‘Evolve’ is the new word of the Brexit negotiations. The draft Council negotiating guidelines presented by Donald Tusk yesterday, stressed that the EU’s offer would change if the UK’s position evolved. Meeting Tusk today, the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has made exactly the same point. The negotiating strategy is clear: keep telling the British that if they are prepared to change their position, then the EU will come back with a far more wide-ranging deal.
As I say in my column in this week’s magazine, the EU will continue to offer Theresa May a choice between—basically—Canada or Norway. They hope that if they can keep this up, the UK will eventually take the Norway option and agree to become a regulatory rule-taker across the economy as a whole. This would suit the EU down to the ground; it is very keen to avoid having an alternative economic model on its doorstep.
The biggest question in British politics right now, is how will May respond to the EU’s approach? Her red lines suggest that, if forced to choose, she should take the Canadian option. But she’ll undoubtedly come under huge institutional pressure to accept something akin to Norway.
In the meantime, the government will attempt to get the EU to soften its position. The UK has held some things back for the trade negotiations. I understand that one paper circulated to senior cabinet ministers in recent weeks suggested that if the EU doesn’t bite on May’s proposals, Britain could offer concessions on immigration in an attempt to make them more palatable.
But, at the moment, all the signs are that the EU will stick to its line that the UK’s choice is between a Canada-style FTA or something almost identical to EEA membership.