Brexit battle lines drawn over trade dilemma

Flexible: The October 31 deadline could still be pushed back if an agreement is not reached.

Is Brexit doomed to fail? Theresa May faces a revolt over her back-up plan for Britain’s future EU relations. With less than a year until Brexit day, is the whole thing crumbling down?

As it stands, it is 294 days until Britain becomes the first country to leave the European Union. Negotiations must be complete in the next five months.

But the current picture of Britain’s negotiating position is one of chaos and uncertainty.

Yesterday Theresa May held a meeting with David Davis, the Brexit secretary, to try and solve disagreements over what happens if no deal is agreed.

The UK has said it will leave the customs union, which allows trade within the EU without any tariffs. The government wants to trade freely with the EU, while also opting out of freedom of movement and ensuring there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

If no deal is made, a “backstop option” is needed.

The UK’s proposal would see it temporarily match EU trade tariffs in an effort to avoid a hard Irish border. May’s initial plan included no fixed end date to this “temporary” plan, but following talks with a disgruntled Davis an “expected” end date of 2021 was added.

Meltdown may have been averted for now, but many Brexiteers are in despair over the government’s lack of progress. Writing in The Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Prichard said, “the quixotic bid for British independence has failed,” warning that “the Westminster class is edging crablike” towards a soft Brexit.

But the Conservatives are not the only party riven with tensions over the issue.

The Labour Party has said it will abstain in Tuesday’s vote on the whether or not to stay in the European Economic Area (EEA). Instead it will put forward its own amendment which calls for “no new impediments” to trade, but rules out the free movement of people.

Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, admitted that Labour remained “divided” on the issue. According to the BBC, the Liberal Democrats have “accused Labour of ‘peddling snake oil’, saying the only way to have access to the single market was by being part of the EEA.”

The clock is ticking, but progress is slow.

Is Brexit doomed to fail?

Deal or no deal?

It is a total disaster, say some. Writing in The Independent, Anand Menon accused both major parties of selling the public “Brexit unicorns” — perfect-sounding deals that could never exist in practice. This reluctant government is clearly overwhelmed by the size of the task. There simply is not enough time left.

Calm down, reply others. Brexit is a long-term process, and even if no deal is made by the time Britain leaves, that does not mean the UK will be cut adrift. And in any case, that is unlikely. The history of the EU shows that deals are usually struck at the eleventh hour. These sticking points do not mean Brexit is bound to fail.

You Decide

  1. Is Brexit doomed to fail?
  2. Should Britain hold another referendum on leaving the EU?


  1. You have been asked to interview someone working on the Brexit negotiations. In pairs write a list of five questions you would ask. As a class, discuss which questions you would choose and why.
  2. Draw a cartoon about the Brexit negotiations, featuring major figures on both sides.

Some People Say...

“Brexit was a fantastic example of a nation shooting itself full in the face.”

Hugh Grant

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
On March 29 next year, Britain will officially leave the European Union. But not very much will change on that date as the government has agreed on a transition period lasting until the end of 2019 to allow for the country to adapt to its new situation. We know that the Conservatives want a harder Brexit than the Labour Party, but that there are flaws and unanswered questions in both parties’ current plans.
What do we not know?
Many things. When, if ever, Britain will be able to negotiate trade deals with countries outside the EU? If a second referendum ever happen? If Britain will become richer or poorer? And then there is the political wrangling. Theresa May’s job seems safe for now, but it is very possible she will not be prime minister on the day Britain leaves the EU.

Word Watch

David Davis
Davis, a highly experienced politician who was narrowly beaten by David Cameron to become Tory leader in 2005, campaigned for Brexit. However, he is seen as more moderate on the subject than Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.
A tax or a duty that has to be paid on goods entering from abroad. The point of tariffs is to protect industries at home.
Backstop option
The EU’s backstop option was deemed unacceptable by the government since it involved Northern Ireland essentially remaining a permanent member of the single market, meaning there would have to be a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Soft Brexit
The term generally implies having a close relationship with the EU without actually being in it, for example remaining part of the customs union.
European Economic Area
An area covering the 28 European Union countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. It enables those three countries to be part of the EU’s single market. They abide by the rules of the EU single market and its freedom of movement of people, goods, services and money.

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