Alignment at the start – how could it be otherwise? – but divergence over time. Mutual recognition of regulations. A dispute resolution mechanism to solve disagreements with the EU. No bonfire of employment or environment rules.
Such is the broad outline of what was agreed at yesterday’s “War Cabinet” Chequers summit. All in all, what there is of it is much as we anticipated yesterday on this site – though with no specifics, at least as yet, on the length of transition or on a plan for customs. With Jeremy Corbyn moving to pounce on the Government, rather in the manner of John Smith during the Maastricht Bill, it is now the most politically hazardous for Theresa May of all the aspects of Brexit, at least for the moment.
But this new Cabinet consensus sounds even more like what David Davis has long been pushing – as outlined in his speech earlier this week. The man who helped to force the abolition of the dock labour scheme emerged during the EU referendum campaign as a determined supporter of workers’ employment rights. See his article on ConservativeHome, written shortly before his appointment as Brexit Secretary, of which one of the section headings read: “Cutting taxes and cutting red tap – but protecting workers”. Friends say he places less stress on the three alignment and divergence “baskets” into which the Government proposes to place different elements of British business than finding a dispute resolution mechanism,
In other words, Canada Plus Plus Plus, as Davis himself puts it – i.e, an arrangment like that country’s, but with extra room within it for services. The initial response from the EU will surely be that the baskets represent cherry-picking; that Britain is either in the Single Market or out of it; and that there is very little room at all for a deal on services, if any. But we will then see whether or not both sides of the negotiation then find some room for manouevre.
There remains the big difference between the British and Irish view, broadly speaking, of the preliminary agreement reached last year over the border. Something like mutual recognition would go a long way towards resolving the problem.