The Brexit blueprint for mission impossible

Leaving reluctantly? There are now 259 days until Britain is scheduled to leave the EU. © Getty

Is Brexit possible? Yesterday, the government released its White Paper on the UK’s relations with Europe. The PM says it is “principled and practical”. Parliament and the EU may disagree.

Theresa May’s final plan for a Brexit deal has already claimed the jobs of two of her most senior ministers, David Davis and Boris Johnson.

It has been attacked by Brexiteers for being a much softer plan than initially promised. Many Remainers remain unsatisfied.

Even President Donald Trump weighed in ahead of his visit to Britain, raising the question of whether the plan is “what they voted for”, adding that it “will probably kill” any future US trade deal.

But finally, two years after the vote to leave, the government has published its famous White Paper — the blueprint for Britain’s future relationship with the EU. It sets out the plan that Theresa May and her cabinet thrashed out at Chequers last weekend.

There is more detail about how a new customs arrangement will avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland; a new system in which the UK will follow EU law but not be directly affected by the European Courts; and how free movement as we know it will end.

The plan has already caused huge ructions in the Tory Party.

And there are three more potentially divisive things that jump out from the White Paper.

First, the plan is explicitly called an “association agreement” for the first time. Such agreements are usually for countries that want to join the EU. Brexiteers will not like the idea of using that as a model.

Second, while the government is adamant that the paper means an end to freedom of movement, it does seem to suggest there may be a way for workers to come to the UK without obtaining visas.

Third, the paper says that the UK cannot have it all. It acknowledges that, after Brexit, there will be more barriers to doing business in some areas, and that the UK might lose out.

The plans will now go to Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, and the remaining member states ahead of October’s summit.

The EU is reluctant to give the UK any kind of special status. And May might not have enough support to push the plan through Parliament.

Everywhere there is disagreement, scheming and bitter compromise.

Is the whole thing impossible?

Edge of the cliff

Yes, say some. There is no possible Brexit that could appeal to the majority of the country. As the New Statesman put it this week, the recent months have ended “hard Brexit 0, reality 1.” The new plan foregoes any benefits of leaving. With time so short, there is no deal that could be agreed between the UK and the EU.

Of course it is possible, reply others. It just requires compromise and understanding from both sides. Remember that Britain can leave without a deal and still try to negotiate one after that. And the history of the EU shows that, when it comes down to it, a deal does get struck in the end.

You Decide

  1. Is Brexit impossible?
  2. Is Theresa May’s plan for Brexit a good one?


  1. As a class, create your own Brexit glossary where everyone in the class defines five Brexit-related terms.
  2. Read the Some People Say quote. Write a short piece explaining what Jacob Rees-Mogg means.

Some People Say...

“This is the greatest vassalage since King John paid homage to Phillip II at Le Goulet in 1200.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Yesterday, the government published its plans for Britain’s future relationship with the European Union. The White Paper sets out a much softer Brexit than Theresa May had initially planned. Brexiteers are up in arms. David Davis and Boris Johnson have already left their positions in the cabinet, and several Tory MPs have promised to vote against the plans.
What do we not know?
Whether the EU will accept the new deal. The initial reaction has been muted, partly because of the political turmoil in Britain. Yet according to The Economist, “officials say the Chequers proposal is unlikely to fly as it is. The British request still looks like cherry-picking.” We also do not know whether Parliament will accept it.

Word Watch

David Davis and Boris Johnson
David Davis quit as Brexit minister on Sunday night to be replaced with fellow-Leave supporter Dominic Raab. The next day, Boris Johnson resigned as foreign secretary. His replacement is the former health secretary, Jeremy Hunt.
President Donald Trump
Trump, who was a vocal supporter of Brexit and whose best friend in British politics is Nigel Farage, added: “Maybe they’re taking a little bit of a different route.”
White Paper
A government report giving information or proposals on an issue. They may include a draft version of a Bill that is being planned.
Hard border in Northern Ireland
The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is the only land border between the UK and the rest of the EU. At present, it is open under an agreement signed in 1923. If it remains open, it is unclear whether this would mean that Northern Ireland should have to have a special status should Britain leave the customs union.
Michel Barnier
A former French cabinet minister turned EU commissioner.

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