This article was first published in Reaction
Shortly the Prime Minister will write to the President of the European Commission notifying him that the United Kingdom is giving formal notice of its intention to withdraw from the European Union and its associated institutions. The notification will have been approved by Parliament and is not news in any sense. Britain notified its European colleagues of its desire to withdraw from the EU the morning after the referendum, when the result became apparent. What is interesting is how the next few months develop.
Of course if the UK and the EU do not reach a deal on areas of mutual interest both sides will roll on. The impact and effect impossible to predict or convincingly assess, but relations with other countries is not a zero sum game. Any deal with any country, or collection of countries, is a balance of interests and judgements. A perfect deal – be it on trade, security, defence, or any other area – does not exist. Any deal is a trade off of interests and priorities of the parties involved.
Over the next few months the Dutch, French and Germans all have national elections which could effect their position in the EU/UK discussions, and are likely to delay any meaningful early agreement or conclusions. David Davis and his team have been assiduous over the last few months in meeting their counterparts across the 27 members of the EU. They have been laying the groundwork carefully and thoughtfully. Even so how the talks will go is anyone’s guess. It is in everyone’s interest that the negotiations are amicable and a positive deal is struck – but Europe has a long history of not reaching amicable agreements and too often in the past the UK has had to involve itself to save the continent from itself.
It is possible Theresa May and David Davis will not be able to conclude a deal. It is possible they will. It is possible they will conclude a transitional deal. Anything is possible. If the Prime Minister does strike either a deal or a transitional deal Parliament will want its say. It’s possible that, for all sorts of reasons, MPs of widely differing views may not approve of what has been agreed – and that’s before the House of Lords rolls into action. No deal will have been in any manifesto. No deal was on the ballot paper in the referendum. Both Houses will be free to have their say, and one can be certain that is what they want to do.
It will be at that point that Mrs May and Mr Davis may well need to call a General Election. They will have negotiated what they consider to be in the best interests of the country, available to them in the circumstances they were given by David Cameron’s referendum. If they are unable to have the deal approved by the current Parliament then they will need to go to the country in a “Brexit Deal” election – to win the support of the country. The deal would form the main item in the Conservative Party manifesto and every Parliamentary candidate would have to sign up to it. Mrs May is quite right to ignore calls for an early general election. The Prime Minister has proven she can pass tricky legislation through Parliament with the Article 50 Bill. It’s the deal, if there is to be one, that matters and it may well be that the Prime Minister has to go to the country in order to have it approved.