Down the Brexit Hole

They did it. Theresa May sent her emissary to Brussels today to officially deliver the divorce papers. They now have two years to negotiate the tab for existing commitments, as well as a go forward deal. The last six months will be needed for the EU and UK governments to debate and approve any deal that’s agreed to, so the negotiating period — that starts today — is really more like eighteen months. May delayed the announcement from mid-March to today, which caused the EU negotiating team to scuttle their planned summit in early April. Donald Tusk, the European Council president recently claimed that those negotiations will now likely not start until early June. If that’s correct, the window is down to sixteen months. The last major deal completed the EU crafted was with Canada. That took seven years. And the UK needs to simultaneously negotiate deals with any of their current trading partners that are outside the EU to avoid crashing out to WTO rules with those countries. (And as I’ve mentioned before, Donald Trump has threatened to take a sledgehammer to the WTO, so that option may be less valuable by the end of the Article 50 negotiating period.)

Tim Farron, the leader of the Lib Dems, is advocating for the UK public to have a final say on the outcome of the coming negotiations, but the state of matters may make such a vote meaningless. Should the UK reach the end of the two-year negotiating window without a deal, there’s no assurance that they’ll be able to extend the negotiating window, nor that they’d be able to fall back on their membership in the EU. Both are possible, but the former is dependent on the EU agreeing to do so, which will largely depend on the state of negotiations, and the latter depends on the outcome of a court case brought forth by barrister Joylon Maugham which looks to clarify whether Article 50 is reversible (the law’s lead author doesn’t believe that’s not allowed) and possibly the state of negotiations.

This short video from The Economist gives a nice overview of some of the important challenges and potential problems ahead.

It’s possible, although seemingly unlikely, that the UK ends up genuinely better off outside the EU. It’s possible that the negotiations go well enough that they can extend, or reverse course should they get to a point that either of those seem warranted. But the road ahead is loaded with pitfalls that could leave the UK, and the EU (and those of us in parts beyond), worse off than they are now. Acrimonious negotiations would seem to lock that possibility in. Here’s hoping that’s not the direction this heads in.

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Also published on Medium.