As far as I could tell, the Brexit issue boils down to three core points for the UK:

  1. The UK no longer has to follow any EU regulations.

  2. The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland remains without customs/border checks etc.

  3. There will be no kind of "customs/border-like-checks" between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Given that the EU common market (among other things) enables forgoing border/customs checks by ensuring all members follow the same standards (and the UK does NOT want to be bound by those standards), I have a hard time imagining how those three points are supposed to achieved at once.

Otherwise, if e.g. pineapples were to be made illegal in the EU but not the UK (or vice versa) trucks full of pineapples would be able to (freely) move from the UK to the EU (or back) without being detected (since there are no border checks) – and the side that made pineapples illegal probably doesn't want that.

So, let's just pretend the UK would be able to convince the EU of its ideal version of the Brexit deal (excluding the EU dissolving or similar nonsense) – what would it look like? What solution did the UK provide which the EU was unwilling to accept?

  • Related: politics.stackexchange.com/q/40405/23571
    – Erwan
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 21:16
  • 2
    Lots of comments deleted. Please note that this is not a discussion forum. The purpose of comments is to help to improve the question itself, not to debate its subject matter. For more information on what comments should and should not be used for, please review the help article on the commenting privilege.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 8:04
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    optimal for whom?? British interests are widely divided and those of the workers and the big money or the consumers have next to nothing in common..
    – TaW
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 11:52
  • Even if you scale down your interests to fishermen, it's 50:50 divided: Seafood fishermen benefit from the EU as they sell all their stuff to Spain; those catching whitefish (cod, hake, haddock) feel mostly hampered by rules and outcompeted in British waters. All in all the best deal we're counting on is one where we have our cake and eat it. Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 20:27
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    I don't think this question is very useful. In the end, politics is always the art of the compromise, making all negotiation partners happy in some way. Extremely one-sided positions are seldom realistic. What is the value of asking for them then? Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 6:52

9 Answers 9


The "optimal" solution for Brexiteers is:-

  1. The UK does not have to follow any EU rules.
  2. The UK gets to decide rules for imports.
  3. UK industry gets to export to the EU freely in spite of those goods not being produced to the same rules as set by the EU.
  4. The UK can stop people entering freely from the EU.
  5. People from Ireland can enter Northern Ireland freely.
  6. Goods produced in Ireland and Northern Ireland can cross the border freely.

Some of this can be fudged in various ways. For example, a "frictionless border" for Northern Ireland can be faked with electronic tags and registrations, which could be relatively frictionless at the point of travel, but would add administrative and financial friction.

The clear problem though is that this "optimal" solution is only optimal for the UK, and is massively biased against the EU. The UK is a small nation with no key domestic industrial, mineral, financial or military resources, which puts it in a poor negotiating position against a much larger trading bloc. Johnson's team are in the process of discovering this, and the media are in the process of preparing the country for a no-deal Brexit because Johnson's Brexiteers are unprepared to do a deal which reflects the compromises a small, less-powerful nation has to make in the face of larger competitors.

  • 18
    I wonder if you could expand on "The UK is a small nation with no key domestic ... financial or military resources", the uk is the 7th biggest economy in the world with decent financial services sector and is in the top 10 countries by military expenditure. I agree with the other points, but this seems a little cynical no?
    – Preston
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 16:14
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    @User632716 The financial services "industry" is largely predicated on the UK being in the EU. There is no obstacle in any way to companies moving, and several major cities would happily accept companies with open arms. Major institutions have already started that move, so this isn't Remoaner scaremongering - it's actually happening now. As for military resources, the UK (with Trident) is a key member of NATO, but it doesn't form a substantial part of plans for EU defence and opposed EU plans for formalising EUFOR as a more integrated entity.
    – Graham
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 18:57
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    Lots of comments deleted. Please use comments to make suggestions how to improve the answer. Please don't use comments to debate its subject matter. For more information on what comments should and should not be used for, please review the help article about comments in the help center.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 19:59
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    "Please use comments to make suggestions how to improve the answer." I still think this answer is missing the significant requirement of what Remainers will consider an acceptable 'deal'. Without that support, no deal will ever pass this Parliament (as has been very clearly demonstrated in reality), so that must not only be considered, it must be spelled out. If only some of the 'optimal' requirements are fulfilled from a Brexiter's perspective, failure to achieve any deal is certain.
    – ouflak
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 9:52
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    @ouflak The OP asks for "ideal", not "acceptable". For Remainers, of course the ideal deal is not to leave in the first place. :/ It's a fair question though, and the problem is of course that Theresa May never asked what Remainers would consider acceptable or tried to build consensus, and Johnson certainly isn't going to either. As you say, the democratic process in Parliament ensures this is doomed to fail.
    – Graham
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 20:00

