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Thread by @pmdfoster: "The Brexit beast has awakened with a vengeance again this week. - Ireland is back in play - and the transition deal, when seen in black and […]"

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The Brexit beast has awakened with a vengeance again this week.

- Ireland is back in play
- and the transition deal, when seen in black and white, stings.

telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/02/0…

Some thoughts after a week talking to all sides /1
The sudden stridency of UK politics, and the impact of @Jacob_Rees_Mogg at the helm of ERG is playing into the negotiations.

Ireland's demands for clarity are driven in part by fears that @theresa_may cannot face down the purists. /2
It may be that the PM comes to regret this unintended consequence of her reshuffle.

The stridency in tone in London and the apparent impotence of May feeds a kind of equal and opposite stridency in Brussels.

TF50 being very sticky-prickly at moment, I hear. /3
The EU launching a unilateral transition deal text, without any effort to synch it with UK need to manage domestic politics can be seen as a function of this attitude.

The so-called 'punishment clause' reflects that approach, even if in practice it is a "nuclear option" /4
The UK has a self-imposed March deadline to seal transition deal. UK still thinks it can make this; still believes EU will provide some fig-leaves with Moggites.

But speaking to 4 different MS and EU side, there is doubt UK can do March transition deal. /5
Not because it's impossible, but because UK expectation management has made the relevant UK concessions politically impossible to make so quickly.

May needs to be a fight, as in phase one over money. But fights costs time. Purists are raising cost of climbdown daily. /6
Secondly the end-state is a massive issue. The gaps appear to remain vast.

Hammond in Davos, the CBI and - we understand - today's Cabinet Cmme will base their plan on the 'three baskets' idea. Managed divergence. UK negotiators predicate disucussion on this idea. /7
And yet it's hard over-state how adamant EU side is that that approach will not fly.

Even discounting for EU posturing on level playing field (demanding Norway-level safeguards for Canada-level access) it's hard to see how 3 buckets works. /8
Trust is so low, and the UK, as a non-member, cannot expect the same EU27 efforts to accommodate its needs.

Diluting the coherence of the single market really does seem to be an EU existential issue. And not just in Berlin./9
Of course, there is an element of the EU over-reaching itself at the moment, since it knows this is its point of maximum unity - and that that will be very hard to maintain when you open the future relationship discussion. /10
But when you drill down, with even sympathetic Member States, the concessions available are limited (or linked) to how much May can persuade purists to accept on ECJ oversight, preferential immigration terms for EU citizens. /11
Which brings us to the Ireland border question, which is instantly put back into focus now the fudge over the/a customs union has been dragged into the middle of the room and, apparently, now been strangled. /11
But if this issue was fudged by all sides in December, what is the argument for un-fudging it in March, when discussion on the future relationship hasn't even begun?

Part of this, I think, goes back to the above point on atmosphere and trust. Or lack thereof. /12
Ireland seeks its point of leverage in March, understandably.

Not least because a 'hybrid' solution, involving technology (not as crazy as EU likes to make out) also leads potentially for the need for Ireland-Schengen checks, or at least spot checks. Bad for Ireland. /12
But getting to the place where policy can trump the politics looks supremely difficult at the moment.

It is perhaps a testament to lack of coherent thinking in govt that the magial 'option 2' (mirroring) is being discussed again /13
Everyone knows there is no solution to Ireland that satisfies all sides.

But it is also important to step back and recall that the Irish issue long pre-dates the single market and its rules.

Unicorns, NO but unique solutions? Well maybe if everyone calmed down /14
Which seems a very long way off at the moment. Calmness.

A workable UK starting position will go a long way to focusing minds. For now, it's all prodding and poking.and prickles.

15/ENDS
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