The Corner


Brexitanic: Still on Course

A pro-Brexit, yellow-vest protester in London, March 30, 2019 (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Courtesy of EUReferendum’s Richard North (who has a few typically trenchant things to say about the nonsense  of a no deal” Brexit) here is a copy of the latest grim speech by Ivan Rogers on how Brexit is shaping up.

Spoiler: Not well.

Sir Ivan is the former UK Permanent Representative (ambassador) to the EU. He argues that the referendum result should be respected, even if  (I suspect) his starting point is that it would have been better had the U.K. remained in the EU. Regardless, however, of any biases he may or may not have, his unillusioned understanding of, in particular, the approach taken by Brussels to the negotiations is second to none. And his criticisms of how the British government has handled the process make very uncomfortable reading indeed.

If you have the time, this latest speech is well worth reading in full.

Here, however, are a couple of key extracts:

It is not patriotism to keep on failing to confront realities and to make serious choices from the options which exist, rather than carrying on conjuring up ones which don’t….

I now think a “no deal” outcome the probability, for reasons I shall explain. But I have thought it a serious risk since autumn 2016, and been saying to private sector and university audiences since then that I thought the risk was vastly underpriced by the markets, most companies and the media.

Why? Because the previous Prime Minister kicked off the negotiation process with 2 speeches – at the 2016 Party Conference and at Lancaster House in January 2017, which I think frankly were 2 of the most ill-advised speeches given by a British Prime Minister since the War.

I’d add May’s September 2017 Florence speech to that miserable collection.


Those speeches revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of our post Brexit options. And of the scale, length and complexity of the disentanglement process which Brexit entails. That misunderstanding perpetuates itself even now in the surreal debates we see unfolding 3 years after the referendum.

And those speeches completely cemented the total unity of the [EU’s other] 27 [members] in how to run the Article 50 process – which had been very much in doubt, and which has held ever since – and enabled them, in conjunction with the decision to invoke Article 50 before the slightest consensus had been built as to where [the UK] wanted to get, to take complete control over the conduct and sequencing of the negotiations.


Sir Ivan notes that Boris Johnson, currently the leading candidate to succeed Theresa May as Conservative Party leader (and thus Prime Minister), is saying that he will not ask Brussels to prolong the negotiating period beyond the already extended October 31 deadline. If, warns Sir Ivan, Johnson is serious about that, then a no deal Brexit is inevitable:

There are only 9 working days between what will be the new PM’s first meeting with all his oppos [opposite numbers] and October 31. So let’s be serious.

And, even if some (but certainly all) of the gloomier predictions about the consequences of a no deal Brexit have been overstated, Britain will eventually have to cut some sort of trade deal with the bloc with which it has become so closely economically integrated. Its negotiating position will not, however, be . . . the best.


“[N]o deal” hands the control of the next phase of the process to the 27. It will “take back control” of the precise legal framework of the economic relationship, because it will legislate at 27 – without consultation with us – the economic framework under which we will have to operate. It is just utterly untrue to say, as key Brexiteers continue to, that all non-member countries’ trade with the EU is conducted under WTO rules, “so what we have lost?” This is a woeful and wilful misunderstanding of how developed countries trade with each other. Even those without an FTA with the EU have a plethora of lengthy complex negotiated legal sectoral arrangements which deliver far more access to the EU market than do WTO multilateral commitments….

No deal” is not a destination. It is simply a volatile and uncertain transitional state of purgatory, in which you have forfeited all the leverage to the other side because you start with a blank slate of no preferential arrangements, and live, in the interim – probably for years – on a basis they legislate – in their own interests…

And for 27 EU countries to come to an agreement as to what their common interests are will take time, especially as, as so often with the EU, the economic will be subordinated to the political (see the sad saga of the euro for details). For the 27 will not be the only parties in the room. Brussels will be there too, and the technocracy won’t countenance anything — including too generous a deal with Britain — that could threaten the grim trudge towards ever closer union.

That the Tories have (finally) junked May, the leader who so foolishly turned her back on a compromise, such as the much maligned Norway option, that could have seen the U.K. out of the EU by now (or well on its way) with relatively little fuss, is good, but it is no more than a start.

Dumping the helmsman won’t do much good if the ship is still heading for an iceberg.

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