Monday, 22 January 2018

Once out, we are out for good

There are growing siren voices - like David Lidington's - whispering that we do not need a government about-face, or a third referendum, to stop the Article 50 talks. We can exit the EU and, if we do not like the cold hard world outside, apply to rejoin under Article 49.

However, that will mean signing up to entry conditions which were added to the EU treaties after we joined. In particular, it will probably entail adopting the euro instead of the pound sterling. Many who have supported Remain up until now may find that a step too far. It would certainly mean reaffirming our support for the European Convention on Human Rights. Since Mrs May wants to not only repeal the Human Rights Act (which enshrines the ECHR) but also renege on the convention itself, an illiberal stance which too many other Conservative MPs also take, one cannot see a Conservative government applying to rejoin, no matter how dire the economic situation.

Moreover, the EU may itself change in the meantime. The European Defence Force, which the UK has stalled while we have been members, may well come to fruition. Changes to the Common Agricultural Policy and the motor industry which suit France and Germany may be made. Even I may be forced to think twice if all that comes to pass; if only a part of it does, then it will be difficult for any government to gain the support of the electorate in a reapplication.

Can we trust the other 27 to let us back in again anyway? France and Germany are making nice noises at the moment, but it should be remembered that France was the main source of resistance to our joining in the first place, and one can envisage a change of government in Germany which would be less willing to recommend UK re-accession. Unanimity of member states is required and while the recommendation of the major members will carry a lot of weight, one can well imagine others standing against. What conditions might Spain demand?

Besides, we would have lost many of the benefits of membership once the multi-national organisations which invested in Britain in order to gain access to the common market realise that the point of no return has been passed, and have pulled out permanently.

The UK cannot now withdraw its Article 50 notification unilaterally, but we probably still have enough credit with the other 27 to support a resolution to stop the withdrawal negotiations. That window is gradually closing and will almost certainly shut permanently late this year.

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