Brexit: A Tale of Three Apples

12 December 2017 - by Quintin Oliver

The tariff on a fresh apple coming into the EU is 7 per cent, but a dried apple only attracts 3 per cent. However, if you stew the apple it rises to 16 per cent.

Therein, with one simple fruit, lies the complexity of the Brexit negotiations. Add in the UK divorce settlement of some £40bn, transfer back of some 141 regulatory areas and the movement of people, capital, goods and services, and the Gordian knot of complexity intensifies.

Then consider the delicate politics and centuries of conflict internally and between these islands. This isn't easy.

The last ten days of high drama, public argument and megaphone diplomacy fortifies the view of some that we will either never reach Brexit or crash out without a deal – it’s just too messy. Although that gives strength to the ‘take back our laws’ lobby, arguing that we have given away too much already and complexity is no reason to stick with the status quo

The ‘glass half full’ perspective shapes another vision, one of mutual interdependence, cooperation and flexibility.

That is based on the principles of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement – we can even flex our description of it as EU negotiators did in their text, renaming it the 1998 Agreement, to accommodate those uneasy with the religious references.

The beauty of that agreement was its even-handed, balanced outlook – nationalists and unionists, North-South and East-West, Irish and British (or both), pursuit of a united Ireland or a United Kingdom, so long as the arguments are conducted peacefully and democratically.

And that was momentarily the mood of the Monday-Friday turnaround last week. In spite of much posturing in the media (Twitter has much to answer for) and underneath all the huffing and puffing, the eventual text of the settlement was characterised by a 180-degree scan of vision; even if some will say it must be clearer, more decisive or ‘win-lose’ in character.

But that will go nowhere in the current mess, where neither side has a clear, uncontested majority. We need flexibility, wriggle-room, and creative ambiguity at these early stages of principle – the time for tough choices will come later when we need a single solution to the apple tariff conundrum.

An edited version of this article was first published in today's Daily Mirror.