Why it is impossible to ‘Just get on with it’

Sir Ivan Rogers, the former senior British diplomat to the EU, who, after three and a half years, resigned (or was he sacked?) at the beginning of 2017, has been speaking recently at Liverpool University on Britain leaving the EU. He it was, who pointed out some months ago that the EU was not just a trading partner but a regulatory superpower.

His new speech puts on display the enormous knowledge that is now no longer in the service of the nation, and though he is careful not to quite spell it out, it is clear that his predictions have turned out to be correct, largely because most politicians have played fast and lose with facts and failed to understand that negotiating from the inside of the EU is different from negotiating from the outside when, having triggered Article 50, you are outnumbered 27:1.

He talks “about nine lessons we need to draw from the last 2 ½ years, if the next 2 ½ – indeed the next decade – are not to be even more painful“.

He suggested that he arrived at nine lessons as he was thinking of the Christmas season though, in turn, I have to advise that there are unhappily, no carols. The full text is here and, forewarned is forearmed, it is a long, if well constructed, read. True to civil service form (and to continue the religious metaphor) he gives chapter and verse on what the UK has done wrong and how the government still seems not to be thinking straight or/and being honest with itself or the public.

Most of his conclusions will, I think be familiar to ‘Progressive Pulse’ readers so I will not list them here but there are two points in particular that do provide some additional insights.

Brexit is a process, not an event.

Even if the Withdrawal Agreement gets signed, sealed and delivered next month, which currently seems unlikely, much as it might disappoint people like Brenda of Bristol who are inclined to suggest, flatly ‘Just get on with it’, we have years more of negotiating a trade agreement with the EU. These talks will be difficult and protracted because the EU will be negotiating a new trade agreement with a third country and will necessarily be subject to the whims and wishes of the preferences of its 27 members. It will make the Withdrawal Agreement look like a breeze by comparison.

Britain will be continually wrestling, not with taking back control, but precisely how much control to cede in return for a trading quid pro quo. This will be boring to Brenda but essential to UK economic wellbeing, for, as Ivan Rogers points out “2/3 of UK exports are currently either to the EU or to countries with whom the EU has a preferential trade deal” and that does not include the recently signed EU-Japan trade deal which is likely to increase the figure still further.

Even worse, every UK election will be an opportunity for the EU to exert more concessions, or as he puts it “[a Free Trade Agreement] won’t be done by the end of 2020, and the EU well knows the U.K. won’t be keen on [jumping off any cliff] in the run up to an election.”

His last point is something that Labour should really take to heart:

[Any] new Prime Minister who attempts to reset direction… will find… that whatever reset they attempt, rather a lot of the negotiating dynamics and parameters remain completely unchanged.”

Completely stuffed, probably covers it.

This is only further confirmed now that ITV’s Robert Peston has found that one, David Cameron, is advising Theresa May.

That’s all we need.





  1. Sean Danaher -

    Thanks Peter
    I enjoyed sir Ivan Rogers Cambridge speech, but the Liverpool one is shorter and better structures. It is I think a “must read.” It is easy to see how Rogers commanded near universal respect in Brussels. It is a travesty that he was not listen to by May and co. simply because it is what they did not want to hear.

    I had also heard Cameron was advising May – so depressing. Have you seen Fintan O’Toole’s Guardian article? https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/16/britain-has-led-a-charmed-political-life-but-there-is-a-price-to-pay-for-complacency

  2. Neil Robertson -

    The speech was a fascinating read. It was a little short on solutions so did make for very gloomy reading.
    I particularly enjoyed (or was depressed by) a part of it which referenced the revelation of the government legal advice in the following way “And, from the apoplectic reaction to the Attorney General’s advice, which elegantly stated the totally obvious, you can now rather see why”.
    It totally astonishes me that members of parliament can dream up so many nonsensical objections/alternatives to the backstop. The one that I heard yesterday went something like “if the backstop becomes permanent it shouldn’t be binding”! It’s not a backstop then is it 🙁
    Following any debate in the HoC about Brexit is to be lost in despair at the low quality of the people that represent us.

