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Government report listing the grave difficulties of Brexit is really describing how the EU normally works

David Green, 2 March 2016

Whoever wrote the Cabinet Office report ‘The process for withdrawing from the European Union’ (February 2016) was obviously told to list as many difficulties as possible. However, in its enthusiasm to describe difficulties, the Government forgot that it was undermining its own case for staying in. In practice, the report is an account of how troublesome it is to get agreement about anything in the EU, not least because numerous countries use negotiations as an opportunity to gain advantage at the general expense.

On page 14, the report says that an ambitious agreement could need all 27 members to agree, in which case ‘it would be open to any Member State to seek to block it, or to extract a price for agreeing any element of the agreement’. And on page 16 we are warned that one or more member states ‘might expect the UK to offer concessions in return’. The other members, says the report, are ‘driven by their own national, political and economic interests, and would fight for them as hard as we would for the UK’s position’. Reaching agreement would ‘involve potentially unpalatable trade-offs’.

The report purports to be about the grave difficulties of exiting, but is really describing how the EU normally works. Mr Cameron does not say that he likes the EU as it is; only that he wants to stay in a European Union that keeps on reforming itself. But if he knows that very little can be accomplished without ‘unpalatable trade-offs’ his ambition seems to be completely unrealistic.

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