Tuesday, 17 April 2018

How the Windrush scandal connects with Brexit

The Windrush scandal is disgraceful and disgusting in its own right. It is also connected in multiple ways to Brexit. First, in the most generic way, the “hostile environment” created by immigration policy grew out of the same political and cultural soil as the central, anti-immigration, plank of the Leave campaign. Both are expressions of the same hysteria of ‘uncontrolled’ borders, of health tourism, of jobs and public services supposedly taken by immigrants and of crimes supposedly committed by them. It is a hysteria whipped up by the tabloid press and the far right and, at the very least, pandered to by politicians of the two main parties. Without this political culture, neither the Windrush scandal nor – whatever the protestations now of ‘liberal leavers’ - the Brexit vote would have happened.

More specifically, what has happened to the Windrush victims, who – to spell it out - had a perfect legal right to reside permanently in Britain, has a direct relevance to the situation of EU nationals living in Britain will face post-Brexit when they, too, have that right. The, still provisional, guarantee of settled status (itself, by the way, a significant diminution of the rights of free movement, as discussed in a previous post) will require, precisely, that the British immigration authorities do not make the same kind of errors they have made in relation to Windrush.

And it is hardly as if these errors are an isolated event. They form part of a longstanding pattern of failure at the Home Office. Indeed, some EU nationals who have sought to clarify their status since the Brexit vote have already been caught in the vortex of incompetence and encultured, bureaucratised suspicion of the Home Office. For example, last August it emerged that the Home Office accidentally sent at least a hundred letters wrongly threatening EU nationals with deportation.

It’s important to understand that – as with the Windrush victims – when things like this happen it creates a life-wrecking situation. It isn’t just a matter of some onerous bureaucracy: people’s relationships, jobs and indeed their whole lives are in danger of being ripped up. Even if the situation is resolved, it leaves an ongoing trauma for the people affected, and this ripples out to those who might come to be affected.

With Brexit, EU nationals will become vulnerable not just in the immediate aftermath but for years to come. As Windrush shows, the dead hand of Home Office incompetence can reach out over the decades to knock on your door when you are old, or in need of healthcare. The already questionable proposition that EU citizens have nothing to fear from Brexit has taken a further, massive knock as a result of Windrush. Small wonder that the EU want independent oversight of the arrangements for their citizens’ rights. Windrush will cement the case for that, and probably for a longer period of ECJ oversight.

Moreover, at a less personal level, the scandal has pointed up very sharply issues around the fantasy of Global Britain and, especially, of the role that the Commonwealth might play in Britain’s post-Brexit trade relationships. As George Eaton, writing in the New Statesman, points out, the timing of the Windrush scandal breaking as the Commonwealth summit opens in London could hardly be less auspicious.

But in any case, the ‘Empire 2.0’ idea is misguided in every respect. Its first step is to exit the trade agreements that Britain as an EU member has or is currently negotiating with Commonwealth countries. These cover the vast majority of those countries, including those which are the major trading economies. Of particular note in the Windrush context are the agreements with Caribbean countries. So all those will have to be re-negotiated on a bi-lateral basis (the idea floated by some of a pan-Commonwealth trade agreement or even trade area is a fantasy within a fantasy: the Commonwealth is, avowedly, not a trade bloc or trade negotiating entity in its own right).

Beyond that, Empire 2.0 is apparently blind to the very particular political context of the Commonwealth. In brief, few if any of its members aspire to re-enact imperial preference in order to dig Britain out of its Brexit hole, and even if they did they have not stood still since 1973. They are part of their own regional trade agglomerations and neither economically nor culturally do they participate in some misty-eyed reverence for ‘the mother country’. And beyond that, whether Commonwealth countries or not, trade with places far away is never going to compensate for lost trade on the European doorstep.

