With the Article 50 letter sent on Wednesday and the EU response yesterday, we have a (slightly) clearer idea about how the negotiations will proceed over the next two years. Those who said during the referendum campaign that leaving the EU would mean leaving the single market and customs union has--despite the incredibly weak remoaning argument that the people weren’t asked if they wanted to leave them—again been confirmed. Those who argued that the UK could leave the EU and yet remain in the single market were never going to get that point accepted; as several European leaders said, you can’t cherry-pick the bits you want and leave the bits you don’t. Since control over immigration was a significant issue in why the country voted to leave, leaving the EU always meant leaving the single market…there was no way that the EU would concede abrogation of what is regarded as one of the four key principles of the Union.
Central to the UK leaving is the question of control. As a society the referendum suggested that we are prepared to give up certain things—and that may include a slower rise in standards of living—so that we have control over our own destiny. What seemed like a good idea in 1975 is not seen as being the case today. There have always been some who were opposed to its membership but since the global crisis after 2008 that accelerated and was reinforced by the crisis in the Eurozone over which the EU had some control and the mass migration from the East and South over which its response was little short of shambolic. The problem was that the EU seemed incapable of introducing the fundamental reforms necessary after 60 years in existence—does what applied in 1957 still apply in 2017? Well for the many integrationists in the EU, it appears that its fundamental principles are non-negotiable as David Cameron found to his cost.
The government has been talking up how they see the negotiations progressing while its opponents just keep banging on about how bad it’s all going to be, a reflection of their reticence towards the referendum result. Where we end up will be somewhere between the two extremes…a free trade deal that’s not as good as the single market but good enough…a compromise on both sides if the negotiations are handled well. But it all could come to nought if Spain vetoes the deal over the contested position of Gibraltar despite its acceptance of the principle of self-determination and the EU including this possibility in its response to Article 50 was inept. Gibraltar may only have a population of 30,000 people but it would be a grave error to think that the UK would bargain Gibraltar’s position to get a clean Brexit. It may appear as a minor issue in the negotiations but it’s the little things that can lead to negotiations failing.