Negotiation Fantasies Hopes and Delusions from Brexitasia

The EU isn't setting out to punish Britain for leaving the bloc. But it is almost certain that the ultimate deal will be portrayed as such by Brexiteers. The reason is the completely unrealistic expectations harbored by the British.

London, as seen from The Shard
AP

London, as seen from The Shard

A Commentary by


The British don't just live on an island in a geographical sense -- it's also part of their mentality. But when it comes to Brexit these days, that island seems like it's on a different planet.

Britain's Brexit secretary David Davis said in January that the United Kingdom wanted to have "the exact same benefits" after its departure as it did before. It is a comment that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn hasn't forgotten. If the UK isn't as well positioned with the EU on trade and customs as it was before Brexit, his party won't approve the Brexit deal, he told parliament on Wednesday.

If Corbyn means this seriously -- his parliamentary group, after all, approved the motion for Brexit -- it suggests that he has lost touch with reality. The EU position -- backed by the European Commission, the European Parliament and EU member states -- has been crystal clear for months: Following Brexit, the UK cannot end up in a better situation than EU members, if only to avoid giving EU-skeptics in other countries a boost.

And it seems likely it won't, because Theresa May finds herself in a position that could hardly be weaker. In less than two years, the Prime Minister must lead the highly complicated negotiations to a successful conclusion -- a task which is, to put it mildly, rather ambitious. It's made even more complicated by the fact that she must fight on multiple fronts: Scotland, Northern Ireland, Brussels, the British economy and domestic British politics. If she doesn't succeed, a so-called "dirty Brexit" looms, the departure from the EU without a trade deal. Were that to happen, British trade with the EU would then be conducted on the basis of WTO rules. For the EU that would be unpleasant; for the UK it would likely be a catastrophe. The British Treasury has predicted that the country's gross domestic product could shrink by 7.5 percent in such a scenario and tax shortfalls would amount to 45 billion pounds.

The pro-Brexit press, however, seems unperturbed. "The EU is on the verge of the abyss," the Daily Telegraph wrote on Wednesday. The growth of populism on the Continent, the strength of the British economy and Europe's terrorism fears, the paper claims, strengthen the UK's odds for a good deal. It argued that May needs to "go all in."

Terrorism Threat

But the British are also afraid of terrorism and are likewise dealing with a rise in populism, as the racist undertones of the Brexit campaign recently proved. Furthermore, the fact that the British economy has not plunged yet is due to a simple truth: Nothing much has changed so far. The UK is still an EU member and it still has access to the common market. Two years from now, however, things will be different.

May knows this too. On Wednesday, she warned "there will be consequences for the UK of leaving the EU." The country would lose influence over the European economic rules to which British companies would have to adhere in the future. It's not for nothing that May's stated goal wasn't the "exact same benefits" but the "best-possible deal."

A section of May's Brexit letter demonstrates the true weakness of her position. If there isn't a deal at the end of the negotiations, the letter to the EU states, the UK wouldn't just be reduced to following WTO rules -- it would "mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened." On this subject, unlike economic issues, disadvantages would be equal for both sides. The danger of terrorism would grow for the UK just as it would for the EU. The fact that May has issued such a threat seems desperate.

Will Brexit negotiations end with a punishment for Britain? It is an impression that will be difficult to avoid in the UK, no matter how fair the deal will be. The EU was demonized in the country for years, allowing EU-skeptic politicians and media to claim that Brexit would allow the UK to regain its lost greatness.

The Brexit deal can only disappoint such expectations. And it seems likely that Brexiteers will seek to portray those shortcomings as an EU effort to punish Britain. Otherwise, after all, they would have to take responsibility themselves.

