The longer Brexit negotiations draw on, the stronger the hand of those that wish to remain in the single market and customs union becomes, argues Mary Honeyball MEP at Progress annual conference 2017
Ever since the result of the ill-fate referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union was known just over a year ago, the two sides – the United Kingdom and the EU have inhabited different planets.
There are those in Britain – mainly Tory but some Labour – who think the customs union and single market are completely off the table and want the UK to just leave.
Meanwhile, the Europeans have always taken the view that the single market, the customs union and indeed EU membership itself have never been taken off the table.
Both sides are very far apart and the EU is very much in the driving seat. On EU citizenship rights the EU has simply not accepted the UK proposals as they do not think they are good enough.
Earlier in the first negotiating session David Davis ignominiously climbed down over the timetable. Citizens rights and the divorce bill will come first followed by the vexed question of the Northern Irish border.
My view is that these three matters will take up the rest of the negotiating time until mid-2019 when the Article 50 two years runs out.
This is no exaggeration. Last week I attended the committee which hears petitions from EU citizens. The meeting dealt with petitions on Brexit from Brits in the EU and EU citizens in the UK. There is massive anger as they feel used as bargaining chips and face huge uncertainty. They will not lie down quietly.
In terms of who is who in this and where the power lies, it is obviously with the EU 27. As a member of the European parliament I will be kept informed by the European parliament liaison, Guy Verhofstadt, an MEP and a former prime minister of Belgium.
Verhofstadt is clear that if Britain were to apply to rejoin the EU after leaving all what he has called ‘perks’ would go and Britain would have to join the euro and Schengen.
The European parliament will, of course, vote on the final deal. We are being kept informed about the talks at every stage.
But it is EU commissioner Michel Barnier who really matters, and he has an impressive team around him, including Sabine Weyand, the former director of the EU trade directorate.
The British team of officials are also impressive – no-one should underestimate Tim Barrow and Olly Robbins. But – David Davis?
The only thing which is clear is that nothing is clear.
We will, I believe, be facing huge uncertainty right up to the end of March 2019.
By that time the hand of those who wish to stay in the single market and the customs union may well be strengthened. Phillip Hammond has already started this process and Labour policy as far as it is at all clear seems to be to stay in the customs union. Some of us, including myself, recently signed a letter asking that Britain also stays in the single market.
It may even be the that UK public opinion in two years time may have moved to an acceptance that full EU membership is the best option.
Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, is not the only dreamer. It could yet happen. We just do not know.
Mary Honeyball is member of the European parliament for London and Labour’s spokesperson in Europe for gender and equality. She tweets @MaryHoneyball
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