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Brexit: impossible means impossible

2017-03-30 05:30:47

Whatever else happen during the next two years, Mrs May's place in history is assured but, I suspect, not for reasons she would prefer. She has, in her letter to President Tusk reaffirmed that she is going for the impossible.

She has asked Tusk to "work towards securing a comprehensive agreement" and wants to agree "a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU, taking in both economic and security cooperation".

And not only does she want this, she wants "a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union". Incredibly, "this should be of greater scope and ambition than any such agreement before it so that it covers sectors crucial to our linked economies such as financial services and network industries".

With that, she tells Tusk that the UK recognises that this will be "a challenge" to reach such a comprehensive agreement within the two-year period set out for withdrawal discussions in the Treaty.

But, on the basis of a "unique position" of "close regulatory alignment, trust in one another's institutions, and a spirit of cooperation stretching back decades", and because the future partnership between the UK and the EU is "of such importance to both sides", she is "sure" it can be agreed in the time period set out by the Treaty.

What Mrs May wants, therefore, is a comprehensive agreement "of greater scope and ambition" than any ever tackled and she want to do it in a fraction of the time even a basic agreement will take, requiring unprecedented speed.

Against this, she claims "trust in one another's institutions", despite refusing to accept even the temporary jurisdiction of the ECJ thereby displaying a lack of trust in at least one of the EU's institutions.

She calls in aid "a spirit of cooperation stretching back decades", whereas the "colleagues" recall decades of the "British problem", dragging a reluctant partner along in their wake.

Then she believes that this is of "such importance" to the EU, as well as the UK, that the EU's negotiating team is going to devote maximum resource (which it will have to) to achieving a deal in record time and thereby sacrificing one of their most effective bargaining chips, the pressure on time.

In addition, this relies on the "close regulatory alignment" between the UK and the EU, heedless of the fact that the Telegraph is baying for a bonfire of EU regulations, while yesterday morning, her idiot foreign secretary "applauded the campaign".

That notwithstanding, as I have pointed out earlier, because the UK has already achieved full regulatory convergence does not mean that a new deal should be relatively straightforward and swift. That is completely to understate the complexity of modern trade agreements.

As well as regulatory convergence, there must be a dynamic arrangement that will ensure the automatic uptake of new regulation, and also the changes mandated by ECJ judgements - the very things the UK appears to be abandoning.

There must also be internal market surveillance measures, agreed conformity assessment measures, customs agreements, dispute settlement procedures, agreements on competition policy, procurement and intellectual property rights, as well as systems to deal with rules of origin.

These and much else, will require an institutional structure to facilitate communication and ongoing development, a form of arbitration panel or court, and a consultation body, which allows input into, and formal communication with the EU's regulatory and institutional system.

With modern trade deals, there is also a huge element of conditionality, where parties are required to subscribe to common values on human rights (one of the main barriers to a free trade deal with China), on workers' rights, on environmental protection, wildlife protection and many other incidental matters.

Putting all this together, one can only describe Mrs May's ambitions as beyond stupid. Her unqualified aspirations transcend mere stupidity to become barking madness without precedence in modern times.

In an earlier post (already linked), I have likened the commitment to securing just a free trade agreement, signed and ratified within two years, as akin to a British commander addressing his troops on Salisbury Plain, telling them they are to invade Iraq the next day but they have to walk all the way from the UK.

This was my way of saying that a "bold and ambitious" free trade agreement with the EU inside two years is not just difficult. It is impossible. It cannot be done. And it doesn't matter how many times it is discussed amongst the chattering classes, it still can't be done.

And there we confront the true meaning of the word "impossible". It means "cannot be done", and just because a prime minister aspires to it, that still doesn't make it possible. Brexit may mean Brexit but, by the same token, impossible means impossible.

If we could then have graduations of impossibility, to achieve her impossible objective, Mrs May acknowledges that it will be "necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU".

In other words, she wants parallel negotiations, with the Article 50 settlement being dealt with alongside work on her "bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement". Cue Angela Merkel who, within hours of Mrs May's delivery boy handing her letter to President Tusk, popped up to reject the idea of trade talks running alongside Article 50 secession negotiations.

The German Chancellor told reporters in Berlin: "The negotiations must first clarify how we will disentangle our interlinked relationship ... and only when this question is dealt with, can we, hopefully soon after, begin talking about our future relationship".

Furthermore, any bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement that "covers sectors crucial to our linked economies such as financial services and network industries" is unavoidably going to be a mixed agreement. It will thus require approval of the European Council and the European Parliament, and will have to be ratified by all 27 remaining EU Member States and the Westminster Parliament, before it can come into force.

On top of that, the EU Treaties will have to be amended, which is a separate issue altogether. This will have to be done by a secession treaty, which comes under Article 48 (TEU), requiring the unanimous approval of all Member States. And if it includes transitional measures that affect the UK (as it most likely will), it will require the approval of the UK Government and ratification by the Westminster Parliament.

And just because there is no one in the media with the brains or knowledge to understand this, and No 10 hasn't set it out in a press release with a spokesman to explain the big words, these facts are unalterable. We are looking not at two formal agreements but three (at the very least).

For once, the media is going to have to get used to the idea that just because they haven't invented this "secession" treaty yet, that doesn't mean that it will not have to be agreed. This is real life we're dealing with here, not Telegraph wet dreams.

Interestingly, Spiegel online is talking about "fantasies from the Brexit country", arguing that the EU does not want to punish Great Britain, but in reality "it cannot help itself". This is because the British "seem to have completely unrealistic expectations".

But "unrealistic" is too kind. We'll stick with "impossible". There is no way on God's earth that we're going to conclude a trade deal within two years. As for a "transitional deal", we are facing exactly that situation described by Mrs May, where we will be "stuck forever in some kind of permanent political purgatory", under the jurisdiction of the ECJ.

Surrounded by idiots, Mrs May has not only kick-started Article 50. She has signed the death warrant for Brexit. This is not going to end well.