At last Britain considers a super-soft Brexit

Round table on Brexit: European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, 1st from the left, Martin Selmayr, his Head of cabinet, 2nd from the left, Tim Barrrow, British Permanent Representative to the European Union, 3rd from the left, and British Prime Minister Theresa May, 5th from the left. Date: 22/06/2017. Location: Brussels – Council/Europa. © European Union , 2017/ Source: EC – Audiovisual Service / Photo: Etienne Ansotte.

After more than one year, the Brexit road map has been more or less drafted between the two opposing groups of the governing Tories, the hard Brexiteers and the Bremainers. Minister for Finance, Philip Hammond, and Trade minister, Liam Fox, leaders of the Bremainers and Brexiteers respectively, jointly wrote an article published in the last issue of the Sunday Telegraph.

They propose a transition Brexit period of about four years, an issue which, until now, was the bottom line for the Brexiteer bullies. In short, the soft version is winning all the way, after the leaks that 10 Downing Street is to accept exit payments of around €40 billion to Brussels. Let’s take one thing at a time.

An interim period

Last week, unconfirmed information appeared in the British Press, that the government of Theresa May is to accept to settle the cost of the divorce at €40bn. Understandably, London is to pay this amount in yearly installments. The last issue of the Sunday Telegraph included an article signed jointly by Hammond and Fox. The fact alone that the two senior government ministers heading opposing views about Brexit decided to co-author an article, let alone its content, is a clear sign of a breakthrough. As for the substance of the article, it’s a clear road map for the smooth exit of Britain from the European Union.

For one thing, the four years transition period is a long time. For many people in Britain, just this postponement of the divorce is equal to watering down or possibly neutralizing the entire procedure of the Brexit. Some of the 52% who voted for Brexit last year are rather furious with this prospect. At the same time though there are many Britons who strongly supported ‘remain’. In June 2016, it was 48% of them, and now their ranks have possibly grown. Many important figures like the ex-prime ministers, the Tory John Major and Labour Tony Blair have repeatedly asked for a second vote and an immediate stop of the negotiations between Brussels and London.

Is Brexit still an option?

As things stand now it’s not clear at all if a real Brexit is still an option. Right from the beginning of the negotiations a few weeks ago, May’s Brexiteers confronted a solid wall, with the EU demanding tens of billions in divorce indemnities and full protection, under the EU law, of the mainland citizens working and living in Britain. Otherwise there will be no discussion about the future trade relations, a matter of life and death for Britain. Reportedly, 10 Downing Street has already accepted to pay €40bn for the divorce costs in order to get a good trade deal.

But at this point the ‘Bremainers’ acquired an unbeatable argument: why pay a hell lot of money to leave and not stay at a much lower cost plus full and free access to the EU markets? Seemingly then, this week the London Brexiteer political elite found itself in a very awkward position; more than half of all the political classes of Tories, Labour and Liberals plus the entire business and financial community accuse them of pushing Britain to take a jump into the abyss and paying a hell lot of money for that.

‘Remain’ gains momentum

The difficult thing, now, for 10 Downing Street is to find a way to make ‘remain’ look like Brexit. And, a long transition period, during which very little or nothing is to change, will be the way to do the trick. The trick serves to avoid payments while remaining in the EU. Fox and Hammond actually mention this indirectly: “We believe a time-limited interim period will be important to further our national interest and give business greater certainty – but it cannot be indefinite”. Obviously, a four or more years interim period is not an indefinite time but, politically, it’s enough to actually neutralize Brexit through one more general election or another referendum.

From this side of the British Channel, Brussels is ready to accommodate London in every respect for as long as it’s needed to keep Brexit semi-dead or semi alive. Emmanuel Macron, the French President, and Donald Tusk, the EU Council President, have both said that the door of the EU is always open for Britain.

In conclusion, during the next few years, we are going to witness exactly this, an effort to keep Brexit officially alive, but not have any influence on reality. Very few things or nothing important will change regarding the position of Britain in Europe.

 

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