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notthemessiah 03/30/2017
1. Brexit EU Negotiations
Markus, please do not equate the opinions and actions of UK hard-core Brexiteers as being representative of the opinions and actions of the UK population at large - it is disingenuous and misleading. The hard-core Brexit Brigade represent only themselves, not the majority of the UK. Although the UK voted narrowly to leave the EU, this represented a slender majority of those who bothered to vote - but, fewer than 40% of eligible UK voters in total.
Inglenda2 03/31/2017
2. How much fake news is being published?
Those of us who can remember how Europe was before the EU was founded must be amazed at the hysteria being shown because of the Brexit. In the 1960s, it was easier to travel by train, from Bielefeld in NRW, to Brighton in Sussex, than it is now. That on national borders, passport controls were necessary, was no problem and certainly helped to keep the level of international crime lower than it is today. There is no reason whatsoever, why many of the agreements which currently exist, should not be allowed to continue with a Britain outside of the Union. It is also not true, that the negotiations must come to an end within 2 years. Paragraph 50, allows an extension, if all concerned consider this to be of advantage. Those arrogant European officials who would love to see Britain punished for leaving, are the very same individuals who have made the wonderful idea of European unity so unpopular in many member countries. The fact that Britain has decided to leave, may at last bring a change for the better on the continent itself. The reforms shown to be so badly needed might now really happen.
declanor 03/31/2017
3. Reality check from history
Wait a moment! The UK has always been a small country on the edge of Europe, but it has great significance because it has specialised for hundreds of years in the politics of divide and rule, at home and abroad. The Labour party will be utterly destroyed if it has to fight a general election over another anti-Brexit ticket. In due course, perhaps Scotland and other UK nations will choose independence from England, who would really care? Not the wealth-generating South East of England for sure. If you think the unelected (except by friends) fanatics running the EU will be able to drag European economies further into the Doldrums to prove a political point good luck trying. Since they can't be voted out for catastrophic incompetence, sit back and watch the UK pull levers elsewhere.
Teamaker 03/31/2017
4. Unrealistic Expectations
I agree. The UK expectations are indeed unrealistic. Surely, though, this will be good for domestic consumption in the EU states, acting as a warning to the anti EU factions in those states when the UK doesn't have any of it's demands met. TM is doing the EU a favour. Of course, ludicrous newspapers like the Daily Mail and Sun will shout and scream all the time, but I think we'll all be even more bored with them by the time the 2 years is up.
Alexis de Pleshcoy 03/31/2017
5. Not just economics!
Brexit is one of the worst catastrophes, and might mark the beginning of the end for the Western civilization. Mostly good or mostly bad, it started 1,000 years ago without many books and got today to watching exoplanets and splitting God’s particles in the LHC (for the bad, Cornell’s financial engineers, social media, and NSA Brzezinski holly wars ). The collapse of Empires, process started in 1914 is now entering its final phase, yet all commentators seem focused on simple economics and the same old petty rivalries. Theresa May seems to sincerely believe that the super hyper power of India is ready to rejoin a 2.0 version of the Victorian past, without any reparations for the colonial past and free movement of people. Worse, she never mentions the huge debt to Ukraine, waiting in line to join a 28 member EU, not a reduced version; will the UK still provide its share of the hundreds of billions expected by Ukraine in EU integration funds, as well as the Maidan revolutionaries freedom to start a business of study in England? The phony war of 1939 predicted this outcome. Along the same lines, will the UK honor its signature on the Budapest memorandum if needed? Article 5? The dream of an EU from the Atlantic to the Urals is now shattered. In a generation Russia might find out that the collapse of the EU is a major geopolitical blow to herself, while sitting on a pile of advanced nuclear weapons; accepting a visit by Marine Le Pen while the EU was in mourning in Rome is bad most and foremost for Russia. After Brexit the future belongs to the super hyper powers of India and China; taken individually the EU countries are a census error compared to the two, now, and even worse in the future. For a while OBOR will suck wealth from the EU, then they East will default to the Mongol attitude: too poor to care about. Hopefully the Western civilization will not end the planet in one of its traditional feuds, this time with nuclear weapons.
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