The UK is going to suffer no matter what happens and likely break up due to brexit, so there is no ideal outcome for it. The statements made by the British government can only be understood in the context of "what is best for the Tory Party and its leader?"

There is a belief that brexit must be delivered to stand any chance of saving the Tory Party from electoral oblivion. The Irish border, for example, represents an unsolvable problem, so the goal is not to solve it but rather to pass the blame on to the EU.

For example, in a recent Today programme interview on BBC Radio 4, Dominic Raab (the Foreign Secretary at the time of writing) said a "stubborn" EU would be responsible for a no-deal brexit.

Later the same day, Boris Johnson said that no-deal was "up to the EU, this is their call."

On August the 6th, Michael Gove, currently Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said "I'm deeply saddened that the EU now seem to be refusing to negotiate with the UK.".

So the ideal brexit is one where the EU gets the blame for everything that goes wrong, and the electorate does not completely reject the Tory Party at the next election.

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    You could improve this with some quotes of officials trying to blame the EU for things. Otherwise it all seems speculative without any backup.
    – Jontia
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 9:12
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    Blaming the EU for everything is what UK politicians do now. After Brexit they will carry on doing it... Well, why not, the electorate seems to swallow it.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 13:30
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    Boris does have a decades long history of blaming the EU. I was trying to find a transcript of the interviews on Radio 4's Today programme in the last few days, where various cabinet ministers blamed the EU for not giving concessions.
    – user
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 13:32
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    Just blamed EU for kipper, I believe
    – Gnudiff
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 14:15
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    @Mast has the union of Scotland and England ever been closer to breaking up than it has been in the last few years? What about (Northern) Ireland and the rest of the UK?
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 2, 2019 at 14:43

At most international airports in the EEA, there are separate "red" and "green" customs lanes. If you go through the green lane, you are stating that you have nothing to declare. In theory, you can be searched, and if you are carrying contraband or goods which should have been declared, you can be fined or even arrested for smuggling. In practice, most people don't get searched, and the green lanes are sometimes unmanned altogether (or at least, not visibly manned). One could imagine Ireland and the UK passing a law stating that the entirety of the Irish border is a "green lane" for customs purposes, perhaps with a few designated crossing areas to serve as "red lanes" for people with goods to declare, and (maybe) with a very small number of travelers randomly stopped and searched. It's not entirely clear to me that this would uphold the strict letter of the Good Friday Agreement, but it would arguably uphold its spirit (provided the random searches truly are minimally invasive and greatly infrequent), and the UK and Ireland could sign a treaty modifying the GFA to that effect.

Obviously, there are a lot of problems with this approach. It would be a very porous border in both directions. Unlike at an airport, you don't have a comprehensive manifest of everyone going into or out of the customs area, nor do you have pervasive surveillance, so it's harder (read: practically impossible) to follow up on suspected smuggling. Various Euroskeptic groups within the UK have made noises about "technical solutions" to this problem, but it's unclear that those solutions can be fully implemented by November 1, 2019, which at the time of writing is the date the UK is due to leave the EU.

On the other hand, it likely would prevent law-abiding companies from bringing products across the border without paying customs dues, because that would be illegal. In your hypothetical, where pineapples are illegal on one side of the border, no "regular" grocery company is going to import them across the border, because they cannot be sold except on the black market, and no law-abiding company wants to get involved with that sort of thing. Similarly, if pineapples are legal but have a high tariff, no "regular" company is going to import them without declaring, because otherwise a simple audit of their books would reveal the discrepancy.

