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U.K. Prefers Empty, Comforting Brexit Mantras To Cold, Hard Reality

Theresa May & co. are upping their denial game in a big way, because they have nowhere else to go.
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Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Denial is a pretty common reaction to trauma. When the facts of the matter are too painful to cope with, indulging in a little self-deception to avoid a mental collapse is not at all unusual.

As you may have heard, the United Kingdom is dealing with some trauma right now. First, it is led by a prime minister clinging to the fantasy that she has any authority or mandate following a spectacularly bad election performance capped by the most exquisite royal shade-throwing in Britain’s long history. Second, it is still trying to staunch the bleeding from one of the greatest self-inflicted wounds of all time, the vote to leave the European Union. And third, it is still trying to come to terms with the fact that the empire has gone away and the U.K. is now a fairly insignificant group of islands off the coast of an increasingly insignificant continent, membership in whose bloc is the only thing that keeps it even remotely significant.

Time and again since the Brexit vote last year, Britain and its “leaders” have expressed the kind of confidence that should have gone alongside India in 1947, that everything will be just fine and the EU will come around to the sensibleness of the British position and that everyone can have their cake and eat it, too. And just as often, someone from the other side of the English Channel has made clear that none of that is true, and none of it is going to happen. Most recently on Monday, when chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier made clear he has no intention of making any concessions, because he doesn’t have to. Because the EU is big and strong and doesn’t really need the U.K., while the U.K. is small and weak and desperately needs the EU it has spurned. And still.

Even now that Britain’s lack of leverage has been laid bare, an air of unreality remains about much of the Brexit debate.

Specifically, the British still think after everything that the EU will eventually see that just letting EU citizens up and move wherever they want with the bloc is a really bad idea, allowing it to take the Norwegian-Icelandic-Liechtensteinian route by quitting the EU and joining the European Economic Area, all the while negotiating an entirely new economic relationship with the EU while also negotiating its extremely complicated exit. There’s just one problem: None of those things are going to happen.

When the single market in financial services was created in the 1990s, tens of thousands of jobs migrated to London from Paris, Milan and Frankfurt, in turn creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs in other sectors. Britain today is host to millions of European jobs in all industries and all parts of the country. Why would any EU government agree to a deal that allowed the U.K. to retain European jobs while restricting them to British workers?...

The truth is there is no soft option for the U.K.: The price of a transitional deal is almost certain to be continued adherence to all EU obligations overseen by the ECJ….

Even if the U.K. capitulated to all the EU’s demands, it would likely take a year to complete the detailed technical work on the withdrawal agreement and transitional arrangements, which would then need to be ratified, EU officials say. Nor is it legally possible either: The EU isn’t authorized to negotiate a free-trade agreement with an existing member, and the EU’s negotiating team would need a detailed negotiating mandate from member states before trade talks could start.

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