With a certain hauteur that we are, unhappily, becoming used to, the European Union’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has delivered his verdict on the Brexit talks thus far. In three words (in translation) he tried to shake the British out of their complacency and to face up to the scale of the failure that is about to engulf them: “No decisive progress” on the key issues has been made. Cold words.
Everyone should understand the meaning of them, for without such progress on the agreed initial issues – the Irish border, the “divorce” bill and the rights of EU/UK citizens – then there can be no progress at all on the new trade deal that the British desire so badly.
Indeed, Mr Barnier twisted the diplomatic knife a little tighter when he told a press conference that the British were perversely “nostalgic” about the benefits of EU membership, rather than looking forward to their bracing global future.
It was a frosty sort of session, and not immediately encouraging for the “deep and special relationship” Theresa May once told her counterparts on the continent that she was seeking. A walkout by one side or other – partly theatrical, partly on substance – would not surprise anyone at this stage.
Little of the failure in the Brexit talks so far – and failure is not too strong a word where precisely nothing has been agreed more than a year after the referendum – can be blamed on the personalities involved.
David Davis is the best we’ve got, it seems, and his “creative ambiguity” and breezy approach to detail, though fooling no one, are not the real cause of the disharmony. Time and again in the talks, in the “position papers” of both sides, and in the vast coverage and analysis that fills the media, the same old problems keep cropping up.
The kind of access the UK used to enjoy to European markets cannot be secured without remaining a full member of the EU. Something like it cannot be secured without accepting migration of labour and a common external tariff (and thus no separate international trade deals). These are eternal verities, logical facts and not bargaining chips. The cake cannot be had and eaten.
The Irish border cannot be frictionless and operate as it does now, or as it did when both the UK and the Irish were outside the EU, when the Northern Irish frontier becomes the external border of the EU.
Either the British pay their financial obligations (undefined) or they do not, with…