In principle, a less reputable company might deliberately mislabel (to use a real example) chlorinated chicken in order to import it into the EEA and sell it as untreated chicken, but it's not clear to me that a "hard" customs border would actually detect or prevent such mislabeling, so I'm not sure it's relevant. Nevertheless, a "soft" border as described above certainly wouldn't make enforcement any easier than it is now, and could make it harder, depending on how regulators choose to approach the problem.

Finally, I should point out that all of the above assumes the cooperation of both Ireland in particular and the EU as a whole. On the one hand, it substantially weakens the customs union in order to provide a significant benefit to a non-member of the EU. On the other, the Irish border has long been a source of conflict and sectarian violence, and the original purpose of the EU is the promotion of peace on the European continent. Given the current direction of Brexit politics, I think most of what I have described above is unlikely to come to pass, but this seems equally true of every way forward that I can imagine. Brexit is the political quandary of the century.

  • 4
    This answer doesn't actually answer the question but tangents on a very specific issue you see in an airport. Commuting over the irish border daily and living only 5km from the border makes this answer laughable. Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 15:51
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    @DeanMeehan: Read the question again. It is asking for a fantasy solution that won't work.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 16:02
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    It might be relevant to note that this “red/green system” is actually exactly how the motorways between Sweden and Norway are set up. Not sure about smaller border passes. And this is relevant insofar as Norway has strict import regulations in particular for alcohol, although it's in the EEA. Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 18:27
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    "One could imagine Ireland and the UK passing a law [...]" - No, one cannot imagine such a thing. Such a law would need to get passed by the EU, as everything else related to the customs union. Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 8:43
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    This seems to completely ignore the Good Friday Agreement and the other Irish border issues. Are you saying that the UK's optimal brexit would involve the historic troubles vanishing into thin air.
    – user
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 9:25

We can learn from the "no deal plan" and the "technical solutions". There is no evidence that the technical solutions will work or are even being really planned for, but that's characteristic of Brexit planning. The plan to deal with your illegal pineapple plan seems to be to just ignore it. In the event that Ireland's enforcement of the pineapple regime becomes a problem, the government will blame the Irish.

According to Johnson in the Telegraph the border issue will be dealt with by Direct Rule.

(Since proposed PM Boris Johnson is still an employee of the Telegraph, for which he is paid nearly twenty-three thousand pounds a month, more than the Prime Ministerial salary, is the Telegraph a state propaganda paper, or is the government a subsidiary of a newspaper?)

  • 11
    The last statement is rubbish. If have two jobs, it doesn't make one of my employers the subsidary of another. In any case, this doesn't seem to answer the question at all.
    – something
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 5:37
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    Whether the Telegraph pays Boris doesn't necessarily have a direct bearing on their being propaganda. An organization can be highly favorable to an administration without paying it (like Fox News in the United States) or publish some guest pieces by an administration official while still being critical of them (many newspapers). Their continuing to pay him (if they do) is certainly a sign of bias, though.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 6:36
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    @Obie2.0 there's a significant difference between an MP writing a column and a Minister or the PM.
    – Jontia
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 9:13
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    Given that the press is meant to hold government to account, there is a clear conflict of in interest and it is therefore a breach of the ministerial code.
    – James
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 15:03
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    At the time of writing, Boris Johnson was already named PM by the Queen for several days. At that moment in time, writing "proposed PM" seems to deny that basic fact, and is extremely partisan.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 7:26

The ideal Brexit would be to stay an EU member and simply fix the things you don't like about the EU.

I've lived in Switzerland many years and the Swiss have to pay as much per citizen to the EU just for access, as the UK does for membership, yet the Swiss get no say. Likewise the Swiss are forced to accept EU laws, many of which are exceedingly unpopular.

I love the Swiss system and dislike the EU immensely, but think membership in the EU would be to Switzerland's advantage. And if the UK were still in, they'd make strong allies, along with perhaps Norwegians whom are in much the same boat.

