In Depth

Brexit: will Britain’s bid for independence fail?

May averts cabinet crisis but doubts remain about UK’s ability to return to sovereign rule

The Government has published its draft back-up proposal for trade with the European Union post-Brexit, following crunch meetings between Prime Minister Theresa May and Brexit Secretary David Davis.

The so-called “backstop” plan would see the UK temporarily match the bloc’s trade tariffs in order to avoid a hard border in Ireland, and is required in case a deal cannot be agreed with the EU in time or the border infrastructure put in place.

The backstop effectively allows the UK to remain in the customs union until after December 2020, but specifies that this temporary fix should only last until December 2021. Davis reportedly insisted that this cut-off date be included in the wording of the proposal, in a bid to quell Brexiteers’ fears that the EU alignment could continue indefinitely. 

Davis clearly got his way, amid rumours that he threatened to quit over the issue, but in doing so “he may also have increased the chances of the EU declaring the proposal unacceptable”, says The Guardian.

Including a time limit in a back-up arrangement makes no sense, because the EU will still want to know what happens if an agreement cannot be reached by this deadline, agrees The Independent.

So can the UK persuade the EU to accept its “divorce” terms by the October summit, as planned?

In The Daily Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard paints a disappointing picture for the 17 million people who voted Leave two years ago.

“Brexiteers, bring out your black suits of mourning. Grieve with private dignity. The quixotic bid for British independence has failed,” he says.

“There will be no return to full sovereign and democratic self-rule in March 2019, or after the transition, or as far as the political eye can see.”

Evans-Pritchard argues that Westminster is edging towards remaining in the EU single market and customs union, minus the powers it previously had to influence the European Council, European Parliament and the European Court.

The Tories will discover that the “Franco-German axis aims to use its control over cliff-edge nodal points to force near total acceptance of the EU’s legal and regulatory machinery”, he says. Whatever the UK government proposes, he continues, the EU can “evoke the doomsday scenario of a trade crash” and “exploit Britain’s psychological vulnerability on Ireland”.

Independent UK trade infrastructure has not been built to make a “no deal” walkout credible, Evans-Pritchard concludes. “Total capitulation on EU terms therefore looks unavoidable at the October summit.”

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