And beyond even all that is the fact that any such trade deals will usually require preferential immigration treatment, as India has already spelt out. Indeed, it is British opposition to this which to a large extent explains why an EU-India trade deal has not yet been finalised.  Which brings us full circle to the prevailing anti-immigration political culture in Britain which makes such deals difficult (how to reconcile them with an immigration cap in the tens of thousands?) and also rather unattractive to the non-British party (who wants their nationals to be exposed to so hostile an atmosphere?). This is yet another version of the contradiction in Brexit whereby a vote which mobilised nativism is being used to endorse a policy of (a certain sort of) globalism.

The Windrush scandal and Brexit both disclose what happens when, as Ian Dunt describes it “a country completely loses its mind about immigration”. Even if Brexit does not go ahead, there is an urgent need for the country as a whole, and the political class in particular, to regain its senses. A part of that would be to think about the benefits of immigration in more than the narrow, transactional, economic terms which are about the only ones that even pro-immigration arguments get made. If Brexit does go ahead, then that task will arguably be even more urgent.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Business gets vocal about Brexit

One of the many remarkable consequences of the Brexit vote is the extent which it has fractured the traditional closeness of the Conservative Party and the business community. For the Ultras, in particular, it has become commonplace to treat bodies like the CBI and the IoD, and the City in toto, as being part of the assorted horde of saboteurs and enemies of the people stretching from universities to the judiciary.

This seems to have spread to the government more widely. Following the Referendum, there were repeated complaints that neither the Prime Minister nor DExEU would engage with businesses unless they express positivity about Brexit. Since few businesses see anything positive in Brexit this inevitably eroded business influence on the Brexit process. That is said to have changed somewhat since the General Election, admittedly, and the government’s acquiescence to a standstill transition period on EU terms is widely understood to reflect this.

But even with a transition period agreement in prospect, at least, the concerns of business are only very temporarily met. Hence there is now a growing public clamour to mitigate the worst effects of Brexit. A high profile example this week came from the CEO of Airbus, which directly employs 15,000 people in the UK and indirectly perhaps another 100,000. Moreover, many of these are highly skilled jobs. For Airbus, the main issues are the customs union and EASA membership (which entails a role for the ECJ). In passing, I once heard Jacob Rees-Mogg loftily opining that since (as is true) there are no tariffs on aerospace parts the industry had nothing to fear from Brexit. A small example of the way that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. At all events, lack of clear and realistic plans on the part of the government, Airbus warned, threatened long-term investment and time is running out fast to develop such plans.

Aerospace was one of multiple sectors covered in a CBI report entitled ‘Smooth Operations’ published this week, setting out the views of its members on regulatory issues post-Brexit. This report deserves high marks for recognizing some things which the Brexit business debate has often missed (although both have been discussed on this blog). First, that very often goods and services cannot be separated out, for example where companies provide repair and customer support services for their products, or where software forms part of the product. Second, that business sectors can’t be neatly and discretely packaged up: they interact, as does their regulation. This did, however, make it puzzling to then identify some sectors where divergence would be desired; a reprise of Theresa May’s ‘three baskets’ approach, with all its attendant problems which I’ve discussed elsewhere.

The overall thrust of the report was that British business should for the most part stay closely or completely aligned with EU regulations (thus, of the three baskets, two are virtually empty). The problem, though, is the clear implication of this is that Britain should remain in the single market. Since the CBI were not willing to argue that (they have done in the past, but presumably now see that political horse as having bolted) it becomes unclear what ‘alignment’ actually means. Presumably it means always adopting EU rules as they arise or change and some body, which can really only be the ECJ (or, perhaps, the EFTA Court), to enforce them. On these matters – which go to the heart of the entire debate about Brexit, soft Brexit and hard Brexit – the report only speaks in vague terms of the need to develop “mechanisms for influence and enforcement that benefit both sides”. It may have been politically astute of the CBI to avoid re-engaging with the debate on single market membership, but it leaves a big hole in their analysis and, more importantly, has the potential for adverse consequences for Britain, and for business, further down the line.

