Two days in, just how badly is Brexit going?

After months of bravado, reality has started to bite


It was very easy for the government to put a positive spin on Brexit before the process actually started. But in the two days since Theresa May triggered Article 50, reality has begun to bite.

Two days in, one of the UK government’s key requests has already been rejected and its promise of a the ‘exact same benefits has been roundly rebuffed. What’s more, May herself has gotten off to a terrible start, offending EU leaders with her veiled security threats.

Let’s look a bit closer at each of these failures.

No free trade talks before departure deal

In her letter to Donald Tusk, Theresa May called for the EU ‘to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal’. In fact, she repeated that exact phrase four times.

But that had little impact on the European Council, which confirmed today that it would ‘proceed according to a phased approach giving priority to an orderly withdrawal.’

In other words, the initial concerns of the EU — citizens’ rights, outstanding British payments and the Irish border — will take priority over trade talks. Only when the council is satisfied with the progress made on those fronts will it proceed to discussing the future terms of the relationship.

In a press conference, Tusk put it even more bluntly.

“The United Kingdom is now on the other side of the negotiating table. Once, and only once we have achieved sufficient progress on the withdrawal, can we discuss the framework for our future relationship.”

This is an embarrassing slapdown, immediately putting the UK government on the back foot.

Exact same benefits? Not so much

On Wednesday, May — never passing up an opportunity to blandly state the obvious — acknowledged that the UK would have a ‘different relationship’ with Europe post-Brexit.

‘But’, she continued, ‘I think it can have the same benefits in terms of that free access to trade’.

This echoes Brexit secretary David Davis, who told the House of Commons in January that the government would aim for ‘a comprehensive free trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have.’

Unfortunately, in the last two days alone the European Parliament, the European Council and the German foreign minister have reiterated that (in the Council’s words) ‘a non-member of the Union, that does not live up to the same obligations as a member, cannot have the same rights and enjoy the same benefits as a member.’

So how exactly are the Tories planning to realise their commitment?

A blatant threat

While much of the prime minister’s rhetoric on Wednesday was uncommonly civil, one section of her letter inspired a icy response from the EU.

In her letter, May warned ‘in security terms a failure to reach agreement [within two years] would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.’

Senior figures in the European Parliament immediately hit back against the statement.

‘It would be outrageous to play with people’s lives in these negotiations,’ commented Gianni Pittella, head of the Socialist bloc.

“This has not been a good start by Theresa May. It feels like blackmail, but security is a good for all our citizens and not a bargaining chip. We still hope that Theresa May can get back on the right track … This was not a smart move.”

Earlier today, Tusk took a less overt but no less pointed approach, suggesting that he was willing to accept that there had simply been ‘a misunderstanding’.

‘I know Theresa well enough and I know her approach to this issue. This is why I rule out this kind of interpretation and speculation that security cooperation is used as bargaining chip. It must be a misunderstanding, our partners are wise and decent partners.”

Boris Johnson took the hint, tweeting within minutes of Tusk’s statement that ‘the UK’s commitment to the defence and security of Europe is unconditional.’

This series of rebuffs and climbdowns, within days of the triggering of Article 50, emphasises how thoroughly unprepared the goverment is for the challenge ahead.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

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5 Responses to “Two days in, just how badly is Brexit going?”

  1. Michael

    Why is it that when I look at these Tories, the words that come to mind are “piss-up” and “brewery?”

  2. Glesga

    Strange how LFT want Britain to fail and other countries dominate us.

  3. Mike Stallard

    Niamh – hit them where it hurts – and do it fast.
    All this stuff about the vulnerable TUC rights etc etc is just boring. As is the upsetting of the EU grandees who we all loathe anyway.
    You are not near the goal.

    Here is the goal – with the goalie looking elsewhere:
    If we join EFTA, then we can join the EEA again. Then all our trade will be secure. The negotiations will be focused on how to leave the EU, not on how to continue trading as a “third nation”. As you know the EFTA nations are all part of the EEA in their own right. They have their own court, their own rules on immigration, the freedom to trade all over the world and the right to make their own laws. Each nation sits on international bodies as themselves, not as dictated by the EU.
    Mrs May has overlooked this because she is blindly following Mr Cameron who blithely dismissed the “Norway option” as “government by fax”. (When did you last send a fax?)
    If you read you will soon see that Mrs May is heading for total lockdown. Dr North is the leading expert in the UK on the EU, having studied it now, on detail, for a couple of decades.
    For God’s sake act – now – before Mrs May makes a total mess of our country.

  4. ted francis

    What can one expect from the most arrogant, ignorant, stupid Premier we have had in generations. Some suffered from one or two of the deficiencies at various times but not all three and not all at once.

    I’ll keep on saying it. There are three precedents for a second referendum on Europe: Ireland twice, Denmark once. So “the British people” can and should be offered an opportunity to change their collective mind (with the benefit of facts and a taste of how the 27 will really react) and if they don’t change their collective mind then the answer will be binding. So let’s shout in our millions, “Another referendum!!!”
    What I’d give for a real Opposition party…..

  5. Fred

    Ted, those are not good examples.

    Between the two referendums, the EU came back to Ireland and Denmark with guarantees over voters specific concerns, such as abortion. The second referendums took place with policy concessions on the table, so it became a different referendum. That is not the situation here.

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