The real Brexit divide now exists between pragmatists and fanatics

Oh horror. A senior government official has referred to the “Swiss-style” arrangement as he mulls privately how to make Brexit work better for business. Cue a condemnation by Tory hardliners and an immediate denial by the prime minister.

Rishi Sunak had no choice. He may be a proto-Brexit who can say without irony the phrase “take advantage of the economic opportunity of Brexit”, but his beliefs are still being questioned by his paranoid and irascible MPs.

The idea is less a secret plan than a vague mid-term desire to reduce trade barriers.In short, many problems swiss pattern Selective access to the single market, especially the EU hates it. The other is that Britain still wants to exclude provisions for free movement of people, supervision by the European Court of Justice and automatic alignment with EU rules. The third is that the EU is less concerned about changing the agreement.

Those Brexit extremists screaming betrayal know this. But what really worries them is that such talk, and Sunak’s desire to resolve the conflict over the Northern Ireland agreement and seek a better relationship with the EU, suggests a preference for compromise. For theorists playing in grassroots galleries, practicality and economy are always inferior to purity of principle.

It all points to what’s most important now Brexit A split, a split that also plagues the Labor Party. The key divide is no longer between Leavers and Remainers, but between those keen to make Brexit work better and those not.

One should not exaggerate the pragmatism of the Conservative Party. Sunak is an ideological Brexiteer who sees regulatory differences as the main benefit of Brexit and prioritizes the freedom to strike trade deals, although they are increasingly restrictive when weighed against EU trade losses obvious. He is opposed to adding reforms such as the sanitary and phytosanitary system that would solve most of Northern Ireland’s trade problems. This creates an additional regulatory burden on businesses by replacing EU certifications with UK-based alternatives, such as CE marking on industrial and electronic products or the Chemical Reach Regulations.

Even so, mood music hints at tentative steps toward healthier relationships. Among the likes of Sunak, chancellor Jeremy Hunt and promoted secretary Michael Gove are some leaders who have resisted the most damaging purist positions. But it’s unclear how much appetite or strength Sunak has to push for real change. Conservative fears of Nigel Farage have further limited room for maneuver ahead of the election.

Failing to address the worst fallout from Brexit helps those who want to reverse the whole project, and that has become all the more urgent now that the Truss government has helped voters link Brexit with a weak economy.

On the Labor side, Keir Starmer is against Brexit, so there is no ideological opposition to compromise. However, in order to appease the Brexit voters he needs to win back, he has ruled out rejoining the single market. His focus is on building more constructive relationships and modest reforms. His mantra is “make Brexit work”.

However Xingmo Confront your own extremists. Many rejoiners in the Labor Party don’t want Brexit to work. They point to an assessment by the Office for Budget Responsibility that Brexit would cost 4% of gross domestic product in the long run, while small businesses would forego trade with the EU because of the extra costs and regulation. For them, Starmer’s resistance to the fierce campaign to rejoin the single market is a shameful failure. The Brexit backlash is getting bigger. Why undercut momentum by making it bearable?

But that is ignoring the political debate. To rejoin the single market is to once again accept the free movement of people, the supervision of the European Court of Justice and harmonization with EU law that the UK did not participate in making. The economic arguments are strong, but so are the policy obstacles.

Polls are also not as clear cut as some might think. While all of this points to growing regret over Brexit, with some voicing support for rejoining, others say the situation is more nuanced.detailed Study for the Tony Blair Institute showed that while 70% wanted closer ties, only a third supported rejoining the single market. Blair concluded that Brexit “will not be undone under this generation of political leadership”.

It has become commonplace for rejoinders to talk of a “conspiracy of silence” by politicians and the media over Brexit failure. This is hardly true, but for very different reasons, Labor and the Tories have an electoral interest in not delving into them.

But Labor can do more, especially as it looks ahead to 2025 when the Brexit trade deal comes under scrutiny. It can seek improvement more boldly and strategically. These should include business and youth visas. The UK could align itself with veterinary rules, seek specific sector deals and push for mutual recognition of professional qualifications, a matter for nation states rather than the EU. As a party less interested in removing protections for the environment or workers’ rights, Labor may find it easier to secure a voluntary coalition.

That’s nowhere near rejoining, but quietly pushing for incremental change may be the best hope for mitigating the economic damage. There are currently two main political parties in the UK, both of whom know that Brexit is making the country poorer, but their focus is on limiting the damage. However, muddling along is an instinct of the British.

robert.shrimsley@ft.com

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