Tuesday, December 17, 2019

We’re heading for a Singapore-style Brexit, no matter what Boris does

Published for The Spectator 
Reactions to the landslide victory of Boris Johnson have been rather positive on the other side of the Channel. German Chancellor Angela Merkel for example, stated: ‘To be honest, many are now happy to see a clear result. Boris must be recognised for having managed to convince lots of citizens. Chapeau.’
So what’s next?
First, the Withdrawal Agreement will be ratified by both the UK and the EU. The UK will then formally leave the EU at the end of January.
After that, the UK will enter the ‘transition’ stage, effectively outsourcing its trade policy and regulatory powers to Brussels until the end of 2020, in return for full and unrestricted market access. Nothing will change until then.
Meanwhile, negotiations on the future relationship will commence. There have been some statements and leaks on what the EU is willing to negotiate and how, but the bottom line is that the EU wants the UK to align as closely as possible, fearing that the UK would otherwise emerge as a ‘competitor’, as Angela Merkel has put it. The EU side is also sceptical that the negotiations can be sorted by the end of 2020.
What will the future relationship look like?
One thing is for certain: the UK wants to leave both the EU’s single market and customs union. Theresa May’s great failure was to underestimate the importance of leaving the customs union, and agreeing a Brexit deal whereby the EU would be able to veto whether the UK would get its trade powers back. This stance was inspired by businesses understandably fearing disruption to their supply chains. But it should always have been considered unrealistic for the world’s fifth largest economy to outsource its trade powers to Brussels until further notice. This mistake has since been rectified by Boris.
Is there any precedent for a country leaving the EU’s single market and customs union? Apart from Algeria in 1962, Greenland in 1985, and St Barts in 2012, not really. But there is a precedent of a non-EU country that wanted a close relationship with the EU, but at the same time refused to join its single market and customs union.
That country is of course Switzerland, which decided in 1992 in a referendum not to accept the status of Norway as a ‘regulatory vassal’ or ‘fax democracy’, as former Norwegian PM and current Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg once dubbed his own country (where officials sit by the fax machine waiting for the latest directive from Brussels to arrive). It basically then took five years, from 1994 until 1999, to negotiate which EU rules the Swiss would align with and the degree of market access that would be granted in return. A package of seven sectoral agreements was signed in 1999 – all related to single market access. Like Norway, Switzerland isn’t part of the EU’s customs union. Tariffs on Swiss-EU trade mainly apply to agriculture.
It will be a challenge to negotiate a ‘zero tariffs and zero quotas’ arrangement between the EU and the UK in less than one year, but this kind of agreement would only determine whether tariffs are due on goods that are being traded, not whether those goods are able to enter the market at all. Financial services also wouldn’t be covered.
Therefore, the real question is if there is time for the UK to negotiate a Swiss-style ‘pick and mix’ arrangement for market access? Having five times as many staff working on something – as there would be five times less time available – would speed things up and any arrangement could be implemented ‘provisionally’, meaning it would partially enter into force before national parliaments in the EU have approved it. At this point, Boris should perhaps wonder if the importance of sticking to his promised timetable is worth it – and implementing the exit from ‘vassalage’ in phases instead of in one go could save him face.
Another question is why the EU would relax its opposition to Swiss-style ‘cherry picking’ of market access. Its claim that this somehow endangers the functioning of the single market is quickly debunked by the fact that such an arrangement has been working just fine between the EU and Switzerland for almost twenty years. Whether Switzerland agreed to freedom of movement of persons as well as part of the package is irrelevant. If the UK rejects freedom of movement, it would simply have to ‘pay’ for this EU concession with reduced market access.
Sure, there have been tensions in the EU-Swiss relationship lately, with the EU cutting off market access to the Swiss stock exchange last summer, when the Swiss refused to sign up to a role for the ECJ and to take updates of EU regulations automatically. It must be said that this escalation, which didn’t cause much damage in the end due to Swiss countermeasures, was partially fuelled by the EU’s desire to set an example to the UK. And the tensions weren’t the result of a dysfunctional Swiss-EU model, but because of the EU’s attempt to increase its control over regulations in Switzerland.
