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Talk about Brexit is all about context.
Whilst several pointers to the UK Government’s position on leaving the EU emerged at the Tory party conference, talk of a ‘Hard Brexit’ seems to be ‘bang on the money’ writes Tim McNamara. Besides Philip Hammond’s speech about ‘turbulence’ ahead, all over references to Brexit were pretty hardline. The context of which should be judged by the fact that all such speeches would have to have been cleared by Theresa May’s senior advisors in Downing Street.
What was also indicative was that there was no substantive differences between Johnson, Davis and Fox. Unlike previously the PM did not have to contradict them at the conference.
No. 10 and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would also have been aware that the conference would have been widely reported on by the European and global media. It is no coincidence that both Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande made hardline speeches yesterday concerning the principle of freedom of movement cannot be separated from full membership of the ‘Single Market’.  What was highly indicative about Merkel’s speech was that it was addressed to Germany’s leading business people and that it was very warmly received. Meaning that Merkel will not be under undue pressure from German manufacturers to give the UK a sweetheart deal so as to protect their exports to the UK. In direct contradiction to what David Davis is currently espousing. 
At present the EU27 are holding a common position that there will be no negotiations until April 2017. Since it will be the European Commission that will be conducting the talks under a negotiating brief from the European Council, there is very very little space for the UK to adopt a divide and rule strategy. 
Analysis of the EU’s media over the past fortnight indicates very little sympathy for the UK ’s position. It also appears that the public image of the UK is falling perceptibly and this is already hitting UK exports. 
A recent report by the think tank Civitas has claimed that more EU jobs are linked to exports to the UK can the other way round. It should be noted that Civitas is known as a think tank that is close to the Conservative party albeit sometimes pursuing an independent line. It seems to have little experience of trade matters. 
This claim is contentious, however, if we face a ‘hard Brexit’ then trade deflection will take place. I.e. British exports to EU countries may well be replaced by other EU member states exporting more to each other rather than continuing to import from the UK. Very few UK exporters are irreplaceable. Like trade generally, most goods and services are fungible. 
Boris Johnson’s very recent claim that the UK wants a “jumbo trade deal” with Turkey after Brexit deserves to be derided. Turkey is part of the EU’s customs union and has been fully integrated since 31/12/95.  Turkey has to adopt EU tariffs and market access rules and EU’s rules of origin. It would be impossible for the UK to have a deal with Turkey which doesn’t follow EU rules.
The three Brexiteers, Davis, Fox and Johnson, still seem to be floundering when it comes to international trade.
A little noticed meeting took place in London last week, designed to address the concerns of other EU governments. Reuters reported that, “A senior British official made clear during a meeting with ambassadors from European Union countries in London this week that his government wants a signal from the EU about what kind of Brexit deal it is willing to accept before triggering divorce talks, EU sources said. The meeting, the first of its kind, was led by Oliver Robbins, the top civil servant in the British Department for Exiting the European Union. 

It was held at the invitation of the Slovak presidency of the EU, according to one source. The Slovaks declined to confirm or comment on the meeting. The UK government did not respond to a request for comment before publication.

That it took place at all is a sign the process of sounding each other out on the nature of a deal has begun, despite the EU’s insistence that no negotiations can take place before Theresa May’s government invokes Article 50 of the EU treaty.

Sources who were briefed on the exchange said Robbins gave no signals at the meeting about when May might do so. 

One source said he had made clear that controlling migration would be the government’s top priority and that retaining access to the single market in financial services was another goal.” 

Meetings such as these are often requested by foreign diplomats, more to obtain information from the UK government than to feed information to the government. 
A chink of light for the UK over Brexit negotiations also emerged this week in talks between the European Commission and the Swiss government.
The Commission has stepped back from the absolutist position on ‘no full access to the single market without free movement’ with a partial concession to Switzerland. The Commission has offered to allow a restriction in the form of any job vacancy must be offered to a Swiss resident before being offered to persons from EU countries. It does not allow for a cap on the number of EU migrants into Switzerland. 
Switzerland’s complex economic and trading relations with the EU are governed by a web of more than 120 bilateral treaties that are all linked by a “guillotine clause” – if one is breached, they all collapse.
It is extremely doubtful that this small concession would even begin to placate the Eurosceptics on the Tory benches. 
Corbyn’s re-election as Labour leader will embed the notion that the Labour leadership cadre are unenthusiastic about continued EU membership and won’t work enthusiastically to harry May’s government over the issue. Nothing took place at Labour party conference to indicate otherwise
Taking into account previous EU-enthusiastic MPs such as Rachel Reeves, Emma Reynolds, Stephen Kinnock conceding the there should be restrictions on free movement it appears that the Labour party in parliament will allow political space for the possibility that a ‘hard Brexit’ could be chosen by the Government. 
As expected nothing of note came of last week’s meeting between the President of the European Parliament, Martin Shulz and Theresa May.    On Friday, Schulz is set to deliver a speech on “The EU and Britain: parting ways but working together” at the LSE. It should be put into context that Shulz is campaigning for the support of UK Tories in his campaign to continue being President of the European Parliament. Hence his mainly emollient approach to Brexit in his speech. 
Tim McNamara is the editor of www.policyreview.eu
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