Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: Losing Control

Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: Losing Control

Article excerpt

If Brexit was going to be as easy as some of its advocates had believed, we would not have had weeks such as this one. It's hard to interpret the recent agreement over the transition period as anything other than a capitulation to EU demands. Theresa May has quietly scrubbed out her 'red line' on the rights of EU citizens and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Nationals of other EU countries will be free to move to Britain, seek work here and have their rights protected by the court until 31 December 2020. Moreover, she has agreed to UK waters being open to EU trawlers until that date. Indeed, to the chagrin of our own fishing industry, fishing quotas will be set for our waters in 2020 -- without the UK even having a say as to what they should be.

Perhaps most worryingly, the idea that Northern Ireland could remain permanently in the customs union -- which Theresa May once said 'no British prime minister could ever concede' -- remains on the table. This brings about the prospect of an internal border within the UK in the Irish Sea -- a situation which ministers know will prove unacceptable to a very large proportion of Northern Irish residents, not least among them the DUP, on whose votes the government relies for support. If the government does fall on a confidence vote before the projected date of the next election, in 2022, its demise may well be traceable to this week.

The government has found itself in this position thanks to a woeful lack of preparation for the Brexit negotiations. In her Lancaster House speech of January last year, Mrs May appeared to have a viable plan for Brexit: to withdraw from the single market and the customs union, to negotiate in their place a free trade agreement, and to opt back into EU programmes where the government saw fit. But since Article 50 was triggered it has become increasingly and painfully clear that the government has no negotiating strategy to get to this point. Instead, ministers have allowed themselves to be buffeted around by an EU negotiating team that has seemed to have more purpose and direction than its counterpart.

Michel Barnier has been criticised for his obstinacy and his lack of imagination in solving issues such as the Irish border. It is true that his constant stonewalling of suggestions put forward by Britain shows the EU in bad light and is a reminder of the freedoms we might enjoy outside the bloc. His tone has been needlessly caustic, and he has seemed to take the Brexit talks as an audition for succeeding Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission. …

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