It’s very hard to see any alternatives to the Swiss ‘pick and choose’ model for the EU-UK relationship. This model strongly resembles Theresa May’s Chequers proposal, which was previously called the ‘three baskets approach’. Here’s why there are few other options. Suppose the EU sticks to its current stance, and so forces a cliff-edge event, dismissing the UK’s offer for ‘selective rule-taking in return for selective market access’ because the UK refused ‘full rule-taking in return for full market access’ (which would have meant letting the EU regulate the City of London, the biggest financial centre in the world). EU businesses keen to see the chemicals trade and manufacturing supply chains undisrupted would be up in arms. It would also be strange to see the EU, which otherwise goes around boasting about how it is a ‘regulatory superpower’ – because other countries adopt its regulations – dismiss the UK’s offer to do just that, because the UK would only take over part of the regulations. Will the EU risk its £94bn trade surplus in goods to simply avoid making yet another negotiation U-turn? Political gravity is likely to prevail here.
A key question is naturally also whether Boris will reheat the Chequers deal again. Opinion seems to be divided here, with some arguing that Boris will prioritise the timetable and stick to his promise of not extending the transition, at the price of aligning more closely to the EU than one would expect, which will be easier given his comfortable majority. The prospect of possible job losses due to loss of EU market access and regulatory divergence, would push Boris to aligning even more closely.
Others argue that the election result is a vindication of those desiring to diverge in terms of regulation, to fully exploit the benefits of ‘taking back control’ as soon as possible. The thinking here is that prioritising the timetable will actually result in the UK opting for a more divergent approach. This is because there would simply be no time for a ‘mixed agreement’, which basically allows for a deal whereby the UK is more closely aligned, but which would also need to be ratified by all EU member states. An agreement which falls under EU exclusive competence alone is easier to fudge in such a short time period, but only allows a looser relationship.
Both sides make strong arguments and we’ll probably know sooner rather than later what the intention of Boris is. We’ve already seen reports that he will legislate to ‘block’ an extension of the transition period. In the longer term, it is very likely that the UK will opt for more regulatory divergence, which is in line with Boris Johnson’s own strong preference for divergence from the EU.
The reason for that is quite simple: one only needs to take a look at the new European Commission. Dutch EU Commissioner Frans Timmermans, who was responsible for the ‘better regulation’ agenda in the previous Commission and who only achieved disappointing results, is now pushing the so-called ‘European green deal’, which contains a raft of new EU initiatives for more regulation and imposes all kinds of more stringent targets – not to forget wild spending plans.
One example: imagine the UK ends up agreeing to align with EU chemical regulations, like REACH, after Boris listened to the concerns of the UK’s chemical industry, who are keen to keep EU market access (after having made huge investments to comply with REACH) and are wary of competition from outside of the EU. After a number of years, however, the EU may update REACH. That this update is likely to be more stringent, especially after it has gone through the European Parliament, is not hard to predict. If the UK rightly decides not to accept this update, this may well force it to give up part of its EU market access, something that would then need to be renegotiated. Remember: Brexit means perpetual negotiation.
To summarise, even if Boris opts for the softest of soft future relationship models, the EU’s regulatory zeal is likely to drive the UK to diverge in terms of regulation, thereby truly becoming the ‘competitor’ Angela Merkel fears. And so it would be the EU that would drive the UK toward becoming a ‘Singapore on Thames’ (even if Singapore is actually not as deregulated as sometimes assumed).
Last but not least, the regulatory competition resulting from all of this would not only benefit the UK, which would be able to attract new business and research, it is also likely to put more pressure on the EU’s regulatory machine. European companies may urge the EU to abandon regulations similar to its burdensome, unpredictable GDPR data regulation in case the UK offers digital service providers a more comfortable regulatory environment. Prominent European researchers have already warned that an ECJ ruling on gene-editing ‘will end innovation’. In the future, if the UK decides to adopt a more innovation-friendly approach, companies and researchers may consider moving there, in turn putting pressure on EU regulators to change tack.
Forget about the money that the UK will save as a result of no longer having to contribute to the – largely wasteful – EU budget or how the UK will manage to open more markets than the EU. The real benefit of Brexit will be to be released from the burdensome Brussels regulatory machine. Just as Brussels is partly to blame for Brexit, it may well ultimately drive the UK to more regulatory divergence than would have been the case otherwise.

