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05 June 2019

Financial Times: UK’s no-deal debate ignores the EU

If the no-dealers bothered to listen to policymakers in Brussels, Berlin, Paris and other European capitals, they would appreciate that the EU will never tamely accept a no-deal Brexit driven by domestic British political considerations, writes Tony Barber.

[...]The withdrawal agreement rests on three pillars: protection of UK and EU citizens’ rights, UK financial obligations to the EU, and special arrangements for the island of Ireland aimed at upholding the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Should the next Conservative prime minister pull out the UK without this agreement, or something close to it, he or she would instantly discover that these three elements had not gone away.

Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg bank in London, says: “After a no-deal Brexit, the EU27 would present the UK with the demand to first pay its dues, as specified in the withdrawal agreement, at every instance at which the UK and the much bigger EU would have a need to negotiate in the future.

“In other words, even in the case of a hard Brexit, the UK would probably end up having to accept most of the withdrawal agreement.”

Might the EU help a new UK premier get Brexit over the finishing line by negotiating changes to the withdrawal agreement before the October 31 deadline?

The answer is surely no.

Speaking this week at a post-European elections EU summit in Brussels, Jean-Claude Juncker, the outgoing European Commission president, emphatically ruled out changing the withdrawal accord. No EU national leader contradicted him.

Thomas Raines, head of the Europe programme at Chatham House, the London-based think-tank, says: “From the EU’s perspective . . . the negotiations are over, and a Brexiter like Boris Johnson, with a reputation on the continent for mendacity and duplicity, is unlikely to be placated with concessions that were not offered to [Theresa] May.”

The fact remains, however, that the UK House of Commons has rejected Mrs May’s deal on three occasions. The parliamentary arithmetic against no-deal seems unlikely to change before October 31.

It follows that, for the Conservative party, the single-minded pursuit of a no-deal Brexit carries the danger that the next government will be unable to get its way.

Caught in a trap of their own making, the no-dealers could be pushed into a snap general election at which the Conservatives might suffer heavy losses. In the words of Justine Greening, a former minister in Mrs May’s government: “I see the Conservative party engaging in a debate with itself about what type of electoral cyanide to take.”

Full article on Financial Times (subscription required)

© Financial Times

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