Flat White

The Gordian union?

7 February 2019

6:03 PM

7 February 2019

6:03 PM

As the remaining time for Britain to negotiate a deal before it leaves the EU on the March 29 continues to tick away, the potential of a “No deal” Brexit or simply no Brexit at all continues to loom large in the consciousness of both Westminster politicians and everyday Britons.

With Theresa May clinging to the keys to number 10 and the European Union’s negotiators resolute that no further concessions will be made, it’s increasingly unlikely that any sort of mutually acceptable deal can be hammered out in the time remaining before the Brexit deadline.

Calls for a second referendum dubbed a “people’s vote” by its advocates continue to grow louder, as the seemingly rudderless May government continues to grasp at straws in a vain attempt to salvage some semblance of influence over the terms of Britain’s EU exit.

While there is little doubt that Theresa May and her government could have done a far better job handling Brexit and the delicate negotiations with the EU. The fact remains that Britain was always likely to struggle to negotiate a deal that was sufficiently acceptable to all the various parties that the EU is bureaucratically compelled to satisfy.

The lack of acceptance of this self evident fact created a great deal of false hope in Britain, that somehow the UK could muddle through the Brexit negotiations to magically negotiate a sweetheart deal to exit the single market.


While the EU is often portrayed as a monolithic institution heavily influenced by France and Germany, its two largest economies, the reality is far more complex and nuanced than that relative simplification.

The European Union’s intricate web of diplomacy and bureaucracy is so complex, that the British Ambassador to the EU privately concluded to the British government, that a trade agreement with the EU could take 10 years to negotiate and then still potentially fail to be ratified.

This is due to the fact, that legislation as commonplace as trade agreements potentially require the approval of the EU Council, EU Parliament, the national assemblies of all 28 member nations and certain sub-national bodies before the deal can be fully enacted.

This type of approval generally takes an extremely long time with so many parties to the negotiation, all of whom need to be sufficiently satisfied. For example the EU – Canada free trade agreement took seven years to negotiate and was twenty-two years in the making.

It has been nearly two years since the deal was signed, but it has only been ratified by 11 of the required 28 EU member nations, so the full agreement is not yet entirely enforceable and parts of it are only provisionally applied.

Perhaps the ideal illustration of the obstacles faced by parties negotiating with the EU, the Italian parliament refuses to ratify the Canada – EU trade agreement because the Italian government is concerned about the impact the deal may have the countries food industry.

This single opposing parliamentary body has the power to potentially scuttle the entire trade deal, based upon the concerns of a single industry that supports an extremely small proportion of the total population of the EU.

Due to the nature of the EU’s political system, a deal that was acceptable in both Brussels and Westminster was always an unlikely outcome. Instead of the British people being presented with the true gravity of the situation they found themselves in, the May government spent years perpetuating the myth that a good deal for Britain was just around the corner.

If Theresa May had of been upfront with the British people about the trials the nation faced going into this brave new future, the public would have had the opportunity to rise to the challenge, in the same way the British public always have, rather than being left in the dark until the last minute, only to have a “No Deal” Brexit or a second referendum sprung on them just months away from the Brexit deadline.

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