As you might have noticed, the Brexit clusterfuck has been on my mind. Much as I’d like to think there is a way out of it–and there may be–my working assumption is that it will go ahead. The potential way out is in the election of a new Conservative leader, and hence Prime Minister, in September and an October general election in which a party campaigns on an explicitly “Remain” ticket. I think that’s unlikely to succeed, but I may be wrong. An alternative, that I’ve seen mentioned a lot, is that a Parliamentary revolt could scupper triggering of Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon. The problem with that is that triggering Article 50 is within the Government prerogative and not a matter for Parliament (also the Civil Service view I think)
Of course MPs might pass a motion suggesting the Prime Minister not do it, but the PM is under no obligation to comply, although the political dilemma would be unbearably stark.
So let’s assume an incoming Prime Minister triggers A50 in November 2016. We then have two years to negotiate an exit, ie to November 2018. Several, including on the Remain side, say it could take longer and they’re right–but only if the European Council unanimously agrees. However the European Council is under no obligation to agree, and we cannot at this stage assume that they will. In fact, given the ripple effects of Brexit through national economies in Europe, I’d say unanimous agreement was next to impossible. If there is no agreement, and no joint agreement to extend negotiations, then we are automatically out, on my suggested timetable in November 2018.
It follows that our negotiating position is best described as “over a barrel with a tub of Swarfega handy.”
Forget the fantasies promulgated by “Leave”: the EU is under no obligation to treat us well and any Treaty that is drafted can still be vetoed by Member States, a qualified majority of which is required to approve it. Personally, I suspect there’ll be a veto of anything controversial because we’ve pissed too many people in Europe off, but maybe I am too misanthropic. Of course there will be some pragmatic concessions, but we’ll still be over the barrel begging for scraps.
So, let’s assume the worst case, as any prudent planner has to do, and we are out without any Agreement in or around November 2018. What then?
Well, we’ll have to sort out our position under World Trade Organisation Rules. This means tariffs between the UK and the EU and also new Treaties with all of the 50 nations with which the EU presently has a Treaty on behalf of all members. Once again, we can expect no favours, and, like the Brexit negotiations, the position is profoundly asymmetric in the other guy’s favour.
Time to buy some more Swarfega.
Some have suggested that we have the negotiations first then another referendum on the resulting terms. The EU has already told us to fuck off on that score and I’m pretty sure they mean it. Their stance is “no negotiation until A50 is triggered” (and the Treaty contains no explicit procedures for revoking the A50 declaration if we don’t like the outcome).
This is a lot of work, you might think; just as well we have lots of highly trained negotiators waiting to set about it in parallel sessions. Unfortunately, thanks to public sector cuts, we do not have anywhere near sufficient people.
And so to Scotland.
Back when we were trained in negotiation techniques during my Diploma in Legal Practice, we were told that it is always good to know:
- What you will ask for,
- What you really want, and
- What you’ll settle for.
Nicola Sturgeon, who, though I don’t agree with her, is playing a blinder, is asking for some kind of variation of Independence in Europe (more or less). I think there is virtually no reasonable chance of this happening, and think so for three reasons:
- The EU has made it clear that they won’t talk until the Member State triggers A50. The implication is that an Indy Scotland would have to reapply under A49 of the Lisbon Treaty, and Scotland is in no position to do that.
- Indy without some form of fiscal transfer from rUK is suicidal. That has not changed since the Referendum of 2014 except that, with the collapse of oil, the problem has been made even worse. The alternative would almost certainly be loans from the ECB or German Banks, which worked out really well for Greece (and Portugal, Spain and Italy aren’t too happy either).
- If she succeeded there would have to be a Scotland/rUK Border because it would be an EU/rUK Border. This is something Nicola has explicitly stated she does not want.
Nicola knows all this, and she is strategically astute. So what does she really want? I reckon that she wants to emerge from the current constitutional anarchy with a seat at the top table in the UK, for example in some kind of federal structure where Scotland benefits from shared institutions, notably a central bank, a currency, and fiscal transfers. She could then, plausibly, claim to be preserving Scotland’s interests in the best way she could in the circumstances.
Of course, such a federal structure would also have to address issues with English nationalism, and that may be just too hard to do in the time available, what with a collapsing economy, probable recession, and, I fear, increasing civil and racial unrest to deal with.
Consequently, even if the outcome falls short of a federated structure, Nicola could still settle for a much louder voice in the UK and claim success.
The net result is I do not expect to see an Independent Scotland operating as a Member State in Europe at the end of all of this, and don’t expect to see an IndyRef2 any time soon, if at all.
Note: as I prepared this post, this initiative was announced by Scottish Labour. I haven’t had time to think about it.
I have no idea who, if anyone, ever reads this stuff, but happy to take comments from anyone who knows more about this stuff than me.
(note: edited slightly re requirement for unanimous agreement to extension of negotiations and link to Italian banking problems)