Ouroboros Brexit?

The ouroboros symbol depicts a snake swallowing its own tale, consuming itself. Might it yet be the only kind of Brexit that we see?

Brexit is a contradiction in terms and means all things to all people. At its extreme end, the most rabid Brexiteers want to see a total rupture between the EU and the UK with an ending of any influence of EU law (directives) over the UK on Brexit day. These zealots want the UK to walk away from any further discussions with the EU, refuse to pay any “divorce” settlement or concern themselves with the questions of hard borders and citizens’ rights. They imagine that the UK can simply trade on WTO rules and that it would be within UK rights not to establish “hard” borders with physical checks on goods and people if that was what it wanted. This is incompatible with their desire to “control our borders”, of course and WTO obligations would require that customs inspections are in place such that tariffs can be correctly calculated and collected. They do not worry about the implications for future UK/EU or UK/global trade should the UK fail to honour its obligations, but some proponents of this stance are in the ruling party in the Commons, if not in government.

The Brexit zealots are opposed to allowing the government to pay the divorce bill (currently estimated at £50 billion) and will not grant continued alignment between EU and UK regulations to continue (in lock-step) after Brexit day ideally, or after the transition period at the latest. This is significant because the UK government came close to an outline agreement with the EU ahead of next week’s Council of Europe meeting which would have allowed talks to move to phase 2 when trade is to be discussed. An agreement was emerging which would have given Northern Ireland a special status where alignment of key trade rules would have permitted the border to operate as a “soft border”. However, before a press conference called to present the deal could be announced, the DUP who provide the government with a “confidence and supply” arrangement which gives the minority Tory government a working majority in the Commons, vetoed the deal.

The DUP objection, in essence, is that the agreement would create a difference between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, generating an internal barrier to trade, potentially, with the rest of the nation. Hardline Brexiters were quick to agree with this position as did some Reman supporters, over fears that it could weaken the union between Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Attempting to think on his feet, Mr Davis the Minister responsible for leaving the EU, suggested that the same arrangement could be applied across the UK (had this been part of the original plan, the DUP would not have objected). However, as this means a de facto continuation of UK membership of the Customs Union (at least), it will be rejected by Brexit hardliners. The whole point of leaving the customs union was that doing so would give the UK the freedom it needs to pursue trade deals with other nations, potentially under conditions not aligned with EU standards (e.g. over use of genetically modified crops, hormone treated meat or chlorine-washed chicken carcasses). Remainers will point out that if the UK will still need to contribute to the EU and obey all trading standards and regulations, a more logical stance would be to cancel Brexit and enjoy “frictionless trade”, passporting, the single market and having both a voice and a veto on European affairs by remaining.

Unless the extreme wing of Brexit will accept the compromises that May must make to obtain any meaningful trading advantages with our largest trading partner, going forward, the snake may well eat itself. Brexit means Brexit, of course.

Dr. Mike Campbell is a British scientist and freelance writer. Mike got his doctorate in Ghent, Belgium and has worked in Belgium, France, Monaco and Austria since leaving the UK. As a writer, he specialises in business, science, medicine and environmental subjects.