Focusing on the bigger picture is how to prevent a Brexit disaster

The Sun and the Guardian, raucous tabloid and campaigning broadsheet  on either side of the Brexit trauma are united: Barnier has killed off the Chequers plan. The FT however is more circumspect.

We have doubts it can be done without putting at risk the integrity of the customs union, our common commercial policy, regulatory policy and fiscal revenue,” said Mr Barnier.

Mr Barnier and Mr Raab also said they had agreed to work on a model for financial services co-operation that maintained “autonomy” for both sides. Mr Barnier said this would allow the EU total freedom in judging whether to grant or withdraw “equivalence” decisions allowing market access for financial companies. But there was little sign of progress on the main impediments to a withdrawal agreement being finalised, notably over the “backstop” necessary to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Proposals in the ( amended) Chequers plan  like the reciprocal collection of tariffs are full of holes. Will the whole negotiation be allowed to founder under the weight of their shortcomings? Leo Varadkar is eerily confident about a deal.  And although the ponderously  named  British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference failed to cause a ripple on the still pond of  the Stormont stand-off, at least the ministers  agreed to  hold regular bilaterals after Brexit.

Tim Garton Ash is a foreign affairs not as domestic commentator. He’s  a passionate  European  who looks beyond the apparently intractable  detail to the bigger picture  slowing and painfully emerging. Theresa May and her ministers are now touring Europe to hold up that bigger picture for closer scrutiny.

Right now, the ball is in the EU’s court. Amazingly, the 27 leaders have not had a major strategic discussion of Brexit since spring 2017. Since then, the negotiation has been left to the European commission team led by Michel Barnier, national officials, lawyers and Brussels theologians. They have had good reason to be firm, to protect the interests of Ireland and the integrity of the single market, and not to make Britain’s deal so attractive that other countries will be tempted to “have their cake and eat it”.

But I am struck by how some of the best informed, most pro-European British experts, such as Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform, have begun to argue that the EU 27 side is being too rigid, too exacting, too punitive in its approach. The exclusion of Britain from the high-security development of the Galileo system (Europe’s alternative to GPS) was a quite gratuitous slap in the face.

Yet our European partners could still reasonably say: dear Mrs May, give us a reasonable, detailed explanation of what you want, and we will respond in kind. Well, now she has. Brussels’ initial response has been politely cautious, particularly insisting on clarification of the “backstop” arrangements for keeping an open border on the island of Ireland. But in a notable article, a group of authors including Norbert Röttgen, the chair of the foreign affairs committee of the Bundestag, and Jean Pisani-Ferry, a leading French policy intellectual, have argued that the EU should now stop and think politically, not just bureaucratically, about its response.



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