Brexit Britain is at Europe’s mercy


Britain is drifting towards disaster on Brexit — without a viable diplomatic, economic or political strategy to make a success of the venture.


The central problem is that the British government is stuck between an implacable EU and an unrealistic Conservative party. The EU will not offer anything like the deal that Britain’s Brexiters still dream of. But Theresa May’s Conservative colleagues are still unprepared to accept this unpleasant reality.

核心问题在于,英国政府现在被困在不愿妥协的欧盟和不现实的保守党之间。欧盟不会提出英国退欧派仍在梦想的那种方案。但特里萨•梅(Theresa May)的保守党同僚仍然没有准备好接受这个不愉快的现实。

In this paralysing situation, it seems increasingly likely the UK government will simply be politically and technically incapable of delivering a negotiated Brexit. As a result, the likeliest outcome is that, late in the day — perhaps in January 2019 — the EU will present Britain with a “take it or leave it” deal.


That deal will involve Britain making wholesale concessions on a range of issues, from money to migration and markets. The alternative to acceptance would be for Britain to go over the cliff edge of a “no deal” Brexit in March 2019, with chaotic implications for trade, travel and security. Faced with that imminent prospect, it is likely, but by no means certain, that Britain would take the EU’s deal.


The unpleasant reality for Britain is that both the structure of the negotiations, and the relative strengths of both sides, ensure it is in the EU’s interests to indulge in brinkmanship. There are EU countries, particularly Ireland, that would suffer badly from a “no deal” Brexit. But in general, the EU seems to have decided that it can absorb the direct costs of Britain leaving without a deal.


When, at a recent closed-doors event, a senior British politician argued that, in the event of a “no deal”, the EU will be left with a €10bn hole in its budget, the Europeans in the audience seemed unimpressed. As one of them put it to me afterwards: “There are 27 of us. I think we can manage that.”


The Europeans also know that the more that times passes, the more the pressure will mount on Britain. It is widely anticipated that if there is no clear Brexit breakthrough at next month’s EU summit, big banks and businesses will start to make announcements about shifting jobs out of Britain. If that happens, the May government’s negotiating position will get steadily weaker.


The EU side can also credibly argue that the political disarray in Britain is such that making a deal with the May government could turn out to be pointless. On the surface, the British government has a clear position on most of the key issues. The May government has offered to pay the EU €20bn as part of the divorce settlement. It has also said that Britain plans eventually to leave both the EU’s internal market and the customs union, but that there should be a transition arrangement of about two years, during which a new free trade deal is put into place.


But these positions could still change radically in response to events. If, as seems likely, Mrs May is forced to increase considerably the UK’s financial offer to the EU, it is possible that she will face a revolt from within her own party — and could lose her House of Commons majority, and possibly her job. On the other hand, if she hangs tough on the money and allows negotiations to break down, then she may face a similarly dangerous revolt from appalled Remainers.

但是,随着事态发展,这些立场仍然可能发生根本性的变化。如果梅被迫大幅增加英国对欧盟作出的财务贡献,她可能面临党内反弹——并可能失去她在下议院(House of Commons)的多数席位,甚至可能下台。另一方面,如果她在“离婚”款项的金额上死不让步,任由谈判破裂,那么她可能面临不满的留欧派同样危险的造反。

Beyond the money, there is still an unresolved dispute over whether Britain will indeed leave the EU’s internal market. For while that is currently the official UK position, it is also clear that there are senior figures within the government — including Philip Hammond, the chancellor — who would dearly like to shift policy.

除了金钱以外,关于英国是否真的会退出欧盟内部市场,仍然存在悬而未决的争议。因为尽管那是英国目前的官方立场,但同样显而易见的是,政府内部一些高层人物(包括财政大臣菲利普•哈蒙德(Philip Hammond))非常愿意转变政策。

This unresolved conflict between Remainers and Leavers means that Britain’s negotiating position cannot be assumed to be final. Even if Mrs May stays and manages to negotiate a deal, she might be unable to get it through parliament. But if Mrs May falls, then her carefully-crafted compromises will fall with her.


What happened next would depend on whether she was replaced by a Remainer or a Leaver. Alternatively, there could be a general election, with the Tories replaced by Labour. But the real attitude of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, to Brexit remains mysterious. And Mr Corbyn’s positions would anyway be shaped by the economic and political circumstances he inherited, and by whether he had to govern in coalition with the Scottish Nationalists and the Liberal Democrats.

接下来的事情将取决于她是被留欧派还是退欧派取代。再或者,英国可能举行一场大选,导致保守党下台,被工党取而代之。但工党领袖杰里米•科尔宾(Jeremy Corbyn)在退欧问题上仍然讳莫如深,不肯表明真实态度。无论如何,科尔宾的立场都会受到他接手的经济和政治环境、以及他是否不得不与苏格兰民族党(SNP)和英国自由民主党(Liberal Democrats)联合执政的影响。

Observing all these uncertainties, the EU might well conclude that there is no point in making significant moves now. Some Europeans may even nurture hopes that the eventual outcome of all this chaos is that Britain reconsiders its decision to leave the EU altogether. One outside possibility is that the EU’s last minute offer would be aimed not at crafting a Brexit deal, but at persuading Britain to reconsider the whole notion of Brexit.


But such brinkmanship also inevitably carries risks for the EU. The economic consequences of pushing the British over the cliff edge, by accident or design, may be containable for the EU. Imposing a humiliating settlement on Britain might even seem economically advantageous. But the long term political and strategic consequences of a bitter Brexit are much harder to calculate.