Brexit trap: is there any way out?
Until the 2016 Brexit vote, no country had ever attempted to leave the EU. The UK is providing an instructive lesson in why. Twenty-eight months after the Leave vote and 19 months after Article 50 was triggered by Theresa May, Britain has yet to reach a withdrawal agreement with the EU. Any deal that is agreed before the 29 March 2019 deadline risks being rejected by parliament, provoking the greatest constitutional crisis for more than a century.
This was not the outcome foretold by Brexiteers. On 11 July 2016, David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, wrote that within two years the UK could “negotiate a free trade area massively larger than the EU”. As recently as 20 July 2017, Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, predicted that a new British trade deal with the EU would be “one of the easiest in human history” (the UK has yet to begin trade negotiations).
The lack of progress is not for want of concessions made by the May government. Britain has accepted the EU’s negotiating timetable, offered to pay a £39bn “divorce bill” and issued a unilateral guarantee of European citizens’ rights. In other circumstances, a deal could be easily agreed. The EU has long stated that the “Norway model” – membership of the European Economic Area – is on offer.