UK: As Labour becomes party of soft Brexit, hard battles lie ahead

The Guardian reports: After a summer during which arguments over Brexit have raged inside both the Tory and Labour parties, and Brussels and London have conspicuously failed to find any substantial common ground, formal talks on Britain’s departure from the EU in March 2019 resume in the Belgian capital on Monday.

The Brexit secretary, David Davis, will no doubt bounce into the meeting with his characteristic grin and the body language of a pent-up boxer itching to land the first blow. But the context for the latest round of discussions with his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, could hardly be less propitious.

In an attempt to convey an impression of clarity where little exists, Davis’s Whitehall department has spent the past fortnight issuing a series of position papers spelling out Britain’s latest negotiating stances on key issues – including this country’s future relationship with the customs union and the European court of justice (ECJ), and its plans for the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, after the UK strikes out on its own.

With some justification Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer describes the papers as “bland and non-committal”. Many politicians, independent experts and lawyers in London, Brussels and other EU capitals have dismissed them as a “wish list” that says more about irreconcilable divisions in the Tory party over Brexit than it does about realistic options for progress.

The message that rings out from the papers is that the government wants to leave the customs union and single market from March 2019, end pretty much all jurisdiction of the ECJ from that time on, no longer have to accept free movement of people and workers, and pay no further annual financial contribution to Brussels. That is the part the hardline Tory Brexiters want to hear. The part about a clean break.

But to appease “soft-Brexit” Tories and much of the business community, who traditionally support the Conservatives, the documents also spell out how Britain wants a transition period of around two years after Brexit, with maximum access to the single market – and arrangements that in effect mirror those of the customs union. In essence Davis will go into the critical next phase of talks in Brussels seeking to retain all the benefits of European economic union while insisting the UK cannot accept any of the rules that underpin it, or pay a single euro for doing so. [Continue reading…]

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