The ‘known known’ in the basket of uncertainties that is Britain’s withdrawal from the EU is the intention of the Commission’s negotiating team to maintain the integrity of the four freedoms. On the British side the objective is to enjoy some of the benefits accruing from its EU membership, whilst at the same time seeking to fulfil the democratic mandate to leave the EU conferred by the referendum verdict.
In large part the withdrawal negotiations that ensued after the British Government invoked Article 50 have been a contest between these quite different, indeed conflicting, mandates. Both sides, each from its own standpoint, have offered quite different solutions to the conundrum of the Irish border. With Brexit day fast approaching, this singular issue has become a proxy for the altogether wider question of future EU–UK relations.
At the time of writing, the entire sweep of these tense negotiations is concentrated on resolving the ‘Irish Question’—without success until finally a ‘technical’ agreement’ was reached by the negotiators. Whether this ‘solution’ will survive resistance from arch-Brexiteers remains to be seen.