Will the EU be divided during the trade negotiations?
This question is easy to answer. The EU is divided in every single trade negotiation. There always is a protectionist camp and a free trade supporting camp, and sometimes when a ‘pro-free trade’ country happens to host an industry which may face more competition after a trade deal, that country quickly jumps into the protectionist camp. There is little reason to believe it would be different here.
What would be different from a classic trade negotiation is that the purpose of this negotiation is not to open up new markets, but instead to protect ongoing trade as much as possible and reconcile this with the UK diverging in terms of regulation. The stakes for companies in an ordinary trade negotiation tend to be lower. Then, it’s about gaining new possible business or defending a market against new competition. In the EU-UK negotiation on the future relationship, it will be life and death for some companies, as they may need to lobby against being partially or fully shut out from the market where they currently operate.

In an ideal world, the UK would have remained a member of a trade-friendly EU, focused on its core business of scrapping trade barriers. But if there is one great benefit of Brexit, it is how regulatory competition will eventually enable an environment where different regulatory zones can experiment with their own approaches for the great challenges of today.
It’s likely that the UK will have to rethink the timing set forward by Boris, while the EU will eventually need to grant it Swiss-style selective rule-taking in return for selective market access. That would still closely align the UK to the Brussels regulatory machine, but due to the EU’s apparent willingness to continuously give in to its instincts favouring ever more regulation, the UK will ultimately end up as what has been described as ‘Singapore-on-Thames’.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

As Britain goes to the polls, the EU is preparing a brand new list of 'Brexit Unicorns'

Published in The Daily Telegraph

As Britain prepares to take to the polls next week, the European Union is gearing up towards its own negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship. If, as the polls currently suggest, Boris Johnson gains an absolute majority and Brexit happens at the end of January, these will begin right away. But what will the EU will be demanding? Statements and leaks from Brussels suggest the following.
Their first demand will be that Boris Johnson breaks his promise not to extend the eleven months transition period if he wants a proper trade deal. As one EU diplomat put it, “the choice is either no deal Brexit 2.0 or to extend the transition period.” Another senior EU diplomat added that “not in my wildest dreams would I imagine" the possibility of the EU agreeing a zero-tariff, zero-quota deal by 2020, which would permit divergence from EU rules on workers’ rights and environmental protections.
The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said that trade and security will be prioritisedbut “we cannot do everything in 11 months, we will need more time.” It would be possible, he conceded,  to negotiate “the principle elements” of a free-trade agreement to avoid an economic cliff edge before the end of 2020. Only covering part of cross-Channel trade, however, this would be expected to hurt UK services access.
Even if the UK did request a transition extension, it would be on the extra condition of paying a “proportional” contribution to the EU budget. Though there are potential ways to fudge this, for example, by amending the Withdrawal Agreement itself by retroactively changing the provisions for transition extension, the EU’s cooperation will still be needed.
A second EU demand is that the UK agrees to grant the EU access to British fishing waters before the end of June, and it sees this as a pre-condition for any trade deal. An EU diplomat adds that the fisheries issue, where the UK is seen by many to have a strong negotiation position, “needs to be resolved by June, so in four months.” According to the withdrawal agreement, the decision on whether or not to extend the transition is also due by then.
Thirdly, the EU will demand so-called level playing field commitments to guarantee that the UK will not undercut European social, tax and environmental standards to gain competitive advantage after Brexit. If not, the UK should expect a response in kind; Barnier has warned that “access to our markets will be proportional to the commitments taken to the common rules”. He even redefined a refusal to copy the EU's failing model of excessive regulation when exporting to continental Europe as "dumping".
And what of finance? The EU’s Commissioner for financial services has specifically warned that the bloc will restrict market access if the UK diverges too much from EU financial regulations. This threat isn’t as straightforward as it may seem - the City of London is just too important to the EU. Moreover the use of similar tactics against Switzerland has so far failed to deliver a result, with the Swiss able to contain the effects by reciprocal protectionism. 
Fourthly, security cooperation will be a further condition of an EU-UK trade agreement, specifically, finding an alternative to the European arrest warrant and providing access to crime-fighting databases.  
In this regard, EU officials have pointed out that if the UK becomes a competitor and diverges, this will not only result in reduced EU market access, but it will also hurt cooperation in other areas. One official explains “We want leverage in these areas", “to keep the UK in the continental Europe's orbit”. In the past, the EU and the UK have cited aviation, carbon pricing, anti-money laundering, illegal migration, data protection and sanctions on rogue states as areas of post-Brexit cooperation.
A fifth demand is that the new relationship should be governed by a single overarching deal, instead of a patchwork of bilateral agreements, which is for example the case in the EU-Swiss relationship. The latter has been rocky lately, due to EU attempts to push a single framework onto the Swiss, which would force them to accept the power of the European Court of Justice and to align with EU rules in return for market access.
The EU does consider there to be separate areas of cooperation and roughly sees three key ones: trade, security and research. It however wants everything to depend on everything else. They will likely demand some kind of permanent framework in place to govern the relationship, with a coordinating body and two EU-UK summits per year.
There's more. The European Union will also attempt to make the UK sign up to freedom of movement in return for tariff-free market access. Barnier has repeatedly spoken of the link between the frictionless movement of goods and people. Never mind the well-documented exceptions to this rule; the EU for example carved off free movement of people from its trade deal with Ukraine.
This is an extraordinarily ambitious wish list, and one which seems especially ludicrous given EU officials' tendency to accuse the UK of "unicorn thinking". Still, it is Christmas I suppose...

