Brexit Diary: A “reality check” for Remainers

21st November 2017

The UK government is encountering problem after problem with Brexit.

There is a real prospect either of there being “no deal” or of a capitulation to the EU’s demands.

In terms of administration – basic points such as customs and border control – the UK state is nowhere near ready.

But the accumulation of these difficulties does not make Brexit any less likely.

Unless something exceptional happens, the UK will leave the EU by automatic operation of law on 29 March 2019.

Very little can prevent this.

There is a possibility that the date may be delayed, though this would require EU agreement in one way or another.

There is also perhaps the possibility that the Article 50 process could be suspended or even cancelled, though Article 50 is silent on how this could be done.

But even these options would require political action as deliberate and formal as the Article 50 notification in the first place.

These options would not happen just because of the weight of the UK government’s difficulties.

The problems are legally irrelevant.

A hard firm legal process has commenced: it cannot now be easily derailed.

And there is no political prospect – at the moment – of the UK government seeking to change the course of departure: there is no general election due, the Tories and DUP have a majority in the Commons, and the Labour front bench nod-along with Brexit in principle, if not in some details.

For the Article 50 process to be stopped or even paused requires the UK government to make a decision it seems (currently) unlikely to make before 29 March 2019.

There is no obvious way the difficulties of Brexit can be converted to formal political preventative action: no glidepath, no way of joining the dots.

This is not to say that the difficulties are not immense: the Irish border issue is only one of many which seem impossible to resolve.

And it is not to say Brexit is inevitable: it could be prevented if the UK government or parliament wanted to do so, and the EU agreed (either the European Council or, if litigated, the European Court of Justice).

But automatic departure is the fixed default position.

Brace, brace.

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10 thoughts on “Brexit Diary: A “reality check” for Remainers”

  1. Indeed. However, the Irish problem is that without a continuation of the customs union in the North (ruled out by the UK government), both sides will be obliged under WTO rules to apply customs duty to shipments crossing the border. It becomes a de facto hard border which, supposedly, the DUP will not agree to. Without the DUP, the government has no majority. Equally, as the complexity of Brexit and its economic harm becomes impossible to ignore or wish away by “magical thinking”, more reasonable members of the Tory party will need to be more vocal, particularly as the public tide of opinion changes – a majority now favours remain according to recent polling although it is not yet decisive. Brexit is economically hollow and the “promises” made to secure it cannot be redeemed. Given that A50 can be revoked, Brexit may be a default position, but it is as secure as a 3:0 Liverpool lead!

    1. I live in NI. Nobody here wants a ‘hard’ border. Even the DUP don’t want one, but they also don’t want a border in the Irish Sea. A sort of ‘cake and eat it’ position.

    2. Forgive me if I am wrong, however as I understand it, while the customs duty is a requirement, there is no real impediment to it simply being passed on to the shipper as a responsibility. I suspect the government intend to simply create the system in principal but to let it slide in practice, as enforcing these things at the Irish border isn’t really in their interests at any rate, it would simply cost a lot. The only potential catch is what the WTO will think about that…

  2. Readers of your blog will have known about the Irish border problem from well before the referendum. The EU’s and the UK’s positions are irreconcilable; yet this seems a surprise to the UK. Is it appropriate that the UK government, as a neutral actor in the Good Friday Agreement, relies for its present majority on the DUP?

    The UK is leaving the EU’s medicines agency; will the UK then wholly fund a UK-only replacement?

    The UK is leaving Euratom; the reason isn’t clear, as it is legally separate from the EU. It may be because the ECJ has jurisdiction. This has serious repercussions for the supply of diagnostic and therapeutic radio-isotopes.

    Are you content with the UK’s governments handling of Brexit; are you content with their capabilities?

  3. Is there anything at all to be optimistic about? It’s all ghastly, I know; but it would be nice to learn that there’s some glint of silver lining in the storm clouds

    1. EAG, I have struggled to find any positives that will arise from Brexit.

      As time goes by and the cliff-edge lurks closer, it did occur to me that perhaps this is going to be the lesson in national humiliation that the UK (unlike many of its neighbours) has more or less avoided for many decades. Perhaps it will inoculate future generations from ever again pursuing this sort of small-minded idiocy.

      That’s about as optimistic as I can be.

      1. Dean Acheson in 1962 said that Great Britain had lost an empire but not yet found a role.

        Perhaps he was right, even if it’s only now that GB is waking up to it.

  4. The Crown’s response to Brexit reminds me of students who, though exams and the term are set on days fixed, stop going to classes (mostly), don’t study, think maybe next week, and then semester ends and the student(s) flunk out.

    Well this is Brexit as flunking out of Europe.

    It’s insane.

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