It is highly likely that the leaders of the EU27 will give authorisation for Brexit talks to move to the second stage today. In Stage two, the agreements of phase one will be legally formalised and the long-term relationship between the bloc and the UK will be considered. This will entail discussion of the framework for security issues and trade together with the details for any transitional period.
The UK is about to walk out onto the thin ice. It is impossible for any agreements over trade to be signed between the EU and the UK whilst the latter is a member. The UK has stated that, in the longer term, it wants to leave both the single market and the customs union whilst, somehow, creating a new “bespoke” relationship that mirrors aspects of both. Over the weekend, the EU was warned by a number of third party nations that they would not be happy if the EU-UK relationship was more advantageous to the UK than their own EU relationships. If this point is pressed (as it will be), there can be no “bespoke” deal. Whilst a form of words has been found to avoid the imposition of a hard border on the island of Ireland which has been described as a de facto continuation of the customs union, the political viability of a deal which extends the influence of ECJ beyond Brexit date is uncertain. Hard Brexit supporters are certain to object and Scotland is likely to demand that it gets a similar deal (the Scots voted to remain in the EU). The Ulster Unionists who have given the deal their cautious blessing have stressed that they will not back anything which could generate internal barriers to trade within the UK.
On Wednesday, the government was defeated over an amendment to its EU Withdrawal Bill which requires that both Houses approve a separate bill for the UK to leave the EU. This would be a meaningful vote since the choice before parliament would not be the simple endorsement of a deal or leaving with no deal. Under the terms of the Treaty of Lisbon’s Article 50, a leaving nation must comply with its own constitutional arrangements in that process. If the new bill were to be voted down, it could be argued that the UK had not met this requirement.
On a more positive note, politicians from Germany and Austria suggested that the UK could still change its mind on Brexit as the reality of exit becomes clearer.
In a shocking development for Brexit watchers, the government admitted that it had not made any formal impact assessment of the various leave scenarios on the UK economy, nor had the cabinet ever delineated precisely what it wants for Brexit from the EU. As Mr Spock might have said “It’s government, Jim, but not as we know it!”