A Waltzing Matilda Brexit?

Donald Tusk repeatedly offered the UK a Canada-style Brexit deal during negotiations – at one point dangling the prospect of David Davis’ beloved “Canada Plus Plus Plus”.

To which Theresa May used to reply that “we will not accept the rights of Canada and the obligations of Norway”.

As the Union Flags, empty champagne bottles and bunting are cleared away from Parliament Square, we are being reminded that, to quote another of her phrases, “nothing has changed” – at least from the EU.

It is still seeking to bind Britain to the economic, regulatory and social model laid in its legal framework.

The difference this time round is that, unlike May, Boris Johnson knows what he wants.  Or at least seems to – and, certainly, the mass of former Vote Leavers in Number Ten do, from Dominic Cummings downwards.

The Prime Minister is letting it be known that he wants that Canada-type deal – and the right to diverge.

And if he can’t get it without such a right, but is offered Norwegian-style alignment, he will opt instead for what is being described as an “Australia-type model”.

As far as we can see, this is simply a new phrase for No Deal with knobs on.

It sounds much like the Managed No Deal that Andrea Leadsom floated last year when she was angling for the Conservative leadership – No Deal plus side deals on aviation, travel, security, minimal border checks and so on.

The EU will claim that Johnson has backed down before and will do so again.

Maybe.  Perhaps all this post-Brexit noise is simply a negotiating pose.  Certainly, the Prime Minister signed up to checks in the Irish Sea (though Northern Ireland will still benefit from future UK trade deals).

But that was before last month’s general election returned him a near-landslide.

Philip Hammond is no longer in Parliament.  Nor are Oliver Letwin, Dominic Grieve, Rory Stewart, David Gauke, Amber Rudd – and so on.  The new intake of Tory MPs owe much to Johnson, and they know it.

Without Conservative Commons backing, big business and the pro-immigration lobby are not the forces they were.

This is not to say that Johnson will get everything his own way.  The stage is set for a trade-off between what the UK wants on financial services and what the EU wants over fishing access.

Furthermore, there is a Unionist downside to divergence.

The more Great Britain diverges, and Northern Ireland does not, the less firmly anchored in the United Kingdom the latter will look.  That spells trouble.

But if the Prime Minister is really set on a Waltzing Matilda Brexit as his last resort option, he doesn’t look in a bad position at all to get it.

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