Donald Tusk’s comments, echoed by Jean-Claude Juncker, that Britain could still change its mind on Brexit should worry the UK government. Why? Because as long as senior figures in the EU think there is a chance Brexit won’t happen, there’s very little incentive for them to think creatively about the future relationship. Instead, the temptation for them is to offer as little as possible in the hope that this might prompt a change of heart in London.
Now, realistically, I think Brexit is going to happen. The referendum and the parliamentary vote to trigger Article 50 means that it is very hard for it not to, though what kind of Brexit it is—obviously—is very much up for grabs.
But the sense in Brussels that something might turn up to stop Brexit makes it imperative that the UK government gets on with setting out what kind of ‘end state’ it wants to reach with the EU. The Brexit inner Cabinet meets this week to start hammering out the UK’s negotiating position in nine key areas.
But time is of the essence. For—to use Philip Hammond’s analogy, in this courtship, London needs to make the first move.