The Prime Minister’s Brexit speech was well crafted and delivered. Many Remain voters like the vision that the UK will have strong and positive relationships with the EU once we have left. They like the vision of the UK leading the cause of free trade worldwide, and offering continuing free trade to our former partners. The Commission may still want to find some way of harming the UK at the expense of the EU member states themselves, but the member states are likely on reflection to want to avoid tariffs on their exports and to resist new obstacles in the way of selling into the UK.
One of the most important features of the government position is it narrows the areas for disagreement. By saying we do not want to be in the single market we avoid that planned row over what level of budget contribution and what elements of free movement we need to retain to keep us in the single market. I never thought it would be possible to be in the single market and not be in the EU, and agree with Mrs Merkel on that matter. The UK government has spared the EU that argument.
It means the discussions to leave will be on narrow issues of when the liabilities stop and when we lose the use of the assets. We can move rapidly on from the question of departure to discuss the more important questions of what future trading arrangements we will enjoy and what collaborations and joint programmes we mutually wish to continue.
The EU is under a clear legal obligation from its own Treaty to be friendly and positive in its relations with neighbouring countries. I am sure many of the member states, if not the Commission, will want to obey the Treaty law, as we have always been told we have to do. It is more likely they will because it is commonsense to get on well with the neighbours. It is imperative to get on well with the customers, and the UK is a mighty big customer.