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Bandying Brexit fantasies – why Brexit will still come and why the risk even of a no-deal has risen dramatically

14. June 2017, 14:26 Uhr

Almost nobody seems to be free from it, not even cool-headed ministers such as the Chancellor of the Exchequer: the fantasy of a soft Brexit, the UK remaining in the Customs Union and/or the Single Market included, or even abandoning the whole thing altogether on the basis of this Parliament. And almost everybody chooses to ignore basic facts instead. Alas, reality is harsh, and reasons why Brexit still is on the cards as much as the risk of even a failure of the Brexit negotiations has actually increased are numerous:

1) UK negotiators stand to kick off the talks next week, though right now, there even isn’t a formal agreement between the Conservatives and the DUP, much less an agreed cross-party Brexit strategy demanded by so many. In other words: Team GB won’t have either the mandate nor a clue what exactly to negotiate for, and that for weeks and weeks to come, while the clock is ticking regardless.

2) Though they have issued some conciliatory statements just to buttress Theresa May as long as it serves their interest, the visceral Tory Brexiteers will not allow Brexit to become as watered down as to embrace freedom of movement, such as the UK staying in the Common Market would entail inevitably. The moment Theresa May yields too much to the clamour from those demanding a soft Brexit, her days as PM are numbered, and she is likely to be replaced by a hardline Brexiteer with the commission to wreak havoc in Brussels, exactly because the Tories fear the otherwise inescapable re-run of the general election. That fear will serve to discipline the more moderate Conservative MPs not to block a hardline Brexiteer otherwise unpalatable to them, just as we’ve been tweeting ever since election night:

3) A minority government formed by Labour in the likely case that the CON-DUP alliance fails might actually fare better in trying to negotiate a soft Brexit through this Parliament, for if the Conservatives lose power, unshackled moderate Tory Brexiteers stand to side with the minority on softening the terms of Brexit. Die-hard Tory Brexiteers fear exactly that and will do anything to prevent that scenario becoming reality, propping up Theresa May as long as it takes included.

4) The only way to escape that impasse would be a grand coalition, as Lawrence Freedman, Emeritus Professor of War Studies King’s College London and a keen strategic mind, has rightly tweeted. Then, and only then, is there a chance to agree on a negotiation line avoiding another general election and/or even a second referendum on Brexit.

5) The deadline set by Article 50 won’t be prolonged, for that would necessitate the consent of all 27 remaining EU members. That alone makes successful negotiations in terms of an agreement on money, expats rights, and particularly a trade deal before time runs out completely impossible already. The formation of a Labour minority government or even another general election would chip away yet more time.

6) The single chance, then, to avoid Britain crashing out of the EU one way or the other is a transitional agreement now more relevant than ever. FT columnist Wolfgang Münchau has nailed it: This election hasn’t changed anything about the quality of Brexit as it has been initiated by the Prime Minister, but only about the necessity of a transitional agreement comprising continued UK contributions to the EU budget and freedom of movement in exchange for temporary membership in the Common Market.

7) Finally, rescinding the Brexit decision altogether is complete fantasy: Most observers choose to overlook the fact that the Tories actually won the election in terms of total votes and vote share; by all means, this election has not been the vote against Brexit many people claim it is. Even more important is that Labour campaigned on a pro-Brexit platform, too, if a tack more to the soft side of affairs. In other words: Roughly 80% of the electorate voted for parties in favour of Brexit. The ensuing haggle is about the scope of Brexit, not about the matter itself. Abandoning Brexit without another referendum would trigger open civil war in both the Tory and the Labour party, respectively, and will not happen for that simple matter.

In a nutshell: Rather than alleviating Brexit, this election has sharpened it to a matter of no deal or any deal whatsoever.

Jakob Steffen