May’s Is the Only Alternative to a No-Deal Brexit

The demands of the opposition are unrealistic.

Theresa May James Mattis
British prime minister Theresa May speaks with American defense secretary James Mattis at Lancaster House in London, England, May 11, 2017 (DoD/Jette Carr)

After Britain voted to leave the EU in 2016, I argued here that the only alternative to a “hard” Brexit was a Norway-style deal under which Britain would stay in the EU customs union and single market.

I got it half-right. The draft agreement that is due to be published later today would — according to British media — see the United Kingdom exit the single market but remain in the customs union until a better solution can be found to prevent the return of a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Britain would also respect the rights of the roughly three million EU nationals in the country. The one million Britons who live and work on the continent would be treated similarly.

Disingenuous opposition

Much of the opposition to the deal is disingenuous. From Jeremy Corbyn on the left to Boris Johnson on the right, the argument that a continued customs union with the EU would reduce Britain to a “vassal state” is ludicrous. Britain is in such a customs union now! Is it currently a vassal of the EU? Of course now.

Nor could Theresa May, the prime minister, have possibly negotiated something better. The EU has made clear from the start that its “four freedoms” — free movement of capital, goods, services and people — cannot be separated. Yet the pro-Brexit right still argues for unimpeded trade with the EU without paying into the EU budget, without respecting EU regulations and without accepting EU immigration.

This was never going to happen and everybody who faults May for failing to secure such a wonder deal knows it.

Not unlike diehard communists who insist that “real” communism has never been tried, hardline Brexiteers are laying the groundworks for a “Brexit was never tried properly” campaign. Don’t believe it. What is on the table now is the best deal Britain will get.