Deal or No Deal?

Wednesday 31st May

I have watched the quiz programme a few, but just a very few, times.  I sort of understand the appeal – watching poor Joe’s struggling with their greed and their hopes.  Ultimately very cruel, but from the makers point of view – good television.  Also, good television was the TV debate on Monday night.  But what surprised me was the audience’s reaction and the commentator’s verdict that the most popular thing was Mrs. May saying No Deal was better than a Bad Deal.  The trouble is who is to judge how bad a deal is – there is bound to be just as much disagreement on the eventual deal as there was over the Brexit Referendum a year ago.

But the most interesting was that people actually think that threatening to walk away if you don’t get what you want is in any way a sensible strategy for conducting a complex negotiation.  But let us look at the possible deals.  The best deal of all would be for us to have unfettered access to the Single Market with no costs and no free movement of people, and paying nothing or next to nothing to the EU on leaving.  And why would the EU even consider giving this – it would be an invitation for every other country to walk away too.  So, even in her wildest dreams, Mrs. May will not get that.  The worst possible deal – the so-called Bad Deal, would be no access to the Single Market without punitive tariffs and lots of bureaucracy, and a punishing exit bill.

No Deal however, and by implication us crashing out of the EU with no transitional arrangements in place, would mean that legally we would still be responsible for paying the exit bill, though it might take a few years to drag it out of us.  And both Mrs. May and Jeremy have insisted that we would have to pay our legal responsibilities.  But on trade, where would that leave us?  The devil, as always, is in the detail.  As a member of the EU we cannot negotiate trade deals on our own – and we will be members until 31st March 2019.  But on April Fool’s day we would be free of that constraint but also have NO trading arrangement with Europe at all.  The mad Brexiteers say that we would fall back on WTO rules; that is at least 10% tariffs on everything.  But actually no.  Even to trade on WTO rules you have to have negotiated an agreement that allows you to do this.  It isn’t an emergency safety net that is there already – it will have to be negotiated.  So back to the table I am afraid.  We also would have no trading arrangements in place with any other country either.

But far more important than this it is the attitude which both I and other EU leaders find amazing.  You do not go in to a negotiation demanding that you get your way or you will walk away.  We have already formally begun the process of leaving – we cannot either walk away or change that decision.  We have to go through the process of discussion and finding a solution which satisfies, or at least goes some way to satisfying both sides.  Even No Deal is actually a deal of some sorts because whatever happens we will leave in less than two years time.  The whole way Europe works is by negotiating and finding points of consensus.  Mrs. May has already put the backs up of many in the EU by her hardline stance.  We are not at war with Europe, we will not be fighting them on the beaches (of which ours by the way are the dirtiest in Europe, despite our promising to clean them up), we will still want to trade with them after March 2019.  I am sure an agreement can be reached, but swinging one’s handbag a la Thatcher, which may play well to mad Brexiteers, is not the way to get one.  With that attitude it would be no surprise if the EU are the ones to just walk away….and leave us to stew in a mess of our own making.  So I am afraid it has to be a deal.  Good, Bad or mixed will be for another discussion.