image7Martyn Richard Jones

Bamberg, 8th September 2016

Months have passed since the United Kingdom held its European Union membership referendum which resulted in a ‘win’ for the pro-leave Brexiteers. Yet the strongest signal coming out of London is that the government is stalling; playing for time. Clearly, as yet, the government hasn’t worked out in any real, concrete or detailed terms what it should be doing or where the country should be going or what it can even say to the array of stakeholders and interested parties. Which, given that Brexit is by far the biggest constitutional challenge in my lifetime, is quite problematic.

We are told time and time again that the leavers won, that Brexit means Brexit and that the people have spoken – and the rest of us should simply “get over it” and “move on”. Apparently, and if the supporters of Brexit are to be believed, it’s now only a question of time before the UK is placed well and firmly outside of the EU, and we can get down to the all-important tasks of rebuilding the glorious Empire and defending the white cliffs of Dover against the inevitable tsunami of unwanted people coming to squat and scrounge economic benefits in this ‘green, mean and not so pleasant land’.

So, given the absolute firm commitment of the Tory government to take the UK out of the EU and the wish of a massive minority of the country to turn the island into a poverty-stricken gothic-horror version of a self-harming fortress Britain, why is Theresa May’s government stalling?

Recently, Mister Brexit himself, David Davis, went to Parliament to inform the House regarding the preparations for Article 50 – which is the formal mechanism that member countries use in order to negotiate leaving the EU. Davis said very little of substance, and was justifiably criticised for turning up bereft of meat and bones. Labour MP Emily Thornberry slammed David Davis’ Brexit strategy, characterising it as “More empty platitudes.”

The following day Theresa May told a packed Commons that she would not be too hasty in revealing her hand, maintaining: “… we will not take decisions until we are ready. We will not reveal our hand prematurely and we will not provide a running commentary on every twist and turn of the negotiation.” And continued “I say that because that is not the best way to conduct a strong and mature negotiation that will deliver the best deal for the people of this country.” In other words, Westminster code for “No ideas. No direction. No plans. So, we’re winging it.”

This sense of frustration over Brexit was also highlighted in the way Theresa May slapped down David Davis over a comments he made earlier in the week regarding the single-market and immigration.

No one likes the uncertainty and the contradictions caused by the Brexit win, and this is one of the key reasons why the EU is also slowly and surely ramping up the pressure on the UK government, given that it clearly has the upper hand. Which is why Donald Tusk, who is the current President of the European Council, can confidently tell Theresa May that: “the ball is now in your court”.

So, like it or lump it, there will be no meaningful negotiations in place before the UK government formally triggers Article 50. Whenever that may be.

Which is also problematic for all concerned because of the additional uncertainties that are being created prior to the triggering of Article 50. As we should know, big indecisions come with big premiums, that is, if one can even afford the luxury of hedging for an uncertain future. Big business does not like uncertainty, indeed the financial markets don’t like this degree of ambiguity either, far from it, which is what this government ‘strategy’ is amplifying – leading to greater uncertainty, greater risk and greater costs.

At the same time the government is understandably petrified of triggering Article 50 without some cast-iron ‘guarantees’ and without a clear and exhaustive assessment of all of the risks. Guarantees which the EU cannot give and the UK government are obviously not going to get, and risks that cannot be fully assessed before we actually enter into the Article 50 process.

It’s an undeniable fact of life that there is no framework, process or mechanism in the EU to allow for any formal and binding pre-Article 50 agreements. So, anything and everything informally agreed prior to the triggering of Article 50 could be subject to change and of course would be totally non-binding in any legal or contractual sense. Obviously.

The UK government knows this. Which is why they now find themselves in an unenviable and an untenable position. Indeed, they have nothing tangible and verifiable to say to the British public and no prospect of getting anything worth shaking a stick at until Article 50 is triggered. The Tories in government have been hoisted on a petard of their own making. It’s a Catch 22 situation.

The cold hard truth is coming home to stare us down. There is not going to be any sort of comfort blanket for the Brexiteers to cling onto and negotiations will be based on the relative strengths of the participants. We are not going to be treated as a special case in any meaningful or positive way, and as an outcome we can expect to get what we can leverage and nothing more – the EU is no Lady Bountiful. When we trigger Article 50 it will be the UK versus the EU, and isn’t going to be pretty.

Any sensible Prime Minister would call the whole thing off.

Many thanks for reading.