4th November 2019
Before the referendum, there was the renegotiation.
This was the renegotiation that was finalised at the European Council in February 2016.
The deal then agreed in principle between the United Kingdom and the other 27 member states of the European Union may not seem important now.
The deal never had effect, as it was rescinded after the referendum result.
The deal did not even feature much in the referendum campaign.
It now seems almost a footnote.
But looking back, with the benefit of perspective (if not hindsight), the deal is a telling prelude of much of what has followed.
Egged on by think tankers, political advisers and pundits, the then prime minister David Cameron sought, among other things, to obtain an emergency brake on EU migration.
He was warned by wise heads that such a thing could not be agreed short of amending the EU treaties.
And that it certainly could not be agreed at a mere European Council meeting.
So it was not: such an objective was impossible, and Cameron failed.
All that could be changed in respect of migration was some minor tinkering with indexation and entitlement to benefits.
Even Cameron, in his recently published memoirs, admits to mistakes about the renegotiation, including the framing of domestic expectations.
And he indeed misled his political and media supporters in what could have been plausibly agreed at that Council meeting.
Demanding things from the EU is easy, getting agreement from the EU is not easy.
Unfortunately, many Brexiters seem to have taken a different message from Cameron’s failure.
Cameron, they aver, did not try hard enough, he was too soft.
In essence, say the Brexiters, he should been louder in insisting on what was described as impossible: it was a failure of political will.
This lack of realism has been carried forward to the current Brexit negotiations.
This is why, when the pushes did not even get to be shoves, the pro-Brexit government has had to accept a withdrawal agreement on terms that suit the EU.
The EU is a creature of law that takes the single market seriously.
And this is why the same problem will arise with any future trade agreement.
Demanding something that cannot be done does not work, even if it is shouted slowly in English.
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