The Brexit Trilemma (Explained In 1 Simple Chart)

As EU negotiators have continued to push back the deadline for achieving a draft Brexit treaty this week, Theresa May and her EU counterparts have expressed tentative support for extending the Brexit transition period, the latest "compromise" proposal to crop up during the seemingly interminable negotiations. However, this proposal isn't a solution. As one BBC editor put it, the proposal for a longer transition is "an extension to an extension that's not a request for a longer transition period but a desire perhaps to have the option" at some point in the future, assuming the two sides can even agree on a treaty to create a framework for those negotiations in the first place. Of course, when politicians are facing an intractable problem, they rarely miss a chance to engage in some preemptive can-kicking.

With the March 29 "Brexit Day" drawing ever nearer, and the risk of a "no-deal" Brexit looming ever larger, many who haven't been following every headline about the increasingly fraught negotiations (and even some who have) are struggling to piece together what, exactly, is going on.

Fortunately, the Automatic Earth has created a handy chart to help readers with this. It's called "The Brexit Trilemma". It represents the three promises made by May's government that are in direct contradiction with one another.


With this in mind, it appears May has four options all whof which are politiclal unteneable.

Option A: Break promise to DUP and erect a border in the Irish Sea.

Option B: Break promise to Ireland/EU and impose border checks in Ireland in violation of the Good Friday agreement.

Option C: Stay in single market and customs union, violating promises made to conservative Brexiteers, likely resulting in a leadership challenge.

And Option D: The "unicorn" trade deal - also known as "magical thinking."

These conflicts pertain solely to the so-called Brexit "backstop" agreement, a last-resort measure that would only take effect if the two sides fail to negotiate the final Brexit terms on customs and trade during the transition. Another conflict has arisen over whether the backstop agreement should be time limited or open ended, which recently led one government source to propose that the backstop "can’t be limited by a fixed date, but might be capable of limitation by reference to a formula or a test to establish redundancy".

Which provoked the following penetrating comment penetrating comment illustrating the extent to which these negotiations have descended into absurdity.

Perhaps this is what the EU meant when it chided May to "get creative" in attempting to square these opposing interests?