Friday, November 29, 2019

How might the EU react to the possible outcomes of the general election?

Published on BrexitCentral and German opinion site Achgut.com

The upcoming general election may well turn out as a de facto second referendum on Brexit. Here is an overview of the different scenarios that are possible and how the EU is likely to position itself in each case:

The first scenario, which is taken by most as the base case, is for the Conservatives gain an absolute majority of seats. If this happens, it is very likely they’ll simply pass the “Boris deal”, so then Brexit happens.

However, Boris has now promised not to extend the transition stage, in order to convince Brexit Party voters. This increases the chance of a “no deal” in a year or so, given how ambitious it is to negotiate the future relationship in such a short period. Sabine Weyand, who heads the trade department of the European Commission, has just warned that the UK will only get a “bare bones” deal – meaning only limited market access - if Boris sticks to his short timetable.

In 1992, in a referendum, the Swiss narrowly voted against an arrangement whereby they would automatically take over EU rules in return for full market access to the EU, as is the case for Norway today. The negotiations to work out a “Chequers”-style deal took five years, from 1994 to 1999. Thereby, the Swiss agreed to voluntarily take over EU regulations in return for market access. Given how it took five years for the EU and Switzerland, the EU may get its way here, at least if both sides are willing to protect integrated supply chains of heavily regulated companies, such as car manufacturers or producers of chemicals.

The promise made by Boris is ultimately a result of the EU not merely offering a short extension, which would have prevented an election before Brexit. Perhaps another fudge may now be for the EU and the UK to negotiate another “standstill” period during the transition, with the UK already recovering some sovereignty, so technically this would not be an “extension”. After all, Brexit is a process, not an event, and it will mean perpetual negotiation with the EU.

The withdrawal agreement only allows a one-off extension in any case, and to deal with this, the European Commission is already thinking to let the grand EU-UK trade deal enter into force provisionally, to enable a “mixed agreement” to be negotiated. Such an agreement can deliver more market access but it would also need approval by member states parliaments and not just the European Council and European Parliament.

While the UK will likely need to concede on the timetable, the EU will likely be forced to move on its opposition to “cherry picking”. Continuously, it has ruled out that a Swiss-style deal would be up for negotiation, claiming that this would somehow “split the four freedoms”, even if this arrangement functions smoothly with Switzerland for almost twenty years now. One can only wonder what major manufacturers would say in case the EU would risk a “no deal” cliff-edge when the UK would offer to continue to take over EU rules for manufacturing and chemicals – at least for a while - but would refuse for the City of London to be governed from Brussels without a say for the UK.

