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Theresa May has defined Brexit in three acts. First, the Lancaster House speech in January confirmed that the UK’s departure from the EU meant leaving both the single market and the customs union. Second, the letter triggering Article 50 in March said the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice would end. Third, the Florence speech in September said there would be a stand-still transition for a couple of years while the UK gets its act together.

Those who complain there has been no direction from Britain have not been paying attention. But is this blueprint for Brexit the right one? Wolfgang Münchau argues in his column that the fourth stage of Brexit — defining the long-term partnership between the UK and the EU — is going to be the hardest. Assuming the nod is given at December’s crucial EU summit to move talks on from divorce to trade (Wolfgang thinks it will), he says it will soon become apparent there will be no such thing as fabled Canada+ arrangement often mentioned in London. 

The EU has been clear from the start of Brexit that the UK is either in or it is out. The idea of a Switzerland-esque option will not be on offer, says Wolfgang. So the UK has to choose a much looser model just the same as Canada — or join the European Economic Area and go for the Norway option. This will protect the UK’s immediate economic interests but not restrict the promised new freedoms and opportunities of the UK’s departure from the bloc. For practical reasons in Westminster, a soft Brexit with a soft landing is more palatable. But for political reasons, a hard Brexit with a soft landing still remains the most likely outcome.

Best of the rest

Saudi Arabia’s Very Public, Very Risky Palace Intrigue — Krishnadev Calamur in The Atlantic

Sex scandals will always hit the Tories hardest — Matthew d’Ancona in The Guardian

Can Republicans Escape Trump in 2020? — Ross Douthat in The New York Times

Canning O’Reilly and other media men won’t change a thing. Here’s what would.- Margaret Sullivan in The Washington Post

Trump’s Pacific Strategy — The Wall Street Journal editorial board

What you’ve been saying

Support more thinkers, not only the tinkerers— letter from Simon Roberts:

“The mantra “move fast and break things” appears to motivate the leadership and delivery teams of even the most slothful companies far beyond Silicon Valley. When research becomes a tool for rapid, iterative, continual improvement, not an activity committed to open-ended exploration and unconstrained thinking, it is unlikely to lead to the sort of breakthroughs in technology, products or strategic outlook that successful companies (and productive economies) depend on. Investment in R&D needs to be accompanied by a willingness to support thinkers, not just tinkerers.”

Comment from Ja on House of Commons crumbles amid a culture of decay:

“You cannot reform the parliament unless you change the way the country works. The current system is centralized, the national government decides and controls nearly everything. Civilized government works from the local level as most important and to which most taxes should be paid: municipality — counties should set their own tax rates and expenditures. Central government should domestically just set minimum standards and control them and look after internal and external defense and foreign affairs. National tax should be low to pay for just those activities. That way people will be closer to decisions that concern their daily lives.”

Biological computer is the biggest mystery of all— letter from Aron Miodownik:

“Games such as chess and Go closely resemble the atomic world (System A), which is subject to the immutable laws of physics and chemistry. Biological life (System B) is built on a completely different set of mechanisms: RNA, DNA, gene regulation, viral-bacterial interplay and ecosystem behaviour, which are in constant flux. Chess rules do not evolve; white queens do not marry black bishops, nor do pawns rise up against their knights. We need to spend more resources trying to unravel the mysteries of the biological computers we call life, which is the riskiest endeavour of them all.”

Today’s opinion

Wolfgang Munchau: Revoke the Brexit blueprint, not the decision to leave Short-term costs should not be a factor, but long-term trade-offs matter

David Gardner: Mohammed bin Salman aims to win Saudi game of thrones The young crown prince is using a breathtaking series of arrests to consolidate his power

Gavyn Davies’ blog: Does China’s new policy regime threaten the global upswing?

Lawrence Summers: A Republican tax plan that will help the rich and harm growth Are shareholders really the most worthy recipients of a windfall?

Rana Foroohar: Why we need to regulate the tech platforms Companies should be made to open up the black box of their algorithms

FT View

FT View: The geopolitics of Venezuela’s debt Default is unthinkable, restructuring impossible. Moscow may help

FT View: The Republicans’ step forward on tax — and opportunities missed Proposals offer a solid framework but remain hostile to trade

The Big Read

The Big Read: Esports: Is the gaming business ready to come of age? Games tournaments can attract tens of millions of online viewers creating the potential for a multibillion-dollar industry

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