I will come back to what those consequences are, but before doing so it’s worth noting the response to the CBI report from Richard Tice, Vice Chair of Leave means Leave (which may perhaps be taken as representing the views of the Ultras more generally). He bemoaned it “as protecting the vested interests of the global multi-nationals at the expense of the approximately 90% of the British economy that does not export to the EU”. This short sentence embodies a series of misleading implications. Of course it is true that most of the British economy doesn’t export to the EU. Like all countries, most of the economy doesn’t export to anyone. But it makes no sense to have two sets of rules, one for the trading economy and one for the rest, which would be a recipe for red tape and would also permanently freeze the British economy into exactly the shape of its present pattern of trade activity.

However, the bigger implication is the populist one of Brexit as a battle with the “vested interests of global multi-nationals”. That is a nonsense given the kind of trade deals the Brexiters want to sign, anyway. It’s also a nonsense in terms of the way that all advanced economies – Britain’s, for better or worse, especially so – are globally embedded. Unless Britain wants to lose those firms, their jobs and their taxes then that needs to remain so. Brexit was never sold to the British public as a manifesto for economic autarky, and wouldn’t have been bought by them on that basis. And it’s nonsense because the CBI represents, and the issues it raises apply equally to, small and medium-sized businesses not just multi-nationals.

One of the most informative and saddening things I read this week was a blog post by Natalie Milton, the owner of small manufacturing company exporting mainly to the EU. In it, she details how leaving the single market and customs union will destroy the business she and her partner have built up over many years because of additional processes and costs. She explains precisely the nitty-gritty practicalities of Brexit for such a business (something few advocating Brexit seem to understand) and also how she and her family have built it from nothing so that losing it will devastate their whole lives. On her own account, these are ordinary people who don’t come from a privileged background but have created a successful business, earning foreign currency and providing jobs in their local community. It is crazy to think that destroying all this is a blow against “vested interests”. And, coming back to the point at the start of this post, it is striking how this person is almost the embodiment of what the Conservative Party used to claim to be the backbone, even the model, of what Britain was about. No longer, it seems.

How much influence business has on what happens with Brexit now remains to be seen. There are potentially heavy penalties for individual firms speaking out: as long ago as 2014 Brexit Ultra John Redwood threatened punishment for firms which spoke in favour of EU membership, and there are risks of adverse press coverage and lost government contracts. Still, as the government slowly come to appreciate that the fantasies of the Brexit Ultras cannot be put into practice, some degree of sanity may prevail. There is an irony in that, by the way, since what we see happening is the mirror image of that now rarely-heard piece of Brexiter scripture that the ‘German car industry’ would pressure the EU into delivering a cake and eat it Brexit deal.

It may be such business pressure that is leading to rumours that Theresa May will, after all, seek a form of customs union with the EU (something both the CBI and IoD have lobbied for and which recently became Labour Party policy). It may be that something like what the CBI are setting out in ‘Smooth Operations’ comes to pass. And that could, indeed, mitigate a lot of the economic damage of Brexit. However, even if so, there is a real danger ahead if the efforts of the business lobby are successful. The danger is of drifting into a kind of de facto soft Brexit when it has never been clearly articulated or framed as such, and doesn’t sit within a defined framework such as EFTA. I think there are many people in business and beyond who expect something like this drift or fudge to occur, and in a way it would be a rather British, make do and mend, kind of Brexit if it did.

But if that happens it will always be liable to future attack and unstitching by the Brexit Ultras, or for that matter by others. It won’t represent a clear, strategic decision by the UK but will rather be a patchwork of compromises and ad hoc solutions cobbled together in such a way as to slip it past not just the Ultras but everyone else, including the EU and including the British public. That won’t be particularly good for businesses – it means that investment in Britain will always have an additional risk factor – and it certainly won’t be good for Britain as whole. It will mean that far from Britain’s relationship with the EU being settled for a generation, that relationship will continue to be the running sore it has been for the last three decades with the added inflammation, of course, that Brexit has rubbed into that sore.  

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

A year into Article 50, unreality permeates Brexit

A year ago I wrote about the bleak and bitter day for our country when the Article 50 process was initiated. A year on, most of what I wrote in that post still holds true but of course there have also been some momentous developments including the bizarre Brexit election that didn’t discuss Brexit and its outcome, the phase 1 agreement and, most recently, the draft transition agreement. Now, half-way through the Article 50 period, we might expect the story to be one of Brexit becoming ever more real. Instead, a strange air of unreality predominates.