Due to fears of harming supply chains, the stars are aligned for a Chequers-style arrangement. Every time the EU will come up with an update of those rules the UK takes over, however, voices in the UK will be raised to reconsider whether market access to the EU is still worth it. It will be “pick and choose” like never before.  

In a second scenario, the Tories narrowly fail to achieve a majority, but the 8 to 10 expected DUP MPs are needed. A scenario with Brexit Party MPs holding the balance is extremely unlikely, given how unlikely it is that the party will manage to obtain even a single seat.

If the DUP comes back into the game, the EU won’t be keen to throw Ireland under the “no deal” – bus, so it can be expected that negotiations will re-open.

To make the Brexit deal more palatable to the unionists in Northern Ireland is in any case a good idea in the first place. Even if Nobel Peace Prize winner Lord Trimble supports the “Boris deal”, there’s quite a bit of anger about it in Northern Ireland, with reports of Brexit contributing to the risk of paramilitary violence.

The “Boris deal” foresees that Northern Ireland will remain in the UK’s customs area, not only legally but also practically, given that the Northern Irish will be able to enjoy any lower tariffs negotiated by the UK. Then some kind of checks will be needed in the Irish Sea, something that also already triggered protests from lorry drivers.

There would be customs declarations for goods coming from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, even if Boris Johnson seems to have denied this, by stating on the campaign trail that "there will not be tariffs or checks on goods coming from GB to Northern Ireland that are not going on to Ireland.” Perhaps he was confused, as there will not be tariffs on such goods, but unfortunately, some extra bureaucracy and therefore checks will apply to those, under the deal.

Another concern is that “exit summary declarations” for goods traded from Northern Ireland to Great Britain would be required, even if article 6 of the Northern Ireland protocol may enable the UK to waive these for quite a few goods. Also, EU Commission sources suggest that the Irish Sea checks will be less dramatic than they appear at first sight. The crux will likely be checks for goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, as this is what the EU is primarily concerned about.

A lot of the detail is still unclear, but in case of such a renegotiation, the DUP is likely to only concede more to the extent the EU is flexible on intra-UK checks. This time, it wouldn’t be DUP versus Ireland but it would be DUP versus the likes of the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany: countries fearing a hole in the EU’s external border, even if their own part of that border is quite leaky.

Precisely for that reason, the EU is likely to move on DUP demands to water down that Irish Sea border, but the question is whether their concessions would satisfy DUP, which are known to be tough negotiators. “No deal” would firmly be back on everyone’s minds.

third scenario is if the “everyone but the Conservatives and DUP” – coalition secures a majority of seats, followed by Jeremy Corbyn somehow managing to convince this shaky rainbow coalition to prop him up as Prime Minister. One condition for that will certainly be a second Brexit referendum, something which the Lib Dems will push hard, and perhaps even a second Scottish referendum, on request of the SNP.

Corbyn would then submit a choice of “remain” versus “soft Brexit”, which is likely going to entail so little sovereignty for the UK that many Brexiteers and perhaps even the Conservative Party may boycott the vote, triggering accusations that the choice is between “EU membership” and “EU membership without voting rights”.

Despite some grumbling, the EU is likely to go with Corbyn’s renegotiation. After all, the UK aligning or harmonizing its regulations and trade policy is more attractive than facing a “competitor”, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel has put it.

If the UK electorate would then support the “remain” option, that would clearly not be seen as the end of the world either for the EU, even if many now genuinely understand the dangers of having the UK in the club after all, with more than 17 million Brexit voters feeling rightfully angry that they were told to vote again and give a proper answer.

As said, it’s unlikely for the Conservative Party to simply go along with this. Given that it has now become the “party of Brexit”. It’s likely to state it will deliver the Boris-deal after all, simply waiting for Corbyn’s shaky minority government to collapse. The EU will feel helpless, knowing that Brexit will be on its way despite the second referendum.

And even if the Tories would not go down this route, sooner rather than later the UK will emerge as a much more difficult partner than it ever was before 2016. Therefore, this election does not only matter for the UK’s future, but also for the EU’s future. Brexit was supposed to turn the UK from a bad tenant into a good neighbor. A UK which continues to obstruct would be seen by EU leaders as an even worse tenant.

