Theresa May promises “Brexit means Brexit” — a phrase, which people have pointed out doesn’t indicate what the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union will actually be.
Business Insider has reported just how tough Brexit negotiations will be for May’s government.
Guy Verhofstadt, the EU Parliament’s chief negotiator, says he won’t give Britain the deal many ministers, including May, said they want: access to the Single Market but with limits on the free movement of people to the UK.
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May doesn’t just have ministers to appease, but the demands of the public, too. Awkwardly, the Brexit the public wants is the Brexit which Verhofstadt and other EU officials say Britain definitely can’t have.
This inconvenient reality is illustrated in the graphs below, produced by polling guru John Curtice. Curtice presented data at an event BI attended on Wednesday that said 61% of Brits want Britain to retain access to the European Single Market, but 79% want Britain to pull out of the free movement of people agreement.
This places May in an incredibly difficult position, as these two demands, according to powerful EU figures like Verhofstadt and Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, are mutually exclusive and will not be accepted as part of the same exit package.
However, this best-case-scenario-Brexit isn’t just what the public wants — it is what it expects. Over half of Brits (52%) expect May to secure this kind of deal.
Summing up the data, Curtice said: “The EU has exercised extraordinary flexibility to accommodate the peculiar requirements of the UK. Whether that remains the case remains to be seen.”
This is what Juncker said about hopes Britain may have for a cherry-picked Brexit deal just last week:
“There is a clear interlink as we made clear at the very beginning between the access to the internal market and the basic principles of the internal market – namely the free movement of workers and we are sticking to that position.
“This is not a game between prime ministers leaving and prime ministers remaining, this is about people in Europe.”
The EU is not going to be flexible when it comes to its negotiating position. If the demands of the British public are just as firm, then the prime minister may well go into the 2020 general election trying to defend a Brexit which falls short of what voters demand.