Theresa May wrote a letter today. It’s really something: the break-up epistle at its highest, most artful, most responsibility-deflecting form. Reading it, you’d be hard-pressed to explain why, exactly, the U.K. is threatening to torpedo its economy, London’s status as a financial center, and the European Union’s very existence by leaving the latter, other than that for amorphous reasons of “national self-determination” and that slightly more than half of the slightly less than three-quarters of Britons who voted last year decided that it should.
Not that the EU should take the tone of the Brexit campaign—which May, lest it be forgotten, rather half-heartedly opposed—seriously; all that stuff about how awful those horse-and-snail-eating continentals are, with their metric system and open borders and belief in silly things like financial regulations and human rights, was said in anger. Sure, the people saying it meant it, but no matter: The U.K. loves the EU. It just can’t live with it anymore. Or rather, it can and will live with it, but less so, in some undefined way.
This letter sets out the approach of Her Majesty's Government to the discussions we will have about the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union and about the deep and special partnership we hope to enjoy – as your closest friend and neighbour – with the European Union once we leave….
We want to make sure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and is capable of projecting its values, leading in the world, and defending itself from security threats. We want the United Kingdom, through a new deep and special partnership with a strong European Union, to play its full part in achieving these goals.
We didn’t mean to hurt you, so don’t make this harder than it needs to be.
If, however, we leave the European Union without an agreement the default position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms. In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened. In this kind of scenario, both the United Kingdom and the European Union would of course cope with the change, but it is not the outcome that either side should seek. We must therefore work hard to avoid that outcome….
Weakening our cooperation for the prosperity and protection of our citizens would be a costly mistake.
While we know it seems we haven’t been listening to you, really, we have. Look, I’ll prove it.
That is why the United Kingdom does not seek membership of the single market: we understand and respect your position that the four freedoms of the single market are indivisible and there can be no "cherry picking".
So let’s not do anything drastic…
There is obvious complexity in the discussions we are about to undertake, but we should remember that at the heart of our talks are the interests of all our citizens….
We will need to discuss how we determine a fair settlement of the UK's rights and obligations as a departing member state, in accordance with the law and in the spirit of the United Kingdom's continuing partnership with the EU….
We want to avoid a return to a hard border between our two countries, to be able to maintain the Common Travel Area between us, and to make sure that the UK's withdrawal from the EU does not harm the Republic of Ireland. We also have an important responsibility to make sure that nothing is done to jeopardise the peace process in Northern Ireland, and to continue to uphold the Belfast Agreement.
…or make this any more awkward than it needs to be.
We also propose a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. This should be of greater scope and ambition than any such agreement before it so that it covers sectors crucial to our linked economies such as financial services and network industries. This will require detailed technical talks, but as the UK is an existing EU member state, both sides have regulatory frameworks and standards that already match….
We recognise that it will be a challenge to reach such a comprehensive agreement within the two-year period set out for withdrawal discussions in the Treaty. But we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU. We start from a unique position in these discussions – close regulatory alignment, trust in one another's institutions, and a spirit of cooperation stretching back decades.