Nov 2016

The European position on Brexit

Just a quick one — but too long for twitter.

I’ve been reading a bunch of UK news stories about that “having cake and eating it” note. The note is irrelevant, but all of the news stories about it — in fact almost all of the UK news stories about Brexit — appear to be framing the impending negotiations in completely the wrong light.

boris-johnsonBrexit came as a shock to me. I suspect it came as a shock to most people reading this. But I believe there is a general consensus (even among Brexiteers) that the UK decision to leave was at least as much a political / cultural decision as it was an economic one. Certainly, many in the “Leave” camp would argue that the UK stands to be better-off, economically speaking, as a result of Brexit. I personally doubt that very much. But whether or not that might be true; it’s reasonable to say that political and cultural concerns played a part in the vote to leave.

However, the negotiations are being framed — by most UK media — in purely economic terms. At least from the European side. The media is well aware that British politics is going to shape the British position (whether or not free movement of people can be sold to the British people in the current political climate, should it be the only way to salvage access to the free market) but they seem to cast the European position as either being purely about balance sheets, or at best in terms of the internal politics of a particular nation (how will the current French election campaign affect Europe’s position, etc.)

What is being overlooked is that the negotiating team from the European side will not bring with them the politics of any specific nation. They will be tasked with getting the best deal for Europe. Yes, economics will take primacy as it often does. But the institutions of Europe will also bring their own very definite political agenda to the table. And that agenda will be to make the British option — leaving the EU — as unpalatable as possible to others.

The UK vote has created a huge amount of instability within Europe, at an already unstable time. The EU’s negotiators* will not be tasked with “getting the best deal for both sides”, though that will be the public stance of course. They will be quietly tasked with getting the best deal for Europe in a way that makes the entire thing look like a gigantic mistake for Britain. And ultimately I don’t think that’s going to end well for anyone.

* perhaps with the exception of any negotiator with an Irish accent, who will be desperate to make the process as smooth as possible thanks to the chaos a hard-border might cause us over here

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