Oh, Julia, what have you done?

Handwritten notes photographed in the hands of Julia Dockerill, chief of staff to vice-chairman of the Conservative party, Mark Field, reveal that it’s “unlikely we’ll be offered single market.” 

Field and his aide were photographed after a Brexit meeting at No 9 Downing Street—the Brexit department—and heading towards No 10 Downing Street. The government has denied that the notes expose its Brexit position. "These individual notes do not belong to a government official or a special adviser. They do not reflect the government's position in relation to Brexit negotiations," a spokesman for the government said.

But the notes were taken during some kind of meeting with officials, and, while Field doesn’t hold a formal Brexit position, he does have an interest on the effects of Brexit, especially how this will be felt in the financial services sector in his London and Westminster constituency, which he represents. 

The notes will also put more pressure on the government to reveal its negotiating plans and be more transparent. 

“Cake philosophy”: Have your cake and eat it

Among the handwritten notes, it was visible the question “what’s the model? Have your cake and eat it,” which sounds naïve and egotistical, and as many have commented, won’t be seen favourably by other EU countries. The prime minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, said that Britain can’t “have its cake and eat it.” Donald Tusk, had already made himself clear when he criticised the proponents of the “cake philosophy”, a jokey reference to Boris Johnson’s illusion of striking a better deal with the EU after Brexit. Back in October, Tusk said: “That was pure illusion, that one can have the EU cake and eat it too. To all who believe in it, I propose a simple experiment. Buy a cake, eat it, and see if it is still there on the plate.”

To add to the embarrassing situation, the sentence, “French likely to be most difficult,” was also scribbled down.

Revelations in black ink: A transitional trade deal?

The notes said that “Transitional — loath to do it. Whitehall will hold onto it. We need to bring an end to negotiations.” While May mentioned last week that she favours a transition after article 50 is triggered, the notes show that ministers aren’t interested in postponing Brexit. 

Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, is also supporting a transitional deal with the EU which will alleviate the harsh effects of Brexit. The Sunday Times reported that he’s working on a “secret plan” for a transitional Brexit deal to keep British businesses in the single market until 2021.

The idea of a transitional deal is a response to the limitations of the two-year deadline given to the UK after article 50 is triggered. This time frame won’t give the UK enough time to negotiate a free trade deal, which might take up to five years. A transitional deal will help make that transition smoother. It will offer access to the single market which will help businesses conduct their trades within the EU, but also it will mean that the UK continues to pay into the EU budget and comply with EU regulations. This is the most beneficial deal for businesses, but it will disappoint hard Brexiteers.  

Xavier Bettel, in an interview with the Agence France-Presse, said that there won’t be any transitional deal with the EU: “They want to have their cake, eat it, and get a smile from the baker, but not the other things…There are European values which cannot be separated. No cherry-picking.”

No Norway model

Other notes in Julia’s paper stated: "Got to be done in parallel - 20 odd negotiations. Keep the two years. Won't provide more detail. We think it's unlikely we'll be offered single market."  This points towards a trade deal similar to that of Norway. But, the notes indicate that the Norwegian model, which is based on single market access but not an EU membership or customs union access, is problematic: “Why no Norway – two elements – no ECJ [European Court of Justice] intervention. Unlikely to do internal market.” The European Court of Justice (ECJ), which is the highest court of the EU, ensuring that EU countries and institutions abide by the EU law, has jurisdiction in Norway. In addition, Norway complies with the free movement of people. These two elements are what Brexit supporters want to avoid.

The notes show that a manufacturing deal will be "relatively straightforward", but one on services will be "harder" to reach.

Other comments revealed that “Difficult on article 50 implementation - Barnier wants to see what deal looks like first." Michel Barnier is the lead EU negotiator.

CETA: A “Canada plus” option was also written on the paper. This refers to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) which the European Commission proposed to the Council in July 2016.  This new negotiated EU-Canada treaty will offer EU firms business opportunities in Canada and support jobs in Europe. But the UK will be seeking “more on services” than what CETA offers, as the notes specify.

Reaction

Stephen Gethins, the SNP spokesman on Europe, said the notes expose a government “with no direction, and no clue”. He added: “Worryingly, those in favour of taking us out of the EU appear set to cut off their nose to spite their face – with an apparent call to end any negotiations with Europe before they’ve properly begun and already wishing to pull the plug on the prospect of transitional arrangements.”

He found that, “These scribbled papers, however scant, seem to be the only plan the UK government has” and that “it’s now high time they set out a proper plan on leaving the EU as opposed to hastily jotted down notes, so short on substance.”

Tim Farron, leader of the Lib Dems, commented: “If this is a strategy it is incoherent. We can’t have our cake and eat it and there is no certainty on the single market. This picture shows the government doesn’t have a plan or even a clue.”

Against hard Brexit

On Monday, we were informed that there are a couple of initiatives taking place to postpone or stop a hard Brexit. An alliance of pro-EU Labour, Lib Dem and Tory MPs are trying to stop a hard Brexit by demanding to stay close to a single market agreement. British Influence think tank is also making things even harder for the government. Its lawyers will use a judicial review to deter the government from acting unlawfully in its Brexit plans to cut all connections of the UK to the single market. This legal battle is the second one for the government. Theresa May’s government will be appealing next week against the high court’s ruling that only parliament will have the power to trigger Brexit. Two dissenting voices are also intervening in the Brexit challenge: Tony Blair and Sir John Major are proposing a second referendum, saying that the public has the right to change its mind about leaving the EU, or even demand to stop Brexit. If this is at all consoling, let’s not forget that Sir Richard Branson is partially funding a campaign group, led by former Labour health minister, Alan Milburn, to fight Brexit.