Global: Brexit Negotiations Remain a Mess

Theresa May has no bargaining power against the EU

Shortly after the Brexit referendum results came in, many were expecting uncertainty in the days, weeks, and months ahead. But almost no one expected that there would be even more uncertainty two years down the road, and it’s looking more likely as we approach March that Brexit might not even happen.

The deal that the Prime Minister has managed is garbage. No one likes it, with even some Brexiteers saying that remaining in the EU would be preferable. This deal says that, in order to avoid creating a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, the North might need to remain in the Customs Union, and the UK would need to follow EU regulations. Many don’t consider this to be Brexit, and there are numerous issues just like this to be found in the 500-page text of the plan.

There are only a few decent pre-made deals available for the UK, such as the EEA (European Economic Area) that are enjoyed by Norway and Iceland. However, these deals still require freedom of movement and EU payments, and they require the UK to conform to nearly all EU trade rules, which is unacceptable to Brexiteers.

In an interview on Bloomberg, Yanis Varoufakis, an economist known for being the minister of finance for Greece during the height of their debt crisis, described Michel Barnier, head Brexit negotiator for the EU, as operating without a mandate.

“Bureaucrats are like software, like algorithms. They have a checklist. Mr. Bernier has no mandate to talk to Mrs. May about anything of substance,” he said. “He goes down his list, ‘tick-tick-tick-tick.’”

Varoufakis has said that, if he were in May’s position—which is a highly advantageous one compared to the one he had with Greece in 2015—he would have triggered Article 50, immediately demanded an EEA/Norway agreement, and kicked the can down the road for several years. He argues that this would have addressed the fundamental problem in the negotiations: a shortage of time.

It makes sense. Some prominent Brexiteers had argued for a “Canada+” plan, believing that something like CETA (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) between Canada and the EU would be achievable. What they forget is that it took five years and two Canadian governments to complete CETA, and that’s without dealing with land borders or citizenship rights.

Above all, the EU doesn’t want to make this pretty, and it’s in the interests of the Union to render it crystal clear that no one gets the benefits without the burdens. If it were possible for the UK to leave the EU without somehow causing catastrophe, it would give ideas to the likes of Denmark, Greece, and so on.

For now, no one really knows what will happen. Members of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party have said they don’t support the deal. Over 100 Conservative Party MPs have indicated they won’t support the deal, and no one except the most deluded of Brexiteers want a no-deal hard Brexit. Some are starting to believe Brexit won’t happen, or possibly, that there might be a second referendum to hopefully give politicians a way out of this ugly mess. Theresa May has said many times that she is strongly opposed to a second referendum, but some believe that her own advisors might be telling her differently.

Perhaps May should have listened to Varoufakis:

“Once the EU presents you with a deal, it’s take it or leave it,” he said. “Nobody negotiates with the EU.”

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