  • 4
    This is ideal if your views broadly with the EUs. If it doesn't - say for instance on the topic of immigration then the only solution is to leave. Immigration, in my opinion, is going to kill the EU experiment unless the open-borders crowd change their tune very quickly.
    – Mayo
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 20:21
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    @Mayo do you mean Immigration into the EU? Which is the responsibility of member states? Or Freedom of movement, which requires people to be able to support themselves or they can be deported after 3 months? That almost no EU countries bother to track/enforce the 3 month limit on Freedom of Movement or the Burden on state you've moved to rules is not the fault of the EU.
    – Jontia
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 12:20
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    @Jontia - I'm referring to the immigration and acceptance of migrants into the EU. This is causing a series of tensions - cultural assimilation (which is not happening) and financial stress which will only get worse in time. You're already seeing serious splits happening in Hungary and Poland and it's growing fast in Italy and Denmark. This fracture has no compromise. It's either stop the migration and deport to some degree OR the EU will split. Member states will refuse the migrants and close their borders to some degree. If the EU tries to sanction them ... then that's the end of the EU.
    – Mayo
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 12:55
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    cont... Yes I know the EU is setting up to sanction Hungary now. But this is really only the first salvo of the coming (hopefully peaceful) war. To stop things from going south the EU needs to stop the migration immediately AND it needs to come up with a procedure in which member nations can leave amicably.
    – Mayo
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 13:04
  • 1
    @Sjoerd Cameron tried, and told everyone he'd succeeded when clearly he'd failed. He also withdrew from the leading EPP group a few years before that. Perhaps if he'd stayed with the EPP instead of joining a fringe group he'd have had more success at reform, or if he'd been more honest about his success then he might have been taken more seriously later.
    – Jontia
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 15:27

The principal point of conflict currently is the backstop. The backstop was a proposal of UK dealmakers to delay independence of UK external trade (necessitating an inner-Irish customs border, likely refanning the Irish unrests) until a solution for the inner-Irish border has been found.

The hard Brexiteers do not want to have the inner-Irish border conflict trump the interests of England. They would rather have the freedom to do their own trade treaties while simultaneously ignoring the consequences on the inner-Irish border.

Their ideal solution would be if Ireland left the EU and formed a trade union with the UK under conditions set by the UK.

They'd look ridiculous demanding that, so instead they don't actually demand anything (and they don't have parliamentary support for any option) except being allowed to blame the EU for letting the UK's request for leaving the EU run its course after having extended the UK-set deadline several times on request of the UK. The Tories are preparing for not handing in another request for extension, not handing in any reasonable or unreasonable proposal, and then blaming the EU for ultimately doing what the UK requested and take that as a lame excuse not to pay their debts (which Johnson already threatened), thus making it unlikely that the EU will bother making further treaties with a country not considering itself responsible for heeding deals and contracts and obligations.

Which will, again, be blamed on the EU. Since Johnson as well as other parts of the government entertain good and partly controlling relations to the press in the UK, they will sell this to the best of their ability to their voters. Given the current willingness of people everywhere to give more weight to the word of local populists than global analysts, this strategy may prove successful for recovering some of the current loss of voter support.

TLDR: damn the Irish and even the UK (and the EU anyway): the power of the Conservative Party is at stake here.

  • "Their ideal solution would be if Ireland left the EU and formed a trade union with the UK under conditions set by the UK. They'd look ridiculous demanding that...": It certainly has been mentioned, however, if not demanded.
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 2, 2019 at 14:47
  • Suggested by John Humphrys at the BBC. theguardian.com/politics/2019/jan/26/… haven't been able to find where he got the idea from.
    – Jontia
    Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 10:15

There is just no optimal solution. There's a transitivity problem here:

  • The Republic of Ireland is part of the EU, and so there should be free movement of goods, people, capital and services between the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU

  • The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are tied by the Good Friday Agreement, and so there should be no hard border between them

  • Northern Ireland is part of the UK, so there should be free movement of everything between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Transitivity implies that the UK has free movement of a lot of things with the EU.

So, something must break:

  • The UK remains part of the EU or some form of common market (there have been tons of variants on this, EEA, EFTA, common market 2.0, and so on). This is rejected by the Brexit hardliners who don't want anything which starts with an E.

  • A border is introduced between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, or Northern Ireland becomes independent (with or without reunification with the Republic of Ireland). Not accepted by the DUP at the minimum, not accepted by anyone in the UK at worst.

