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Obviously, this actually means trying to find a way to get input from more people than just myself, since the abiding impression of the past six months is that no one person has got all the skills needed to do this alone. Together, we might have more of a chance.
So here’s the deal.
I’ve set up a wiki at A50Project, where I’m hoping you (and I) can try to produce a minimal text for an agreement between the UK and the EU. I set out the idea on the page, but it’s useful to rehearse some points once more.
Firstly, I’m making an assumption that in any form of departure there will be a number of issues that need to be resolved (or, at least, flagged for resolution): in the first instance, the A50Project will focus on setting those out, with a form of words. Only once we get that done will there be any move towards something else.
Secondly, by trying to write a legal text, we might have more defined sight of the issues involved and the ways to address them. Think of it as a very basic tiredness with “what does ‘access to the single market’ actually mean?”-type questions.
Thirdly, I’m very determinedly not setting this up as a UK-based project, or an EU-based one, or as one asking politicians. I’m hoping that the kind of people who’d be interested in taking part are people like you: a mixture of academics, commentators and interested members of the general public. Yes, I know that this work should really be done by those in elected office, but frankly like is far too short. Plus, the best way to contribute to the debate is to bring something to it, and since I’m not aware of any other effort to do this work elsewhere in the public domain, we’ll be bringing something.
Of course, a lot of this hangs on you.
I’m comfortable with lots of aspects of the Brexit debate and what’s out there, but my legal training runs to a module in my undergraduate degree, plus many hours of being told by the head of Council’s legal service how the Council is the most important part of the EU. That’s not really enough.
So I’d really like input from legal types, those in public administration, even economists (although I’m not sure how much economics there is in this). In short, more eyes means more discussion and more robust output.
So far, I’ve only had a stab at a preamble, but in the coming days I’ll set up sections for the rest of the text, to which you can add.
I travel hopefully on this and hope that you find it useful too.
A new year, but the same old problems. Not only do we not know what Brexit will look like, we’re not even sure of the dimensions of what it could look like.
This is a real issue – both academically and politically – because any post-membership relationship will have to find positions for those involved on a number of matters of practical concerns. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to know what all those issues are, let alone what they might be.
Overshadowing this is the rhetorical battle to define Brexit. As I’ve observed before, all political actors are currently trying to claim that definition, in pursuit of whatever political agenda they might wish to pursue. The only (partial) exception is Theresa May, who is trying to keep any definition vague, until such time as she finds a practical plan of action to follow.
So how do we get out of this? Three main thoughts occur at this stage.
Firstly, We should accept that everyone has an agenda in this. That might be for professional or personal reasons, or simply as a function of being a member of the polity. the whole point of democratic governance is that there is a competition of ideas and a protection of interests in a system that allows for controls on power and scope for changes in policy through agreed procedures.
In short, the system frustrates to protect. As the whole Ivan Rogers affair neatly exposes, it’s one thing to dislike an individual diplomat, but another to question the entire nature of diplomacy. You and I disagree on points of policy, we should agree on points of procedure on resolving those disagreements, certainly in the bigger scheme of things.
Secondly, as Richard North so delicately puts it, it might be helpful to recognise that no-one’s an expert on Brexit. Instead, people are experts in various other fields, that link to Brexit. Thus, no-one should have a monopoly of determining what happens in Brexit, or indeed what Brexit ‘means’. Any claim beyond saying that the referendum results means anything more than the UK has decided to leave the EU is a politically-contentious one.
Of course, even to get to that point requires a noticably minority of Remain voters to accept that they have lost their battle and that the result stands: that has broadly happened, but there is scant willingness to state that publically, which in turn casts long shadows over whatever work they now pursue. Thus the Supreme Court case – which returns to your frontpages in the coming weeks – is tainted by the suspicion that this is a front for non-notification of Article 50. Again, Ivan Rogers offers an alternative model: namely, that if you really don’t like what’s happening, then step away.
The final point is then a logical extension of the first two.
By talking with each other, we might start to find common ground on how to proceed. A quick glance around suggests some basic points of agreement:
Put like that, it seems rather anodyne, given that our preceptions of costs and benefits will differ radically. However, it still gives us something to work on, discussing and debating what these might be.
More importantly, it gives us the shared interest in the framework. We all want (and need) a structure to get us through this period and much of that is independent of whatever anciliary goals we might have.
So here’s my idea – a New Year’s resolution, if you like: let’s try and build that framework together.
During the coming weeks, I’m going to set up a website with wiki functionality and I’m going to start trying to write a text of an Article 50 agreement between the UK and the EU27: you get to join in too.