Brexiters themselves seem to have all but given up on claiming that there is any great value in or reason for doing it. On the odd occasions that they attempt it, as with Boris Johnson’s ‘road to Brexit’ speech, it quickly descends into bathos. More often, the message now is just that it won’t be the awful disaster that critics claim. That in itself seems to be overly optimistic but, even so, hardly inspiring. Of course, they continue to claim that this is because Brexit has been ‘watered down’ by conniving remainers but that is nonsense. The government are enacting precisely the hard Brexit that the Ultras called for, and are finding out just how impractical it is. As I wrote when it was sent, the Article 50 letter marked “the moment from which Brexiters are responsible for what happens to this country. There can be no equivocation about this. Brexiters campaigned for years to leave the EU, they won the referendum and they now control the process of leaving”.

As for Theresa May, she, like most politicians of both main parties, appears to be of the view that Brexit is an outright mistake and yet, somehow, must be done anyway. The semi-respectable reason for that was respecting the result of the Referendum – but only semi-respectable since it was an advisory referendum, explicitly not requiring a super-majority because of that status, and since it certainly didn’t mandate Brexit in the form it is taking. In any case, that semi-respectability is now entirely threadbare. It may never be possible to prove exactly what difference it made, or exactly what happened, but the revelations about the conduct of the Leave campaign now mean that a miasma of illegitimacy hangs over the very marginal victory they secured.

All of that might not have much traction if the Brexit government had developed an even halfway workable approach to their central policy. They have not, and, again, it is false to attribute this to remainer opposition (£). On the contrary, that opposition continues to flourish in part because it is transparently obvious that no workable policy is in place. If there were, many would remain unreconciled to Brexit, of course, but the edge of the opposition would have been blunted, if not discredited.

That no such policy exists is because the government are seeking to operationalise the pretence, or fantasy, or lie, of the Leave campaign that something approximating to EU membership can be obtained but without being a member of the EU or even of the EEA. From that fantasy flow all of the well-rehearsed problems of the Irish border and the perhaps less well-rehearsed problems of participating in EU programmes and agencies (see, for example, this analysis of the European Space Agency by Sophia Besch of CER). It is a fantasy which, as the ever-acute Jonathan Lis of Open Britain explains, will inevitably be exposed in the phase 2 talks.

Until then, the domestic debates about Brexit continue to go round and round in circles, with the only progress occurring when the government accepts the precepts laid down by the EU, as has happened with the phase 1 agreement and, hence, the draft withdrawal agreement and ‘transition’ arrangements. That isn’t, at least not primarily, because of the EU’s stronger bargaining position, it is because if the UK doesn’t itself put forward a workable policy then, by default, what happens is that the EU’s policy becomes the only game in town.

Whilst this is most obviously a failure of the government – since they are, indeed, the government – it is equally true of the Labour opposition. They had the possibility of taking a perfectly respectable and coherent position of arguing for soft Brexit. That would have made intellectual and political sense, and would have enabled any half-way competent opposition to eviscerate a government so adrift from practicalities, so internally riven, and in such a precarious parliamentary position. Instead, Labour moved slowly and belatedly to a position on a customs union that, in itself, does not resolve the Irish border issue nor anything much else; and are hamstrung not simply by having a leader who is probably by conviction in favour of Brexit but one who seems uninterested in and ignorant about it. How else to explain the fact that he rarely raises this defining issue of the day at PMQs and that he repeatedly takes the patently untrue line that single market membership is precluded by leaving the EU?