    1. Jennifer (aka Jeni, Havantaclu) Parsons -

      Neil, are there any solutions that could now be put in place, in time for 29 March? Or are the reports of using the armed forces an indication of May’s preferred future direction? We’ve been noticing a lot more armoured personnel carriers and light tanks on the roads around Thorney Island, our nearest military base…

      1. Ivan Horrocks -

        Be ready for the announcement of ’emergency powers’ around the end of February, Jennifer. Then the formation of a so-called national government shortly thereafter in the name of ‘managing’ the no deal Brexit. Incidentally, the outcome will be the same even if Corbyn’s attempts at various no confidence votes are successful in either government being handed to Labour or an election in which Labour narrowly wins, or we have another hung parliament but this time with Labour as the minority party. In my view the only thing that can save us from a no deal Brexit now is if Article 50 is recinded as there’s clearly no way there’ll be a second referendum however much fuss is made about it (Private Eye reports one of May’s advisers telling people ‘over my dead body’ and all the evidence suggests that’s May’s view too).

        In truth I suspect May and her cabinet now believe what the arch Brexiteers have believed all along – that if we take a no deal to the 11th hour the EU will cave in and grant the Brexiteers all they ever wanted – or most of it at least. They won’t, because ultimately although there’ll be damage done on the other side of the channel as there will be here, in the not so long term – ie. within a year or two – the likes of Mini, Nissan, Toyota, Airbus, et al willl all relocate to EU countries (as Jaguar/Land Rover have already said they’re doing with the new Discovery). In short, there are far bigger benefits to be had for a short term hit for the EU than there are for the UK. Again, that’s something that our government seem unable to comprehend. But then we’re talking about people so delusional that they thought that a negotiation between 27 and 1 was always going to go their way.

      2. Neil Robertson -


        May’s preferred direction seems to be whatever is needed to keep the Conservative party together. The country can go to hell for all she cares.

        I struggle to believe that even this shambolic government will take us over the no-deal line but even flirting with the idea is doing damage to investment/confidence etc.

        I am made slightly more optimistic by the fact that a couple of Conservative MPs have indicated that they would collapse the government by supporting a no-confidence motion if no-deal becomes the policy of the government. If 2 have said that they would do this then I suspect that there are enough others that would do this in the national interest if they had to.

        Personally I would revoke article 50 immediately and maybe try the people’s assembly idea as a way of working out what to do next. There is a lot of talk about anger/violence on the streets if brexit were to be postponed but I don’t believe it would come to that. People have been being killed by government policies over the last few years – if that doesn’t spark violent revolution then I don’t think brexit will.

  3. Peter May -

    I wonder could Sinn Fein save us from the DUP and take up their seats at Westminster – so preserving the Good Friday agreement and keeping Ireland at peace – and indirectly save Britain from itself?
    Or probably the latter they wouldn’t want….

    We are watching the UK committing suicide and with the assistance of its own government.

    1. Samuel Johnson -

      They won’t. They were elected on an abstentionist platform and won’t budge from it. They don’t recognise Westminster and will not swear an oath of allegiance to a foreign head of state. Their perspective is that British rule in Ireland is doomed and the sooner it ends the better. They will do nothing to stand in the way of it, and they likely anticipate the collapse of the UK. Peace is a high price to pay, however, for merely accelerating what many see as inevitable.

      1. Soap Box -

        Indeed, some of the hardline Republicans still have an “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity” mentality and some voted for Brexit precisely because they thought it would existentially damage the UK. They see NI as being totally illegitimate – a result of state sponsored terrorism.

        A hard Brexit is likely to accelerate a United Ireland – indeed some scenarios have it happening within the next few years.

        I do think a UI is inevitable but as I have said before I am in no rush. NI badly needs time to heal and is very vulnerable to a hard Brexit. Far better I think to look at a 10-15 year period.

  4. Peter May -

    Neil – I agree about lack of brexit not provoking violence but am not at all sure no deal brexit with its attendant likely food shortages would not…

    1. Neil Robertson -

      Peter – Agreed – It’s hard to believe that policy decisions taken by a mainstream party have led to a situation where food shortages, bringing the army onto the streets or requisitioning shipping space for emergency medicines are talked about as if normal.

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