In the first place, it’s of course unfair to consider a member state which is the second biggest financial contributor and which is widely considered as sticking to EU rules more firmly than many others as a “bad tenant”. Then it’s an accurate description of how some EU leaders see the UK.

A few weeks ago, outgoing EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker accused Tony Blair – of all people – of having contributed to Brexit, arguing that "when it came to the political union, to moving closer together, they wanted nothing to do with the EU. That was even the case with my friend Tony Blair. (…) If you stick to that narrative for over 40 years, it should not come as a surprise when people remember it during the referendum."

This not only reveals an odd belief that politicians shape the convictions of the population, it’s downright bizarre to suggest that the UK public may not have voted for Brexit if only the UK’s leadership had ignored popular discontent about the course of the EU. In Brussels, there’s very little introspection as to why the UK voted to leave in 2016.

The UK somehow remaining in the EU after all would be very much “back to the future”, with the agenda to reform the EU, which Open Europe has always pushed, returning to the fore. This agenda, which truly revolves around turning the EU into a more modest vehicle, focused on scrapping barriers to trade, may now well be a lot more appealing to mainland Europe than it was before 2016, when the so-called Eurosceptic populists were much weaker. It would in any case be tried as a way to deal with the concerns of Brexiteers in the UK, perhaps in vain.

In any case, UK voters now hold the keys. Apart from the slight chance of the DUP holding the balance, it’s quite black and white: an absolute Tory majority means Brexit. Otherwise, “remain” for at least another year is a very real prospect. The EU will simply play along in both scenarios, even if it now realizes “remain” may not be sustainable for long.  