What hangs above all of this is the inexorable passage of time. It is increasingly obvious that the decision to trigger Article 50 at the time she did was perhaps the worst miscalculation of any British Prime Minister in modern times (far worse in its long-term effects than Suez; the only other contender for the title would be Cameron’s various missteps that led to the Referendum and its result). It was a purely symbolic gesture to the Brexit Ultras in her party and, in conjunction with the extraordinary follow-up of calling an election with the result it had and the thoughtless red lines she established, has created an effectively impossible policy. Every day that goes by makes it clearer – as, in relation to customs arrangements, May herself admitted the other day – that even with the transition period there is insufficient time to do all that needs to be done to avoid chaos.

The one rational solution to this, apart from abandoning Brexit altogether which would almost certainly require another referendum, would be to apply to the EU to extend the Article 50 period but this is precluded by, yet again, the Ultras in her own party, even assuming that the EU-27 would unanimously, as would be required, agree to it. The lesson that May still has not learned is that whatever she does the Ultras will accuse her of betrayal, so she might as well take that hit and at least commit to something workable – meaning not simply an A50 extension but, in the process a belated embrace of the EEA.

So we have a policy that at least half the country, and most parliamentarians, think is a mistake or worse being prosecuted with a level of ineptitude without parallel in modern British political history. It is regarded with incredulity by our friends and allies, and with glee by our enemies. Its main and most vociferous advocates scarcely bother to defend it anymore, and it is based upon a narrow majority that is increasingly looking to have been secured by a deeply flawed process. In the meantime, probably irreparable damage is being done to the economy, to our geo-political standing, to the civility of our political discourse and, the greatest human cost, to the lives of the millions of EU-27 nationals living in Britain and British nationals in the EU-27. Having predicated their lives, livelihoods and relationships, entirely reasonably, on freedom of movement and all that goes with it they remain in an agonizing limbo.

As to what will happen in the next year, who would care to predict? In a previous post I suggested that the agreement of a transition period makes it more likely that we drift to Brexit with no political or economic crisis until it becomes a fait accompli and we have left, albeit on unknown terms. I am not so sure of that since the new allegations about the Vote Leave campaign. There is probably not quite enough, yet, to decisively shift events but it won’t take many more revelations to do so. What happens then is difficult to anticipate, but the momentum to Brexit is egg-shell thin and the slightest crack could be enough to embolden our still cowed parliamentarians and to transform public opinion.

Ironically, the most encouraging event as this first year of Article 50 ends was a speech by Jacob Rees-Mogg (these are not words I ever expected to write), in which he expressed his outrage at the possibility that Brexit might not happen. That Rees-Mogg is outraged is not of any great note (the ‘man bites dog’ story would be if he were ever to be anything else). What is remarkable is that, half-way through the Brexit process, he recognizes that it may yet be abandoned. His fears are, for those of us who are opposed to Brexit, our hopes. But he is right to say that if they are realised there will be an almighty political car crash, and if it happens the outcome won’t be a return to the day before the Referendum or before the Article 50 letter. Whatever happens now none of us, whether leaver or remainer, is going to ‘get our country back’.

Friday, 23 March 2018

The passport and fishing rows expose the lies and contradictions of Brexit

It’s easy to dismiss the fuss over where British passports are going to be printed. But it is a microcosm of the way that leave voters were, and are still being, misled, as is the row over fisheries. It’s widely understood that one important segment of the leave vote was those ‘left behind’ by and hostile to globalization (the Lord Ashcroft Poll immediately after the referendum showed that 69% of those who thought globalization a force for ill voted leave). For such voters, the question of whether things are produced in the UK or not matters, especially when it is linked to such a clear symbol of national identity as a passport. Yet almost as soon as the Referendum votes were counted, leading Brexiters were lining up to say that the result in no way mandated an unwinding of globalization. On the contrary, according to Liam Fox in his September 2016 ‘Manchester’ speech:

“I believe the UK is in a prime position to become a world leader in free trade because of the brave and historic decision of the British people to leave the European Union.”

