Brexit is a puzzle that can’t be solved
It is hard to see how Brexit can proceed smoothly.
The problem is that up until now, those behind Brexit have been trying to keep everyone happy, but soon, they are going to have to let a lot of people down.
The main issue is our future trading relationship with the EU. Essentially, the Government and the Labour Party are telling the public that everything is going to be different and that everything will remain the same.
Basically, both major parties are allowing people to believe that we can reap the benefits of the Single Market without agreeing to abide by its rules. They continue to let the public believe this even though we have been told by the EU that this is not possible.
The transition period has purchased the government some time, but not much, as negotiations are about to begin with regards to what will happen after the transition ends. If these talks fail then Brexit might happen without any agreement.
Two unavoidable flashpoints are immigration and the Irish Border.
On immigration, both Labour and the Tories continue to reassure people that, post-Brexit, free-movement from the EU will stop, but they both also want to negotiate free market access. Quite frankly, this isn’t possible. It has been made clear time and time again, if we want free trade we must have free movement.
So, really, only one of two things can happen.
We can agree to Single-Market access, with all that entails, which will infuriate the Brexiteers, or we can erect trade barriers between ourselves and Europe, which is going to infuriate the Remainers. Both situations put the Brexit deal in jeopardy, fatally weaken the government, could result in us leaving the EU without a deal and will lead to an angry populace if not full-blown civil unrest.
The Irish Border is another difficult problem that could lead to no-deal.
I came across this Brexit Paradox meme that gets to the heart of what I am getting at.
- There can’t be a hard border between A and B because, if there was, the DUP would bring down the government.
- There can’t be a hard border between B and C because, if there was, the Irish Government would veto the Brexit deal.
- There can’t be a hard border between C and D because both are in the Single Market.
- Yet, there needs to be a hard border between AB and CD, because otherwise, the hard Brexiteers will bring down the government.
All solutions to the Irish problem put the whole Brexit project in danger.
On immigration and Ireland, what the Government negotiates in terms of Single Market access is likely to alienate at least one powerful group of people. The Brexiteers need to be out of the Single Market in order to reduce immigration and negotiate new trade deals, but half of the country and most other countries in Europe want us to remain in it.
You might argue that a compromise could be found on each issue. However, I would say that these issues are so fundamental and divisive that a compromise is almost impossible. The EU will not allow Single Market access without us agreeing to the rules, the Brexiteers will not allow Single Market access because the rules violate their red lines and Remainers/Ireland will not accept the damaging new borders that will appear if we lose Single Market access.
Any deal needs to be ratified by all member states of the EU and voted on by the UK parliament. It is hard to imagine a deal that is going to be embraced by a majority in Westminster, nevermind every other country in the EU.
Worryingly, the most ardent Brexiteers can’t lose as they will be happy with a no-deal scenario. If they don’t get what they want via the negotiations then they can get it by scuppering the process. The Remainers, on the other hand, need to be wary, as rejecting what they see as a bad deal could result in something even worse.
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