As we are about to hear again that there has been insufficient progress in the talks between Britain and the European Union, it becomes clearer that there never can be enough progress. The Brexit that Britain seeks simply does not exist.
Tolstoy’s famous quote about unhappy families offers a very good explanation as to why: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
When people voted in the June 23, 2016 referendum, they were given two choices: remain in the EU, or leave the EU. Those who voted Remain voted for the status quo; they were the happy families. Almost every Leave voter had his/her own reasons to be unhappy with the EU.
This does not mean that Remainers were happy with everything the EU did; but overall they were not as unhappy with it as to leave it. The trouble with deciphering the Leave vote is that every Leave voter’s Brexit looks different.
Take the port of Grimsby, where 70% of those who voted chose to leave the EU. It is now seeking to ensure special free trade status for the seafood industry, to ensure it is not damaged by Brexit.
Grimsby is just the latest such case. There are other examples, as well, and there will be more as Leave voters are beginning to wake up to the economic danger that Brexit poses to the country.
This is why negotiations with the EU are stuck in the first three points where they started: citizens’ rights, the Irish border, and the financial settlement.
On citizens’ rights, the EU has advanced an offer to British citizens under which their rights in the EU would remain unchanged as long as Britain reciprocates. But Britain does not want to reciprocate, which means that some EU citizens’ rights will disappear after Brexit.
On the Irish border, Britain cannot be outside the single market without the existence of a physical border, which is something that the Northern Irish abhor.
Paradoxically, it may be the financial settlement that is the easiest of the three. After all, it’s just a matter of money. The other two issues, with their emotional connotations, might be harder to agree upon.