Brexit better if we don't mix the legal process with trade negotiations
In today's FT Letters I argue for separating the legal process of Brexit from trade negotiations, because the people we will be negotiating market access with cannot guarantee passage of any agreement reached.
To the threat from four eastern European members to veto any Brexit trade deal that restricts free movement of their people to the UK we can now add a similar threat from the European Parliament (Verhofstadt warns Britain about European Parliament’s Brexit power, 27th September). There should by now be no doubt what ‘Brexit means Brexit’ means. It is that we leave without negotiation, because asking for anything is pointless when nobody has the authority to implement an agreement. Brexit on a negotiated basis would be even more Kafkaesque than David Cameron’s reform negotiations, and even more coalescing for anti-EU sentiment.
As far as trade is concerned, we might as well assume Brexit means we assert our individual membership of the World Trade Organisation as a form of ‘state succession’ and start trading on those terms. We then let the voices of business, as much European and third-party as British, do the lobbying for a trade deal that differs from WTO terms but which is not contingent on any other legal processes necessary to detach the UK from the EU institutions. Detachment without negotiating market access could take less than two years. A trade agreement, even one pressed for and shaped by businesses both in and out of the EU, could take more. We can live with the gap, for the same reason that economic analysis before the Referendum suggested we can live with permanently trading with the EU on a WTO basis.