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Britain’s deluded hopes for a painless free-trade deal with EU

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Watching the slow-motion crash of Britain’s exit negotiations with the European Union is a disconcerting experience. A state that once ran a global empire is looking second-rate as the government’s implausible expectations about what it may be able to achieve in the talks are dashed. The British lack of realism, especially about vital future trading arrangements with the EU, reflects divisions within a government weakened after Prime Minister Theresa May lost her Conservative majority at the general election in June. But it also shows the government’s dismaying lack of historical and strategic understanding about how Britain lost its clout outside the European club more than half a century ago.

British attempts to wrest the agenda away from the EU in the late-August round of talks by including trade were predictably futile. Michel Barnier, Europe’s chief negotiator, said little progress had been made on the first three issues prioritized for resolution ahead of trade by European leaders: the rights of EU citizens in Britain and of British nationals in the EU, arrangements to avoid post-Brexit border posts restricting movement between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and, most contentious, the hefty exit bill the EU is demanding. This suggests a start to trade talks may be postponed beyond October. Britain’s weak hand is unsurprising since negotiations are being held under the European treaty’s Article 50, which May triggered at the end of March. This withdrawal procedure was designed to deter rather than to facilitate exit by imposing a two-year deadline after which a departing country is out in the cold with or without an agreement; any extension requires the unanimous consent of all the member states.

But the British lack of realism goes well beyond the staging of the talks. From the outset, following the........

© Japan Today