2nd March 2020
If Brexit were a boxset, we are now about the start of season two.
The first season, of course, had a story of its own: a referendum that did not need to be held, leading to a result that was not expected (or anticipated), resulting in a departure on withdrawal terms few positively wanted.
(It is difficult to think that we are still within what would have been the five-year term of the 2015 parliament, where David Cameron had a good Commons majority elected on a manifesto that included a commitment that the United Kingdom be at the heart of the European Union single market.)
Now the United Kingdom is outside the European Union (let alone the single market) as a matter of law, even if the terms of the withdrawal agreement will make it a Brexit in name only until (at least) the end of this year.
Certain elements of the withdrawal agreement – on citizenship, financial contributions, and on a range of technical matters – will endure beyond the transition period.
Accordingly the threat of “no deal” at the end of this transition period is not as drastic as it would have been had there been no deal for the departure itself.
The scope of issues to be agreed (or at least capable of being agreed) is narrower than before the withdrawal agreement.
What is now to be negotiated (or not) is the future relationship beyond the end of the transition agreement.
One way of following this is by the heady heated excitement of political commentary, where one can form two different views a day (or an hour, if you are on Twitter) on any relevant issue.
And the politics of Brexit are crucial – it is only by understanding the politics of Brexit that you will understand why otherwise incomprehensible decisions are taken and daft unsustainable positions adopted.
But politics is not the only way of understanding Brexit – and a politics-only approach is itself limited and will miss many things.
For along with the pomp and propaganda, there is process.
And the process is about arriving (if possible) at an agreed text.
And a process which is intended to end with an agreed text tends, if the parties are taking it seriously, with a number of preliminary texts.
And it is by having regard to the texts and the process that one can (often) understand where Brexit is going and not going.
Again – form and structure are not everything – but they can provide the situations against which politicians and the media then react.
Of course, these are opening positions – but this does not mean they are trivial and can be dismissed.
On the European Union side especially, thought will have gone into what they want to achieve in the final text, and the guidelines will have been compiled by thinking backwards from what they want to achieve with that final text.
And in respect of the withdrawal agreement, early texts of the European Union can be seen as leading directly to final positions.
Remember: this is not the European Union’s first rodeo: they have the valuable experience of negotiations over Grexit, and of association agreements and free trade agreements.
This does not mean they are always right, or that that they will prevail, but to the extent that experience provides an advantage, the European Union will have the benefit.
Against this process-minded approach, there will be the temptation for those supporting the United Kingdom government to adopt again the bluster and silliness that was a feature of the exit negotiations.
Given the membership of the cabinet, that is a real risk.
So it is a relief that the United Kingdom’s Command Paper on the upcoming negotiations is a serious and not a silly document.
And with the two parties prepared (if unevenly) for the negotiations, and as both parties want an agreement (if possible), the second season of the Brexit boxset can begin.
It may well be that the second season will be yet more exciting (and scary) then the first season – but at least we (and the parties) will be ware of how the first season went.
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