Friday, November 22, 2019

De Britse verkiezingen dienen zich aan als een tweede referendum over brexit

Gepubliceerd op Doorbraak 

De komende Britse verkiezingen, op 12 december, dienen zich aan als een feitelijk tweede referendum over Brexit. Indien de Conservatieven van Eerste Minister Boris Johnson een absolute meerderheid van zetels veroveren, wordt de zogenaamde "Boris" - deal gewoon uitgevoerd en verlaat het Verenigd Koninkrijk de Europese Unie ten laatste op 1 februari.
Een complicatie is dan wel de belofte van Boris Johnson om de zogenaamde "transitieperiode" niet verlengen. Tijdens die periode van een jaar vanaf de uittrede behoudt het VK volledige markttoegang tot de EU. In ruil daarvoor dient het wel zonder enige inspraak alle EU-regels over te nemen.
Het probleem daarbij is dat een jaar volgens de meeste waarnemers te kort is om de langetermijnrelatie tussen VK en EU te onderhandelen tegen 2021. Niettemin komt het naar alle verwachting dan toch niet tot een pijnlijke "no deal". Eventueel kan men een gelijkaardige standstill overeenkomen voor een paar jaar, waarbij het VK wel al soevereiniteit verwerft over een beperkt aantal zaken, zodat Boris kan zeggen dat het geen echte verlenging van de transitieperiode betreft.
In elk geval dient er zich na Brexit een complexe onderhandeling aan, waarbij moet worden onderhandeld in welke mate het VK markttoegang tot de EU behoudt in ruil voor het overnemen van EU-regelgeving, en in welke mate wordt toegestaan dat elkaars regels als "equivalent" worden erkend.
De verkiezing is echter helemaal geen gewonnen zaak voor de Conservatieven. Ze wordt immers beslecht in de zogenaamde "marginals": kiesomschrijvingen waar het op dit moment onduidelijk is wie zal triomferen. In een meerderheidskiesstelsel zijn die cruciaal en maakt het veel uit wie de precieze kandidaat is.
Een tweede scenario is dan ook dat de linkse Labour - partij een meerderheid van zetels behaalt in combinatie met alle huidige oppositiepartijtjes. Dat zijn de Schotse en Welsche nationalisten, de groenen en uiteraard de "Liberal Democrats". Eigenlijk zijn dat sociaal-democraten, aangezien er weinig economisch "liberaal" aan de partij is. Ook het epitheton "democratisch" mag men misschien in vraag stellen, want de partij wil maar al te graag Brexit verhinderen, via het organiseren van een tweede referendum.
Met mijn denktank, Open Europe, hebben we steeds gepoogd om het VK aan boord van de EU te houden, door het bepleiten van een EU die zich meer richt op zijn kerntaak van het wegwerken van handelsbelemmeringen, iets wat ook op het vasteland veel anti-EU sentiment zou kunnen wegnemen. Jammer genoeg is dat niet gelukt en bleef in 2016 enkel een keuze over tussen een niet-hervormde EU en Brexit. In al zijn wijsheid koos het Brits electoraat toen voor Brexit, met een duidelijk verschil van 4 procentpunten tussen beide kampen, na meer dan 30 jaar gehakketak. Als men de anti-politiek wil voeden, moet men vooral zo'n tweede referendum organiseren.
Stel u voor dat men na de verkiezing van Trump of Obama had voorgesteld dat de bevolking toch best nog een tweede kans moet krijgen om de “juiste” beslissing te maken, omdat men zogezegd niet voldoende geïnformeerd was. Dat is het argument dat vaak wordt gebruikt voor een tweede referendum, alsof kiezers bij reguliere verkiezingen allemaal goed geïnformeerd zijn en niet op politici stemmen die allerlei onhaalbare voorstellen doen.
Het is heel onwaarschijnlijk dat Labour een absolute meerderheid van zetels behaalt, maar Jeremy Corbyn, de bijzonder linkse leider van Labour, heeft niettemin een kans om Eerste Minister te worden van een soort minderheidskabinet als de Lib Dems hem daartoe steunen. Die laatsten ontkennen nu wel dat ze dat willen doen, maar indien ze een tweede Brexit- referendum zouden verkrijgen in ruil is de kans toch reëeel.
In zo'n geval is het waarschijnlijk dat het "remain" - kamp het haalt, omdat de keuze er wellicht één zal zijn tussen “lidmaatschap van de EU” en “lidmaatschap van de EU zonder stemrecht”, gezien het feit dat Labour wil dat het VK in de Europese douane-unie blijft. Dat laatste betekent dat Brussel het handelsbeleid zou uittekenen voor de vijfde grootste economie ter wereld, wat in tijden van handelsoorlogen toch maar al te gek is. Het is dan wel zo dat Corbyn wil dat het VK een "zeg" krijgt over dat handelsbeleid, maar veel meer dan een soort van adviserende stem zal dat niet worden, aangezien de EU dit meer dan waarschijnlijk niet zal toestaan aan een niet-lid.
