In light of Theresa May’s crashingly incompetent General Election campaign we’re forced to contemplate the end of the current strategy of a high stakes negotiation for a the most advantageous bespoke arrangement that can be negotiated. She called for a mandate to negotiate on these terms… and did not receive it. She is now left without the majority she needs to to negotiate a difficult and bespoke deal, and to compromise where necessary to achieve such a finely balanced result.
And in fairness to JC, he ran a campaign as well judged as hers was poorly so!
But back to Brexit – are we now stuck with a ‘soft’ one?
That rather depends on what you mean by Hard or Soft Brexit.
To me it means ongoing acrimony and WTO terms, not whether we escape the clutches of the ECJ (God willing!), or leaving the great tariff wall, i.e. the customs union.
But there are two more commonly understood explanations for whether a Brexit is Hard or Soft:
One, I believe is referring to a distinctly disadvantageous economic situation, relative to that which we had within the EU.
The other, equating the softness of brexit with a continuing institutional (and thus cultural), closeness with the EU.
I can sympathise with the first, though I believe I may differ over whether EEA access is necessary to prevent this situation arising.
I have no sympathy with the latter, as the whole purpose of voting leave was to achieve breakage from a nascent political union.
There is a logic in seeking to avoid the jurisdiction of the ECJ – especially if it means being a rule-taker – when the EU has such a poor reputation for conflating the single market with political union.
But I am not in principle opposed to remaining in the EEA, not least because single market competences are so much less enveloping than that required by wider EU membership. Norway’s example.
The key here is: does the EU understand that Britain’s problem has always been the attempt to subvert the strict economic utility of the single market with a social and fiscal land-grab that can only be justified by political union? The eurozone is not the single market. Blair’s discarding the Social Chapter opt-out was an excellent catalyst for a future Leave vote, a warning entirely justified by its inevitable misuse in bringing in EU social and employment legislation in via the legislative back door.
If they can, and undertake to continue their political project under the eagis of the eurozone legal framework (thank you Mr Cameron, circa 2011), then sure, the EEA is a viable prospect for Britain.
If they cannot, then “goodbye” to the ECJ, and “hello” to some bespoke arrangement based on mutual recognition and sectoral equivalence.
The EU:Ukraine Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) is a useful model here. It could be built upon as a template.
I do not consider the latter to necessarily constitute a Hard Brexit. Failing to achieve it would be a Hard Brexit. Even then, such an outcome might be preferable to being under the ECJ jurisdiction with an EU willing to do anything to hold onto ever-closer-union.
That is what May threw away on Thursday: our best chance of avoiding the worst possible Brexit, whether that is acrimony and WTO or doubling down on ever closer union.
However, are we able even to talk to each other about Brexit, in this post-Mayism world, when a third of us define Brexit in cultural terms and the remainder in economic terms?
Is this yet another divide that JC can bridge?