The Brexiters have finally set out a ‘timetable’ for leaving the EU. It all looks terribly orderly and friendly, but as with all Brexit policies, it is based on the assumption that all foreigners will do exactly what Boris, Gove and Farage tell them.
Interestingly the Brexiters want to delay invoking article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon giving notice to leave Europe, for as long as possible (more of this below). Then they say our exit terms and a new trading relationship with Europe will be agreed by 2019 or 2020. Significantly, Gove has said we might still be in the EU at the time of the next general election.
The problem for the Leave Campaign is that none of this is in their gift. The UK government and Parliament may have a view, and Boris, Gove and Farage are not yet the government, though increasingly they behave as though they are.
But more important, it is the other 27 EU members who will decide on the timetable and what Britain is offered. We will be excluded from discussions on our exit terms, which have to be finalised in two years. This deadline can be extended only with the unanimous agreement of all 27 countries. So, in reality, when the two years are up, for Britain it will be take it or leave it time.
Negotiations for a new trading agreement would probably happen at the same time. As I said in my post of 13 June, any such agreement would require the unanimous agreement of all 27 EU governments, their parliaments and the European Parliament.
So the idea of some Brexiters (though bitterly opposed by others who just want to rip up all our trade agreements) that Britain will get some special sweetheart trade deal is cloud cuckoo land. The best we can hope for is that in return for continuing to allow free movement of people, to observe EU rules and to go on paying into the EU budget, we will continue to get access to the single market, though this, of course, is not guaranteed.
By then, Boris, Gove, Farage and co will be between the devil and the deep blue sea, with their supporters getting angrier by the day that they have been conned into voting Leave by a pack of lies. So some of the wilder Brexiters are suggesting we do not bother with the legal niceties and just start unilaterally withdrawing.
This would destroy any residual good will there might be among our European partners, so that we would be offered only the harshest exit terms, with no trade deal of any kind. It would also mean we were in breach of international law, with unknown consequences, particularly for the million plus British people working or living in, or retired to, Europe. Not that Boris and co have ever cared about them.
So why do the Brexiters suddenly want to start dragging their feet on leaving Europe? Probably the awful realisation that they might win, and that, once invoked, article 50 cannot be uninvoked. Giving notice to leave the EU is irrevocable. Another factor may be growing nervousness over promises they have made that they know cannot be kept, and a third the bitter divisions on the Brexit side that are beginning to emerge.