Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has signalled that a ‘soft’ Brexit may be in reach for Britain – such that the UK would be able to remain in the single market after its official departure from the European Union at the end of formal negotiations – which commenced this week in Brussels. Gabriel stated, ‘maybe there is now a chance to achieve a so-called ‘soft Brexit’, following the lack of support received for Theresa May’s hard Brexit. However, the German politician acknowledged that a likely condition of the UK benefitting from trade with the EU would be to accept EU workers’ freedom of movement, arguably a pillar of the Conservative manifesto in advance of the snap election on 8th June.
Indeed, Theresa May promoted a hard Brexit which intended to fundamentally cut three main ties between Britain and the EU. These were with regards to the right of freedom of movement between member countries; the requirement to pay a mandatory EU membership fee, and lastly the nature of EU law as overriding UK law.
This Monday, the formal talks over Britain’s withdrawal from the EU have begun and the Government finds itself negotiating from a position that has been wholly undermined by the hung parliament result of the general election. It is argued that Brexit Secretary, David Davis has lost an element of authority against his EU negotiating counterpart, Michel Marnier.
“Remain by another name”
An article published last week in Spiked, an online magazine, entitled ‘Nobody won the Brexit election’ argues that democracy has been lost in current affairs. On 23 June 2016, the British public voted to leave the European Union. This was achieved through democratic means of a popular referendum. However, according to Mick Hume, the author of the article, ‘the danger is [now] that we end up with a sort of Remain-by-another-name’ as Remain politicians scramble to capitalise on the uncertain climate of a hung parliament. He argues that no party or politician has the appetite to implement what over 17.4 million Brits voted for in 2016, and the outcome of this is to hand the steering wheel over to Europe, and the leading EU negotiators. If Theresa May had achieved her strength in numbers election result, Britain would likely have not only officially left the EU, but importantly cut all ancillary ties that are characteristic of being a member state. Arguably the most significant of these ties is the single market, which Mick Hume likens the calling for to ‘a coded demand for the UK to Remain an EU member state in all but name’.
Moreover, senior businessmen in the UK have expressed doubts over the effectiveness of a hard Brexit, specifically the associated departure from the single market. Stuart Rose, the Tory peer and chairman of Ocado, went as far as calling the snap election a “proxy re-referendum” against hard Brexit. The reluctance to both formally and informally leave the European Union was manifested beyond the UK, in France. The French President Emmanuel Macron stated that “Until negotiations come to an end there is always a chance to reopen the door”.