4th April 2021
The United Kingdom ceased to be a member of the European Union over fourteen months ago, and the transition arrangements came to an end on 31st December 2020.
Regardless of whether you take the fourteen-month or the four-month period as the true duration so far of Brexit, what is not coming into view is the shape of the future relationship.
My own view – which is pretty much a minority view, as it has been since the dawn of Brexit – is that the United Kingdom and European Union would be best having a close association agreement, where the the legal form would be that the United Kingdom was not a member of the European Union but the substance would be that we would continue to be part of the single market and the customs union.
Issues of representation, consultation and mutual influence would be dealt with by dedicated EU+UK institutions – and such consensual and sustainable institutions would be the answer to the charge that the European Union would be imposing law and policy on an independent United Kingdom.
But this middle way position is still not in sight, and many still see the Brexit debate in the leave/remain binary.
As far as I am aware, no front-rank politician has yet set out a positive vision of the institutional, law and policy framework of the relationship of a post-Brexit United Kingdom and the European Union.
The government is still in its toy-room of gesture politics.
The official opposition is silent.
Those in favour of the United Kingdom becoming a member (again) of the European Union are still – wrongly, in my view, for reasons set out here – emphasising rejoining the European Union, rather than making a positive case from scratch, that is a case without depending on our previous membership.
Those remainers who accept Brexit in principle are saying little about how the United Kingdom should engage
Those in favour of Brexit in principle are still, to use the famous phrase, the dog that caught the car.
There is drift instead of where post-Brexit development of medium- to long-term policy should be.
The removal of Trump from the American presidency and the ongoing pandemic are further disorientating features.
In the absence of constructive policy formulation, we have from ministers shouty confrontation and culture wars instead.
But as was averred on the cover of a Fat Boy Slim album, they are already number one, so why should they try harder?
The politics of Brexit and beyond have still not settled.
Maybe they will not settle for some time.
Maybe, even, we are still in the early years of a Boris Johnson government – or that he will be replaced by someone even less suited to building a constructive relationship with the European Union.
And, to be even-handed, there is little sign in Brussels and other European Union capitals that they too are seeking a new model relationship with the United Kingdom.
If anything, there is a defensive-rearguard urge just to keep the current withdrawal and relationship agreements in place, let alone think about the future.
And the impending Scottish elections and the politics of Ireland and Northern Ireland may even mean there be soon no United Kingdom to have a relationship with the European Union.
All up in the air, still.
So four months on, there is almost no indication of what the long-term post-Brexit relationship will be like.
Volatility may be the new norm.
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