This blog has raised the possibility of Boris Johnson realising his ambition of having his cake and eating it by concluding a Deal that ends the UK’s membership of the EU and allows him to go on and win a general election. But what about everyone else? Would there be cake enough to go around?
In the transitional stand-still arrangement that would come into force after a Brexit Deal, Leavers would have their cake in having left EU. Remainers would have their cake in the UK, in effect, remaining part of the EU unless and until a final agreement on the future long-term relationship was determined. The EU and its member states would have their cake as the UK would remain part of the Single Market and bound to accept its laws and pay towards its upkeep. So, at first sitting of this tea party, it would be cake all round. The question is, can Leavers, Remainers and the EU members, like Boris Johnson, hold on to their cake and eat it at the second sitting?
Once the UK had left the EU, the binary political choice, to Leave or to Remain, would have evaporated and along with it much of the populist appeal of the Brexitier faction. The UK and the EU would then enter what would inevitably be very complex and highly technical negotiations which few people would understand or much care about. What is more, when out of the limelight of the In/Out debate and faced with individual technical decisions, politicians are likely to give greater comparative weight to practical advantages than abstract principles of sovereignty. Indeed, even if being ‘out’ results in little real change, it would be presented as having been agreed by a nationally sovereign UK rather than imposed by a federal EU. A hint of how far that may allow the EU and UK to reproduce current arrangements can be found in Liz Truss’s acknowledgement today that a trade deal with Australia might allow for free movement between the two countries. If with Australia, why not with the EU provided it was agreed voluntarily by a sovereign UK and, for the future, remained under UK control?
The reality may well be that there will be little difference between a future in which the UK is ’Out’ but half way back in and, as now, where the UK is ‘In’ but already half way out (think of the Euro, Schengen and the Law and Justice opt outs).
Although there would no doubt be fudge cake all round in negotiating the UK’s future relationship with the EU, the icing on the cake would be the opportunity for the EU to develop a more flexible approach to its relations with its near neighbours in allowing some to draw ever closer to a federal family and others to keep their distance as first cousins rather than co-opted siblings. And the cherry on the cake, might be to narrow the opportunity that the EU currently affords to nationalists to complain that they are the hostages of Brussels.
Following his alleged claim that the UK could “have its cake and eat it” when leaving the EU, “cake” became Brussels slang for nonsense and absurdity. However, to the concerns of Remainers and Leavers alike in the UK and Europe, Liz Truss might soon answer “Let them eat cake”…and have it too.