Wherever it is produced, leave voters may well get the symbolic victory of a blue passport (an empty victory, of course, since nothing in EU membership precluded having this anyway). They are not going to see, as during the campaign I heard some of them say they expected, a return of those industries which existed in Britain prior to EU membership (although even the most ‘patriotic’ leavers don’t show any great propensity to buy British goods). The reason for that is simple: they were not lost because of EU membership. On the other hand, what is being lined up for them by the ‘Global Britain’ Brexiters – such as the ever-ludicrous Daniel Hannan’s Initiative for Free Trade - is a more intensified globalization without the regional framework and protections afforded by the EU. As regards passports in particular, the competitive international tendering of such contracts would almost certainly be a feature of any trade deal Britain ends up making with the EU.

That feeds into a wider issue. Whereas during the referendum campaign the leave side majored on immigration and only sporadically mentioned an independent trade policy, ever since the result these priorities have been reversed. It is solely because of this that exiting any customs union and, hence, the common commercial policy, has become an impregnable red line (whereas within hours of the referendum Brexiters like, again, Hannan disowned the immigration promises). As the government’s own forecasts show, the economic rewards of an independent trade policy will be nugatory, and far outweighed by the economic damage of leaving the single market, but for Brexiters it is an iconic prize. But with it will come much that ‘nativist’ leave voters will find repugnant. India will not be the only country wanting visas in exchange for trade, and any deal with the US will very likely entail opening up the NHS to private companies. This was precisely what the Leave campaign, wrongly, claimed would happen under TTIP if Britain voted to stay in the EU.

As for fishing, it has been clear for over a year that the promises made by leave campaigners would not be met, and it is increasingly likely that the industry will be bartered for favourable treatment for other, larger and more economically important, sectors in the negotiations with the EU. Ironically, had Brexiters been willing to accept soft Brexit this would not have been so. In those circumstances, Britain would leave the Common Fisheries Policy but there would not be the wider re-negotiation of trade that makes the sacrifice of fishing likely. Moreover, soft Brexit would have been much quicker to organize, and very likely there would be no need for a transition period. Fishing would have been ‘free’ of the EU long before January 2021. That aside, given that there is to be a transition period, there was never any prospect whatsoever of fishing, uniquely, being exempt from the standstill for everything else even though Michael Gove was saying otherwise only a few weeks ago. In every conceivable respect fishing communities have been used and misled.

This most certainly does not mean that Farage and others, with their cries of ‘betrayal’, have got it right. His formula for Brexit is that of someone who knows he will never actually have to take responsibility for it. So he can continue to con fishermen and everyone else that there is a quick, simple ‘clean Brexit’ in which all of the fantasies of the Brexiters come true by simply walking away from the EU. This is contemptible dishonesty, and in relation to fishing especially so since Farage virtually never turned up to meeting of the EU Fisheries Committee when he was a member.

The great achievement, and the great lie, of the Leave campaign was to make voting leave mean all things to all people. It could mean soft or hard Brexit; liberal or illiberal Brexit; Nativist or Globalist Brexit; a vote against the neo-Communist ‘EUSSR’ or against neo-liberal Capitalism. As a vote-winning strategy, that got Leave over the line – just. Since then, the chickens of ambiguity have come home to roost. That’s most obvious in the still ongoing conflict over soft versus hard Brexit. But the passports and fisheries rows expose the nativist-globalist dimension of the dishonesty. What is politically important now, in the very few months left, is whether leave voters come to see that all the contradictory things they were promised cannot and never will come true. And, if they do, who they will decide to blame.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Draft transition agreement: initial thoughts

The agreement of much of the text for the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU and the ‘transition period’ thereafter marks the first substantive development since the conclusion of the Phase 1 negotiations in December. There is much in the detailed provisions to be picked over, and the fine print may throw up some significant problems, including the possibility that the body to oversee citizens’ rights might come to an end eight years after the end of the transition period. And the most intractable issue, that of the Northern Ireland border, has been deferred. Overall, though, it is now far less likely (although still not impossible) that there will be a ‘cliff edge’ in March 2019 and to that extent has been welcomed by business groups since it makes for a greater degree of certainty.

