Appetite to change Brexit?

Vince Cable working with Tory and Labour MPs

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The clock is ticking for the Brexit negotiations - but is Britain even prepared for the talks?

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

The EU referendum campaign was hardly a piece of nuanced politics.

When voters took to the ballots, they were faced with a question that could only elicit two answers: should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union? The referendum created duality: Remain or Leave; Europhile or Eurosceptic; Project Fear or Project Hate.

When voters marked their X in the box, it seemed like it was a simple case of 'yes' or 'no'. However, the referendum, and the decision to leave the EU has proved a bit more complicated than that.

While the Leavers point impatiently at their watches, a glance at the time provokes a cold sweat from the Government as the countdown begins. Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty states that the process to leave the bloc should take two years; once the time is up, treaties that govern membership no longer apply to Britain and the negotiations for any future trade deals are over.

The clock has been ticking since March this year, when Theresa May triggered Article 50 and formally notified the EU of Britain's intention to withdraw from the bloc. With the deadline of March 2019 looming, the two years of negotiations may not be enough time for the Government.

Steve Bullock, a former British EU negotiator, told the Independent that Brexit is going to be "far worse than anyone could have guessed", with the level of complexity involved in withdrawal likely to prevent any deal - let alone a good deal - from completion in the limited time. The last week alone has shown that Britain faces a breakdown in airline safety, medicine, animal welfare, security, international aid, et al.

The response from the Government? They did not realise the problems facing them. This could be a mixture of wilful ignorance - with ministers inserting "their heads firmly in the sand" and refusing to listen to experts at Whitehall - and ill preparation.

Brexit secretary David Davis was pictured sitting down to EU negotiations in Brussels without any notes in front of him. In contrast, his European counterparts brought large piles of paper in organised binders to the half-day talks.

When Jean-Claude Juncker visited Downing Street to meet with the Prime Minister, the tense meeting involved the EU Commission President producing two huge volumes from his bag - Croatia’s EU entry deal and Canada’s free trade deal - to highlight the mammoth task ahead of them.

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake argues the Brexit secretary is not prepared to negotiate Britain's future.

He said: “We have less than twenty months of Brexit talks left, yet David Davis has skulked back to the UK after just half a day.

“He didn't have any position papers with him because this government has no agreed Brexit position.

“This is a government with no papers, no plan and no time for the most important negotiations of a lifetime.

“They are meant to be negotiating Brexit but they can’t even negotiate among themselves.”

Davis had called for both negotiating team to "get down to business"; however, the business in hand took less than an hour before the Brexit secretary left Brussels for Westminster last week. He engaged in a meet-and-greet with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, before making a swift exit - unlike Britain's from the EU - back to the Commons. He voted twice with the Government to defeat a Labour motion that would have increased the amount of time allotted to backbenchers’ legislation, the Guardian reports.

Formal talks with the EU have only just begun, and both sides have already hit stumbling blocks. Britain and the EU need to discuss the 'terms of the divorce', as well as the future EU-UK relationship post-separation. The divorce, so far, has not been amicable. By the end of the second week, the UK and the EU are still at odds over citizens' rights and the divorce bill. They are also clashing over the future role of the European Court of Justice.

The decision to leave the European Union by voters was an easy one. All it required was marking an X by one of two answers. However, enacting the decision is a long and arduous task - with little time to achieve it. Tick tock goes the clock, but is the Government ready?

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