David Davis trying to get tough with German businessmen and a meek Theresa May being lectured by the EU is not a positive recipe for moving Brexit forward.
Not least in this swiftly developing fiasco is the fact that they are both blabbering on with completely different messages. There seems to be no common communication, no assertion of a detailed strategy or policy, merely a blustering fumble around Europe by our so called negotiating team. Just where the pair of them think they’re heading eludes most spectators and commentators. And where does this leave Brexit itself ? Exactly where it was last week, the week before, the week before that and every week back to where it all began in March after Article 50 was triggered.
There must come a point - long overdue in most observers eyes - that the way Britain is attempting to negotiate, and with the feckless and increasingly incompetent team we field to do this, is fundamentally wrong. Nobody seems to have actually built a negotiating position with details of what Britain can flex on, what it won’t move on and what it is actually wanting. It would be fair to say that the EU have been equally tardy about saying anything other than ‘Britain has to be clear about what it wants but whatever that is it will have to pay.’ If it wasn’t such a serious issue we could liken the two (or perhaps three) sides in this debate to some playground stand-off between petulant adolescents. Regrettably, this is serious business being handled by very unprofessional and narrow minded people. Britain needs to negotiate properly - but if the real timeline for this has to be achieved before the EU summit in December then there is virtually no time left for a new team to be assembled and briefed. I’m not clear as to why December’s summit is such a watershed moment in the diary but the politico’s are making it so. The upshot is that Britain has left it too late to field a professional, wide spectrum and informed team to handle the exit. Who shall we point the finger at for that, we might ask ?
To many, it’s been glaringly obvious from the outset that if Britain wanted a EU trade deal then there would be a price tag associated with it. And offering your pocket money as a sop to this was always, always, always going to earn a cynical and damning reaction from a bureaucratic institution like the EU. It was a bit akin to the Chancellor standing on the steps of No.11 and telling the British public that he was going to halve everyone’s salary for a while until the government sat down and worked out quite what it was there for. And ignoring the minutiae of any Brexit exit for a moment there were three jumps for the negotiating team to leap over in order to get that next stage negotiating position secured - Irish borders, EU citizen rights and, biggest of all, the price tag. This hasn’t to date been a negotiation about detail it has been a negotiation over the three strategic principles requiring resolution before proper in depth and detailed nuts and bolts negotiating begins - so we might even imagine that in our failure to tackle these three principles over all these months, Britain’s team have achieved absolutely nothing. In some countries they would have sent our lot to a gulag somewhere frosty long before now.
So, what are our options now that we have our backs to a brick wall ? If the trade deal that consumes everyone’s thinking is truly the essential ‘must have’ for Brexit then we will have to pay to just get to the real negotiating table. And that price tag will be a lot more than Mrs May’s pocket money offer of €20 billion. The invisible danger here is not just the enormous amount of money this would cost but a realisation that in paying that extortionate sum we have only got to the table - we haven’t, at that point, actually negotiated any trade deal. So there is no guarantee that having paid to get in we will actually walk away with a favourable trade agreement. That would be a matter for ‘further discussion’ with the EU.
Conversely, we could decide to say goodbye to the EU tomorrow, pay nothing, walk away and forge our own trade agreements with other countries of the world (though This wouldn’t be instant at this late stage). As things stand, that’s quite a tempting prospect on some levels but it would likely scare business and the banks in ways that our orthodox economic model cannot yet comprehend or cope with. It is, nevertheless, a scenario that may just be the outcome of this fiasco if Britain’s inability to sort out the three principles continues.
So we have a pay up over the odds option and a walk-away with absolutely nothing option (apart from money in the bank from the cessation of our budget contributions).
Paying up will be political suicide for the Tories and much will hinge on whether they could live with that (I somehow think most of them would roar with indignation at the possibility of being ousted from government) but in this we must also remember that if the Tories do fall on their sword we’ll end up with Corbyn’s socialist dream on our doorstep. Not a pretty idea. If we walk away and effectively create an instant, hard Brexit then we preserve our current cash situation but court jeopardy by not having instant trade deals from elsewhere to continue our trading demands. This might not be popular in some quarters but might just be a course that the electorate might forgive the Tories for taking. From a political perspective, walking away at least just might give the Tories a glimmer of hope at staying in power.
But what a choice. If we had set up our negotiating position correctly from the start we would not be in this invidious position - but, we are....