Bovendien is het mogelijk dat het VK dan ook in de interne markt blijft, wat betekent dat de Britse "City of London", het grootste financiële centrum ter wereld, vanuit Brussel zou worden gereglementeerd, zonder inspraak van het Brits Parlement. Dat zou dan dezelfde deal zijn als die van Noorwegen, een niet-EU lidstaat die wel interne markt-lid is. Om die reden noemde voormalig Noors Premier en huidig NAVO secretaris-generaal Jens Stoltenberg zijn land daarom ooit een "fax democratie": Brussel stuurt de uit te voeren regels per fax naar Oslo. Het gaat in tegen de leuze "taking back control" van de Brexiteers, en net daarom zou het goed kunnen Labour en zeker de Lib Dems zouden maar al te graag deze onfaire keuze voorleggen aan de Britten.
Het is goed mogelijk dat de Conservatieven, die nu echt de "partij van Brexit" zijn geworden, zo’n tweede referendum boycotten. Dan voeren ze Brexit eenvoudigweg wel uit bij de volgende verkiezingen, die niet lang op zich zullen wachten gezien hoe gammel een regenboogcoalitie die Jeremy Corbyn ondersteunt wel zal zijn.
Los hiervan hebben we het nog niet gehad over een tweede Schots referendum dat Corbyn wel eens zou kunnen toelaten in ruil voor steun van de Schotse nationalisten. Zij hebben trouwens de wind in de zeilen met hun pleidooi voor onafhankelijkheid, dus een Corbyn-Premierschap zou misschien kort maar wel bijzonder hevig kunnen zijn.
Tot slot is er nog een derde optie. Het is mogelijk dat de Conservatieven opnieuw enkel een meerderheid veroveren in combinatie met de Noord-Ierse DUP, een partij die opkomt voor de rechten van de zogenaamde "unionistische" bevolking in Noord-Ierland, een pijnlijk verdeelde samenleving waar pro-Ierse "nationalisten" en pro-Britse "unionisten" hun kinderen nog steeds naar aparte scholen sturen.
Dat de Brexit-partij van Nigel Farage zelfs maar één zetel zou halen, wordt op dit moment door de meesten ondertussen nagenoeg volledig uitgesloten, maar in het Britse politieke spel blijft hij wel belangrijk. Hij beloofde om zijn kandidaten terug te trekken in kiesomschrijvingen waar de Conservatieven de dienst uit maken, maar blijft ze uitspelen in districten met veel Brexit-supporters waar lokale Labour - parlementsleden wel eens de eerste plaats zouden kunnen verliezen. Door daar stemmen af te pakken van de Conservatieven, neemt hij misschien wel een vijftal zetels van de Conservatieven uit handen, wat bepalend kan zijn, en uiteindelijk kan leiden tot een Corbyn-regering of een Conservatieve regering die opnieuw afhankelijk is van 8 of 10 DUP - parlementsleden.
Tweemaal reeds gedurende de Brexit onderhandelingen was de Noord-Ierse grens het struikelblok voor een akkoord. Het uiteindelijke compromis was dat Noord-Ierland perfect binnen de Britse douanezone blijft, wat betekent dat Noord-Ieren zullen kunnen genieten van alle mogelijke douanetarieven die het VK onderhandelt eens het een onafhankelijk handelsbeleid terugkrijgt, weliswaar na wat bureaucratie waarbij ze een deel van de betaalde tarieven terugkrijgen.
In ruil daarover komen er echter wel controles in de Ierse Zee, tussen Noord-Ierland en Groot-Brittannië. Die Ierse Zee wordt zo de nieuwe buitengrens van de EU. Om zogenaamde gaten in die grens te vermijden zal de EU er bij het VK op aandringen goed te controleren, wat dan weer onaanvaardbaar is voor de DUP, wiens eerste geloofsartikel de band tussen Noord-Ierland en Groot-Brittannië is. Om die reden steunde de DUP de "Boris" - deal uiteindelijk niet, toen die in eerste lezing werd voorgelegd aan het Parlement.
Indien de DUP nodig is, zal er voor de EU niets anders opzitten dan opnieuw aan de tafel te gaan zitten met de partij. In dat geval zal de onderhandeling zich niet afspelen tussen de DUP en de Ierse regering, zoals vorige keer, waarbij die laatste uiteindelijke grote toegevingen deed en toeliet dat een meerderheid in het Noord-Iers Parlement in theorie voor een grens tussen Noord-Ierland en de Ierse republiek kan stemmen. Dat is wel onwaarschijnlijk, ook al omdat zelfs de meer forse unionisten van DUP tegen een harde Ierse landgrens zijn.
De heronderhandeling zal er daarentegen één zijn tussen DUP aan de ene kant en Benelux, Frankrijk en Duitsland aan de andere kant. Die landen zijn immers de EU-lidstaten die het meest waarschuwen tegen een lek in de buitengrens van de EU.
Een compromis is in zo'n geval zeker mogelijk, alleen al omdat de EU's eigen buitengrens zoals bekend uiteindelijk niet al te waterdicht is. Volgens de Antwerpse burgemeester zijn de twee grote toegangspoorten tot Europa, de havens van Antwerpen en Rotterdam, zelfs "zo lek als een vergiet".
Uiteraard echter duikt in dit scenario van een heronderhandeling weer het spook van een "no deal" op, zeker omdat de DUP niet echt de meest makkelijke partij is om mee te onderhandelen, om het zacht uit te drukken. Ook als de Conservatieven weer aan de macht zouden komen nadat Jeremy Corbyn Schotland zou verliezen en met een tweede referendum het anti-establishmentgevoel zou hebben opgepookt, zullen de gemoederen niet echt bedaard zijn. Het meest ordelijke en vriendschappelijke scenario is daarom nu een regering geleid door Boris Johnson. Hoe dan ook lijkt Brexit dus hoe dan ook de uitkomst van dit alles.