SO HOW WILL UK MINISTERS RESPOND TO CHANCELLOR MERKEL’S INVITATION to spell out what the UK wants from the final Brexit deal? Again, there are different ways for the UK and EU to approach this conundrum.
The UK could present its partners with a short, one-page list of, say, five or six key demands, including, perhaps, access to the single market, controls on free movement of people, certain protections for the City of London and sovereignty.
Alternatively, the UK Government could opt, at the other extreme end of the spectrum, for a full legal agreement defining in detail the terms of the UK’s exit and its future relationship with the EU.
This is unlikely to happen for a number of reasons, not least the fact that we do not see the UK and the EU27 member states agreeing to such an approach. We rather believe that there are merits to a pre-agreement on some underlying principles of the exit without getting into all the requisite detail.
But even in that case it would be a document running to many hundreds, if not thousands, of pages, covering a myriad of complex issues.
These would not only cover a holistic settlement on the key economic issues of free movement of goods, services and people and the future of the customs union, but also important constitutional issues, including: the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland; the internal Irish border – the UK’s only land border with the EU; and the status of Gibraltar, Scotland and Wales.
Getting agreement on specific market issues, such as the future of the proposed new Unified Patent Court and the terms on which international banks based in London can operate across the EU should their current passporting rights disappear, are among literally hundreds of issues that need to be resolved.
This process will take a long time to complete, not least because both sides start with pretty blank pieces of paper.
It’s now abundantly clear that the UK Government did almost no contingency planning for a ‘leave’ vote, a fact that led the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee to accuse it of “gross negligence”, of deepening post-referendum economic uncertainty and of making the Brexit negotiations more difficult to conclude.
Even the cheerleaders of the ‘leave’ campaign emerged blinking on the day of the referendum result with, apparently, no clear ideas of the way forward.
That detailed work has now got underway with the formation of Theresa May’s new Government. But it is a vast and lengthy exercise, not least as it involves considering hundreds of pieces of UK legislation which are currently tied to EU laws.
And it is an exercise that the UK is likely to want to complete before it triggers Article 50 if it is to mitigate the risk of falling through the trap door into an uncertain void.