I’m happy to tell you that my track record on Brexit is pretty poor.
I thought the referendum wouldn’t happen; I thought that when it did, there’d be a small majority for Remain; when there wasn’t, I thought the UK government would be able to get together a plan very quickly.
And let’s not even get into predicting General Election outcomes.
So imagine my confusion to read Katya Adler’s reports from Brussels yesterday on possible movement on managing divergence:
This all seemed rather familiar to me, mainly because I was sure I’d written something not too different a while ago.
And so it proved: except the ‘while ago’ turned out to be September 2016.
My post was about one thing I’m still to be proved wrong on, namely the lack of purpose to UK’s approaches to handling the post-referendum process. Basically, if you don’t know what you want, then you’ll struggle to get it, or even to recognise whether you have it or not.
That suggested back in the late summer of 2016 that a mechanism for managing this would be to hold things as before, then allow the UK to indicate where it wanted to diverge, in turn allowing the EU to say what consequences or knock-ons that might have.
And it’s essentially what’s been talked about now, albeit with a much more constrained starting point.
Rather than bang on about this great coincidence, it’s maybe worth thinking more about why this model has value.
Fundamentally, it’s because it provides for a manageable status quo, while also allowing parties (OK, the UK, in this case) to make future changes in a controlled way.
The ill-feeling caused by the Internal Market Bill was precisely about this too: if you have one party willing to tear up treaty commitments, then what do you have to generate any lasting confidence in stable relations? Put differently, if you want to change the Withdrawal Agreement, then you have to change the Withdrawal Agreement itself.
The end point of Brexit isn’t going to be some nirvana of independence or of re-admission of the UK to the EU, but something more messy and organic, in which the best that can be hoped for is some equilibrium, with both sides generally comfortable about how things are going. A managed divergence mechanism can be part of that, especially if it also allows for some managed convergence too.
Of course, given that track record I spoke about at the top, maybe it’ll come to nothing.
In which case, you’ll have to suffer my guess about the Future Relationship negotiations. Except on this one, I really don’t have a clue, so your guess will be as good as mine.
Maybe by the time I’m back in the office, in early January, we might know more.