Martin Kettle writes: Those who switched off with a sigh of relief in July may not have noticed. But something big is slowly stirring in the undergrowth of British politics. Fact by fact, announcement by announcement, the case for Britain to remain in the European Union’s single market and customs union is growing stronger and more irresistible by the day. Such an outcome is most definitely not this government’s policy. But, this autumn, something will have to give.
Over the past 10 days David Davis’s Brexit department has published seven so-called partnership papers: important documents covering a wide range of subjects, from customs and Northern Ireland to civil justice and, most recently, disputes mechanisms, including the role of the European Court of Justice. According to the introductory blurb inside each, these papers are all about forming a bespoke post-Brexit partnership with the EU. Yet, by intention or accident, they do something very different. Together they make a case for sticking with the existing partnership as it stands, or at least with its key arrangements, such as the single market and customs union.
In every case, the papers start from the reality of the Brexit vote and then gently proceed to undermine it. None makes the case that Britain should turn its back on the EU, as the Brexiteers would like. None heads off into the fantasy world in which nations, dazzled by British exceptionalism, queue up to make bilateral deals with Liam Fox. Instead, all seek to retain large parts of the cooperation and openness that Europe has given this country. The trajectory has shifted from go-it-alone – sometimes unbelievably so, as in the dogged refusal to recognise that the commitments to leaving the EU and maintaining an open border in Ireland are almost impossible to combine – towards the status quo. [Continue reading…]