I’ll work on the basis that the UK is going to leave the EU and that this needs then clarification of a small number of basic points (see page 8 of the UKICE/PSA report that I contributed to back in November). Other that that, it’s open to debate what else goes into the text. I’ve suggested a plan for a transitional arrangement before, but we’ll see if that works in practice.
By writing something together, maybe we can help move debate on, even if only to point out the key problems.
Today, UK in a Changing Europe publishes its report on the state of play on Brexit, 6 months from the EU referendum vote. You can read the full report here, including my contribution, reproduced below:
What has happened?
The six months since the EU referendum on 23 June have been some of the most tumultuous in British political history:
While none of these alone is unprecedented, there has been no comparable moment in the post-War period when so much has happened almost at once.
Alongside these political developments, the referendum precipitated a major reorganisation of Whitehall. This has seen the marginalisation of the Treasury and Foreign Office, the creation of new ministries and a rebirth of Cabinet government, albeit one in which Prime Minister Theresa May plays a very central role.
And yet, seismic though these events have been, remarkably little has changed substantively since June. The UK Government has still to announce what form of post-membership relationship it will seek with the EU, or even to table formally its intention to leave. Even as the Supreme Court decides whether Parliamentary authorisation is needed to make that notification, questions remain about the role that Westminster will play thereafter – in particular, how MPs will scrutinise the negotiation as it happens, either through the new Exiting the EU Select Committee or more generally. Further legal challenges, such as one mooted about leaving the European Economic Area (EEA), remain in the category of ‘known unknowns’: their potential existence is acknowledged, but their ramifications are not.
Despite the appointments Theresa May made on entering Number 10, it is not clear who will be responsible for negotiating Brexit, at either the ministerial or more technical level. The new Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) is still recruiting its mid- and junior-level personnel, and there are regular counter-briefings from different parts of government on who does what and to what end. The EU Exit and Trade Cabinet Committee contains mostly ‘Leave’ supporters, but May still holds a tight rein.
The combination of massive shock and apparent inertia is in part explicable in terms of the lack of planning by the British political system for a ‘Leave’ outcome. This in turn was partly due to an unwillingness by the Government to provide succour to Leavers; and partly (perhaps largely) to wishful thinking about the outcome. As referendums across Europe on EU-related topics have shown time and again, it is complacency that frequently undermines the government-approved line.
What is happening?
The lack of preparation meant that the initial hiatus, triggered by David Cameron’s prompt departure, was a moment to step back from the shock and consider how to proceed. May’s bid for the leadership was built precisely on being a ‘safe pair of hands’, who would pursue Brexit in a calm and considered manner, with a Chancellor who would do the same.
But six months later, the hiatus looks less like calmness and more like transfixion in the Article 50 headlights.
May has staked her credibility on getting to the Article 50 notification without undue delay, locking in the end of March 2017 as her deadline. However, the articulation of little more than a series of unrelated and mutually conflicting aspirations cannot hide the absence of a game-plan.
This basic problem has been compounded by a series of decisions:
Meanwhile, and despite an ineffective Parliamentary opposition, factions on both sides of the Conservative Party threaten to hamstring May as she inches along the Brexit tightrope. The defeat of Zac Goldsmith in the Richmond Park by-election in early December, followed by Parliament’s insistence on seeing a Government Brexit plan before the triggering of Article 50, highlight both the ability of collaborative opposition efforts to frustrate the Government and the fragility of May’s parliamentary majority.
What happens next?
The next six months will be crucial: by 23 June 2017 we will know more clearly whether the UK is heading for a departure without an agreement with the EU27, and indeed whether it is heading for departure at all. May’s only politically-acceptable reason for delaying the Article 50 notification past March would be if Parliament were caught up in passing authorising legislation. Otherwise, the internal pressure on her would become much greater. At the same time, the pressure from the EU27 to launch the Article 50 process will also rise, because – as Sara Hagemann makes clear in her contribution – they do not wish to spend any more time on the issue than necessary.
Only with the Article 50 notification will clarity emerge about the terms sought: the EU27 are refusing to enter into even informal negotiations before that point. However, the difficulty remains that neither side knows what the other wants: May does not want to ask for something she might not get, recalling her predecessor’s experience; while the EU27 do not want to give up their strong position within the Article 50 framework.
The presentation of all this to each other and to publics will be central, especially in the UK. If May feels constrained by a press that appears deeply unwilling to let slide any aspect of the claimed ‘Leave’ mandate, she may find she has little option but to head for the harder end of the Brexit spectrum. And around all this will continue to swirl a debate about whether a second referendum is required, to decide whether to accept whatever deal is agreed.