Brexit means Brexit, as we all know, but the devil is in the detail. Whilst many in government must be secretly praying that the Supreme Court will decide that Royal Prerogative cannot attach to Article 50 notification and that the assent of the devolved parliaments will be needed before a House of Commons vote can grant authority, effectively killing Brexit, others continue to be gung-ho about it. The public may not have been persuaded by “project fear”, but the concerns raised under that banner are real as ministers are becomming increasingly aware.
If the PM’s timetable is followed, formal notification of the UK’s intention to leave the EU by triggering Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon will be given by the end of March 2017. This means that, barring a hugely unlikely unanimous EU vote to extend the period, the UK will cease to be a member of the EU by 1st April 2019 – April Fool’s Day redefined. Should this happen, it is highly likely that the UK will not have a trading relationship with the EU in hand on the day after it leaves the world’s largest trading bloc. Consequently, the UK’s trading relationship with its biggest single partner will be thrown into confusion; possibly for several years.
Representatives of UK business have urged the government to negotiate a transitional deal with the EU to cover this period which would clearly be in UK interests, but arguably, less so for the EU. The latest politician to argue in favour of this position is Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Brexit watchers have suggested that this move would signal a desire on behalf of the government for a “Soft Brexit”, but signals remain mixed. If Theresa May’s declaration to the Conservative Conference is to be taken at face value and her “red lines” require an end to free movement and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, it is hard to see why the EU would agree to the proposal. If the UK wants continued membership of the Single Market, Freedom of movement is a pre-requisite; if membership of the Customs Union is to continue, then the UK wouldn’t be at liberty to strike the “jumbo” trade deals so beloved of Boris Johnson. Succinctly put, the UK is in a mess.