Saturday, April 08, 2017

What sort of Brexit do the public want?

Some people talk in terms of a "hard" Brexit which prioritises ending free movement of people over free trade versus a "soft" Brexit which prioritises free trade over restricting migration.

On two parts of the political spectrum - the passionate "Remainers" who are mostly Lib/Dems and the libertarian free marketeers who are mostly on the right, it is almost an article of faith that Theresa May's government is going for a "hard Brexit" and that this is a bad mistake.

I do not buy into this analysis.

The PM has repeatedly rejected the language of "hard versus soft Brexit" and denied that her objective is the former.

Theresa May believes that to negotiate the best deal for Britain she needed

 - for parliament to give her as much negotiating room as possible (which she has now obtained) and

 - to make the other EU nations think that there is an actual possibility that if they offer Britain a really bad exit deal and refuse to budge we will walk away.

I suspect that the PM regards walking away from the negotiations as a last resort. She would only leave the EU without an agreed "deal" if the deal on the table was completely unacceptable. She probably does not even intend to threaten to walk away unless the deal on offer is bad enough to make this a credible threat. Greece tried bluffing the EU over the Euro a few years ago with a threat to leave the Euro, and the EU called their bluff, which completely destroyed the Greek government's negotiating position. Theresa May will not want to repeat that mistake.

However, just as it would be a bad negotiating mistake to try to bluff the EU by threatening to walk out when there is no chance we would actually do so, it would also be a bad mistake to give them the impression that there is no deal so bad we would walk away from it. If Britain tries to run an obvious bluff the EU will call it, and we will get hammered in the negotiation, but if the other 27 nations think there is no possibility whatsoever that Britain will walk away they have no incentive to be reasonable on any of the issues of contention.

A lot of the government's language is probably aimed at giving the other EU nations the strongest plausible impression that Britain might turn around and walk away if pushed too hard.

The government wants both free trade and restrictions on freedom of movement.

What they have never said is that either of these objectives has total priority over the other.

There is a very interesting article by John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, on the CAPX website called

"On Brexit Theresa May is giving the public what they want."

which argues that while the EU sees free trade and freedom of movement as going together, the polling evidence suggests that the British government is aligned with the British electorate - including those who voted Remain as well as those who voted Leave - in wanting more trade but less migration.

Curtice argues that the great majority of both Leave and Remain voters think the PM is right to try to get a deal which delivers as much free trade as possible while obtaining at least some restrictions on freedom of movement.

The article is worth a look and you can read it here.


Jim said...

the strongest hand the EU have in these negotiations is time.

Merkel and Junker have both tried to "eat way" this time or if you like run down the clock. Now a trade deal within the 2 year time period is very unlikely. but to insist that all the leaving disscussions need to be complete before the future trade even begin, well that is pretty much impossible.

The EU have also decided that the UK can withdraw its article 50 notification, thus meaning they can run down the clock, so the uk, on failing to reach a deal of any kind has the option of "remain a full member" or "WTO".

Both of which are not very appetising. The more you look, you more you see that by turning down the option of Efta/EEA then the government have done nothing short of shoot the country in the foot.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry, be happy. Madam May will sort it out.