Brexit negotiations – make it, don’t break it

Theresa May said, that 95% of the agreement on the British withdrawal from the EU is ready to go. She believes that even if it is very difficult, the last 5% could be done. That sounds like „make it – or break it“!

I am somewhat skeptic as far as percentages of a deal are measurable – however let’s take that as a metaphor for being near to the end game.

There are still some dangerous cliffs around, and surely the cliff edge is still nearby. It was clear that negotiations had been and had to be tough. Good will on all sides is necessary to overcome the problems over the Irish border and the insecurity over the long term relationship. But good will is not enough. Any solution must take into account the real world. The red lines of Theresa May were a recipe for disaster from the start at Lancaster House, because they misjudged the real possibilities to come together. It was a lousy tactical move and an impossible strategy.

Still the British position reflects much more the internal problems of the Tory party than the necessities of British citizens who were never asked what kind of Brexit they would like to have and who were never told what that means. Instead the lies of the far right were accepted. Now it is clear that this mix of lies and bad judgement betrayed the voters.

Voters use to change their mind for the next election if the government does not respect their expectations. A new election is the normal democratic way to change a policy. The respect for a vote based on lies in a referendum on one day in June 2016 cannot be more legitimate than the respect for the last election. It ends with fighting for the next vote.

So I have a lot of sympathy to fight the next referendum – not because I like referendums, but because many people wrongly believe that just an election is not enough to change the consequences of a referendum. During the last two years Parliament had for a long time abdicated from its role to promote the public interest hiding behind the non-obligatory referendum. So realism speaks for another referendum.

Theresa May appealed to the EU side to compromise. I join her in that appeal – but she has still a long way to go to make a compromise possible. It is just wrong to believe that a compromise between the right and the far right of the Tory party in Chequers could be the basis for a compromise between the EU and the UK in Brussels. It is also wrong to believe that the typical EU last nights of the prominent leaders could help her to stop a cliff edge result. This is an illusion. The EU must help Britain to overcome the last bottlenecks, but it cannot and must not help the far right of the Tories to prevail. If Theresa May can organize a clear non-partisan majority in the centre for a solution in the House of Commons, this would be helpful.

When David Davis arrived for his first talks in Brussels without a dossier on his desk this showed that he followed the tactic to get a solution of the last minute embarking on brinkmanship. This has backfired because – as Michel Barnier has correctly said – the clock was ticking. A lot of time was wasted by David Davis.

Now there is not enough time left to negotiate the new long term relationship between the UK and the EU. This means that for the time being there is only an off-the-shelve solution. This should be a kind of Norway model: staying in the Customs Union and the Internal Market, keeping free movement, paying into the budget, respecting the EU Court of Justice and endorsing new rules decided in Brussels without being on the table. This is not vassalage, but the free choice of the people taken by voting for Brexit. It is the least damaging solution. 

This is not necessarily a permanent solution. The UK may limit this status to three or five years to have enough time to negotiate a more bespoke solution acceptable for both sides. To avoid the „make-it-or-break-it“ which may today only mean „break-it“, the time for negotiations must be prolonged by at least three, better for a minimum of five years to make it, but not break it.

After five years Parliament must debate the experience with the transition period and the result of the detailed negotiations. Then Parliament can decide on where the UK should go from that point and  – if deemed necessary – call a referendum on that decision.