One quick way to understand the agreement British Prime Minister Theresa May struck with the European Union on Friday — which effectively guarantees that the United Kingdom’s exit from the trading bloc will change so little that there will be no need to police its new border with the EU in Ireland — is to look at how very unhappy it has made pro-Brexit extremists.
Nigel Farage, who stoked racist fears of Muslim immigrants swarming into Britain through the EU, pronounced himself appalled.
A deal in Brussels is good news for Mrs May as we can now move on to the next stage of humiliation.— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) December 8, 2017
Arron Banks, who financed the pro-Brexit organization Leave.EU, was particularly enraged by May’s pledge to protect peace in Northern Ireland, which is leaving the EU with the rest of the U.K., by promising that the entire U.K. would keep its trade and economic policies in “full alignment” with the rules governing Europe’s internal market and the customs union.
Farage, Banks, and other “Brexiteers” have spent months talking up the prospects of a free trade deal with the United States as a replacement for EU membership. But, as Ireland’s leader Leo Varadkar pointed out, by committing the U.K. to keeping its trade standards in line with the EU, May had made it nearly impossible to strike free trade agreements (so-called FTAs) with nations like the U.S., which have more lax health and safety regulations.
Leo Varadkar says you can’t have unfettered free trade (ie a future FTA between EU-UK) unless you have alignment on standards and regulations in the area of health, environment, labour standards. That is going to surely limit Brexit dreams of FTAs around the world.— Tony Connelly (@tconnellyRTE) December 8, 2017
Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole argued the concession Varadkar and other EU leaders managed to secure from the U.K. could even make it “more likely that Brexit will not in fact happen.”
“Essentially what this extraordinary deal does is to reverse engineer Brexit as a whole from one single component — the need to avoid a hard Irish border,” O’Toole explained. “Working back from that, the Brexit project now has to embrace what seemed, even last Monday, highly improbable: the necessity, at a minimum, for the entire UK to mirror the rules of the customs union and the single market after it leaves the EU. And this in turn raises the biggest question of all: if the UK is going to mirror the customs union and the single market, why go to the considerable bother of leaving the EU in the first place?”
The prime minister’s willingness to concede to another EU demand — that the U.K. should honor financial obligations to European projects made before it leaves the bloc — enraged Tim Montgomerie, a pro-Brexit commentator.
May says there’s been give and take on both sides. Correct. We give the EU extra billions that should be going into the NHS etc and Brussels takes it. This is not a “hard win” deal but surrender. And our capitulation on sequencing means no guarantee of trade deal.— Tim Montgomerie ? (@montie) December 8, 2017
Opponents of Brexit mocked May and her government for dragging out negotiations for so long before finally accepting the reality that the U.K. had no leverage over the EU and would have to meet its terms before moving on to negotiate a free trade deal that might deliver no benefits at all to the British economy.
Congratulations to Theresa May for agreeing to absolutely everything the EU requested from the start but taking 8 months of potential trade negotiating time to do it— Matt Zarb-Cousin (@mattzarb) December 8, 2017
Theresa May has basically just scrolled straight to the end of the document and ticked the box saying she has read the Brexit Terms and Conditions.— John O'Farrell (@mrjohnofarrell) December 8, 2017
May, who voted against Brexit in last year’s referendum, now faces the tricky task of holding on to the support of the so-called Brextremists in her Conservative party during the final phase of trade negotiations that could result in the U.K. leaving the EU but getting a form of associate membership, like that enjoyed by Norway or Switzerland.
Since she took office after the referendum, May appears to have kept the peace in her divided party by stringently refusing to propose any concrete plans for what kind of deal she is hoping to strike with the E.U.
The fact that her party has been avoiding hard conversations, intent on satisfying the narrow majority of Britons who voted to leave the EU without having ever developed an actual plan for how to protect its economy after Brexit, was reinforced on Wednesday when two senior ministers admitted as much in testimony to parliamentary committees.
David Davis, who leads the newly created ministry for Exiting the European Union, was asked to provide details on the dozens of impact assessments he previously said his department had produced to determine how leaving the EU would affect up to 57 sectors of the British economy. To the surprise of many observers, Davis, who had previously described the studies as going into “excruciating detail,” suddenly admitted that no such papers existed.
David Davis just admits to select committee government has conducted no sector impact assessments on Brexit. Having previously said they exist in excruciating detail. Staggering— John Crace (@JohnJCrace) December 6, 2017
Davis also said that, before the cabinet decided that Britain would leave the EU customs union and not try to join other nations that have negotiated access to it without being full members of the bloc, no formal assessment of that had been made either.
Davis says there was no formal assessment of leaving the customs union before cabinet took that decision. We took a judgment.— Alex Spence (@alexGspence) December 6, 2017
Benn: "Isn't that quite extraordinary?"
Davis, breezily: "No, no."
In testimony to another parliamentary committee on Wednesday afternoon, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond admitted that the government had not yet agreed on the “end state position” it hopes to achieve for a post-Brexit relationship with the EU.
Chancellor Philip Hammond: The Cabinet has not yet had a full discussion of what should be the Government's preferred "end state position" for the UK after Brexit. It's official. HMG has no agreed destination on Brexit. 18 months on.— Patrick Wintour (@patrickwintour) December 6, 2017