However, it can also be seen as no more than an extension of the period of uncertainty. It is not, at this point, a transition to anything nor is it an implementation of anything. Future trade terms will not be agreed until after the end of the Article 50 period, although there will likely be an outline political agreement on what is aimed for. It seems unlikely that the detailed legal terms will be fully agreed in time for the end of the transition period, so a cliff edge is still a possibility. And if the outcome is, as the British government insists it must be, that Britain leaves the single market and has no Customs Treaty equivalent to the Customs Union then there is not enough time for either the government or many businesses to make the necessary adjustments without a further transition period. For some of the major projects involved, especially customs facilities, December 2020 is really not very far off.

But the agreement makes no provision for any such extension of the transition period. Thus if all goes ahead as agreed Britain will be a third country with respect to the EU at the end of March 2019 and out of the single market and customs union at the end of December 2020. What form its relationship with the EU will then take is unknown. For large, long-term business investments that is a major problem. There is also one particular uncertainty about the transition period itself that the text of the agreement is very coy about: Britain’s access to EU trade agreements with other third countries, via which about 16% of UK trade is conducted. A footnote in the text says that the EU will inform those countries that Britain is to be treated as a member state for the purpose of those agreements. But it is not clear that they are under any obligation to do so.

Will this agreement, assuming its terms get finalised, go ahead? On the EU side, the answer seems almost certainly to be yes. After all, in almost all key respects, including the length of the transition period, the agreement follows the terms originally set by the EU. In particular, the UK will continue to be subject to but have no control over all EU rules and laws. This will be the ‘vassal state status’ that Brexit Ultras have said would be unacceptable (a tacit admission that their erstwhile claims that Britain had no say in the EU was inaccurate), and pretty much the opposite of ‘taking back control’.

Even so, and despite what will no doubt be a lot of huffing and puffing, it seems very likely that Brexiters will accept the agreement. It makes it all but certain that they will get over the line in March 2019 and Brexit will be a legal reality, even if at first with little tangible effect on everyday life. Some of them will make much of the fact that the transition terms allow Britain to both negotiate and ratify (but not implement) trade deals with other countries. That is actually a hollow concession by the EU since it’s unlikely that other countries will want to sign up to trade deals with Britain before knowing the nature of Britain’s post-transition trade terms with the EU. And in any case Britain’s limited capacity for trade negotiations will be fully used up in talks with the EU. Apart from that crumb, there is nothing in the agreement that will commend itself to Brexiters. But they – or at least those of them in parliament - have little option but to go along with it since if they do not the political crisis it would provoke could end up de-railing Brexit altogether.

Conversely, that means that for remainers the prospects of avoiding Brexit look more remote. If there is no political crisis and a further deferment of most of the really serious economic damage of leaving the single market, it becomes much harder to mobilise public opposition to Brexit in the time available. For many people, who are perhaps not very interested in the details, it will seem as if things are drifting along with nothing much to worry about for now, if at all. Such drift, of course, is fatal to remainers because just as Brexiters will swallow anything to get over the March 2019 line so too is it the case that once that line is crossed there is no going back (except in the very long-run). On the other hand, it’s still possible that Britain could change policy on single market membership and seek to remain in that after the transition period ends. But that it is a possibility is likely to erode the willingness of Tory remain-inclined MPs to see any urgency in rebelling now. Why go through the pain if, after all, the eleventh hour on single market membership has been postponed?

That the possibility of single market membership being retained exists is principally because of the unresolved issue of the Ireland/ Northern Ireland border. The government believe that this will be solved either by Option A (a very close trade agreement) or Option B (special arrangements, especially technological solutions). Since the trade terms will still be under negotiation during the transition period, this means that the Irish border issue will continue to be deferred until after Brexit day. However, no known trade agreement can avoid the need for a border and no known technologies will enable it to be a completely invisible border of a sort compatible with the Good Friday Agreement. Which would then bring into play Option C, meaning regulatory alignment across the border. If that were to mean a border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain then, according to Theresa May, no British PM could agree to it. Which would then have to mean regulatory alignment with the whole of the UK: de facto single market membership and customs union. Whether by then – some four and a half years after the Referendum – Brexit in this or any other form could be called the Will of the People is another matter entirely.