  • A border is introduced between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which breaks the Good Friday Agreements and smells like trouble.

  • The Republic of Ireland exits the EU. Fat chance!

  • The EU accepts that the UK can have their own rules but still accept goods from them without checking them or imposing tariffs on them, including goods coming from other countries the UK may strike deals with, accepting stuff that the EU refuses, or having no tariffs on them while the EU has them (which means the UK is in control of the EU's foreign trade policy). What's the interest of the EU here? And if they do it for the UK, why not for the others? Also a big WTO issue (most favoured nation yada yada).

The most likely option remains the first one.

  • 1
    The first is most likely for a least damaging brexit, but it's ruled out not just by hardliners, but also TM's Red Lines. It's also as far as I can still strictly worse than actually being in the EU.
    – Jontia
    Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 8:18

The UK wants to have a single court and system of laws, rather than a hierarchy.

The cost of this is political pressure from the EU, leading to trade barriers/financial deterrents.

Ideally, the political pressure goes to zero, and the EU treats the UK as an ally, and though requiring customs checks, allows free trade (so minimal political stimulus to rejoin).

  • 4
    That sounds nice and all, but whenever you work together there can and will be disputes and there hast to be a way to resolve them. So most (or all?) trade agreements will have a clause on how disputes are resolved. Being an global (or regional in this case) power means you cannot be totally isolated in terms of oversight.
    – JJJ
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 11:03
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    The UK didn't take on the euro and it has its own finance minister. As for freedom of movement, the UK was happy to take on EU laborers as many Brits won't or aren't able to do some of the jobs you have (mostly physical intensive and specialist jobs). Note that the EU didn't for the UK to join, it joined of its own accord because it thought it was in its own best interest. The latter holds for other EU members as well.
    – JJJ
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 11:15
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    @AlexanderKartun-Giles well you can't have it both ways. You can't claim shower and swimming pool privileges if you're not a member of the gym. And if you want to be a member, you need to pay contribution and abide by the rules of the gym. If you want to go to another gym or run outside, that's fine, but you still have to pay for the remainder of the year per the T&Cs that apply (i.e. the 2014-2020 EU budget).
    – JJJ
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 13:27
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    @AlexanderKartun-Giles In which world losing the subsidies is not an obviously integral part of Brexit? Did people in the UK thought that after Brexit the EU would still continue to pay them? This sounds crazy. Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 14:30
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    "The UK wants to have a single court". That's a rather English statement; it ignores the independent Scottish court system.
    – MSalters
    Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 9:06

What would the United Kingdom's “optimal” Brexit deal look like? It would look like the Flexcit plan devised by Dr Richard North see http://eureferendum.com/

The most important point is that an optimal Brexit per Flexcit is not an event; it is a process that would take several years. Sadly both extreme Remainers and extreme Leavers are unwilling to accept any compromise and have unjustly and ignorantly trashed Flexcit. IMO crashing out with no deal is very likely, as all it requires is that the UK Government do nothing. If nothing is agreed then no deal is the default end product of the Article 50 process.

EDIT: I see I have attracted a -1 rating. I would be grateful to know a reason for it.

  • 7
    It would take several years rather than occurring instantaneously following the vote, unlike the current Brexit?
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 20:10
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    Yes according to the author of Flexcit it would take c. 5 to 10 years in which UK would gradually exit the EU. It has taken 40+ years to get to where we are in the EU and we cannot exit immediately without severe financial and other side effects, many of which are not easily quantifiable.
    – user476046
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 20:16
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    To be fair that is what the official Leave campaign promised: a gradual exit over several years, with deals all along the way.
    – user
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 9:28
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    The official Leave campaign lead by Dominic Cummins went out of its way to NOT have a plan for Brexit because it was thought that any plan would be disputed by the several Leave-promoting groups and would be subject to attack by Remainers.
    – user476046
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 12:16
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    This is not an answer to the question. All you said is that the optimal version would take a long time to get right, you've not actually described what the thing you're working several years towards actually is. Perhaps there's more to it behind the link, but it's certainly not in this answer.
    – Cubic
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 14:38

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