I stopped writing a weekly comment on Brexit when Brexit was done. Brexit is done. The UK is no longer a member of the European Union. There can be no argument about that fact.
But some will say, Brexit is not done. Look at the ongoing dispute about the Northern Ireland Protocol. Look at the issues surrounding visas for, say, British musicians to tour Europe, or the uncertainties surrounding short-term business trips and whether visas or work permits are required for such trips. The UK has still to impose border controls on goods coming from the EU into the UK. UK scientists are shut out of the €80bn Horizon research program.
When people say “Brexit is not finished, it is not done” what they are really talking about, it seems to me, are “post-Brexit” politics in the UK which touch on two things: Continue reading →
Over the holiday break I read Gavin Barwell’s Chief of Staff, Notes from Downing Street. As a tale of intrigue, vengeance, backstabbing, delusions (multiple) and incompetence (widespread) it could hardly be bettered.
As you read through the book one thing becomes clear, beyond doubt. The Brexit fights in the cabinet and the wider Tory party that Barwell documents were fights for the ideological soul of the party.
For the most ardent Brexiters, leaving the EU was a means to an end. The end was the completion of what the regarded as the Thatcher revolution, a revolution to turn the UK into a low tax, lightly regulated, entrepreneurial driven economy. Shaking off the shackles of Brussels would allow this to happen. Britannia Unbound. Nigel Farage, one of the main drivers of Brexit, said as much a couple of days ago in an article in the Daily Telegraph, which called for a Thatcher-like leader to replace Boris Johnson.
Ranged against the ultra-Brexiters were the economic pragmatists, Tories who accepted the decision to leave the EU but wanted to do so in such a way as to minimise economic damage. But they were never certain how to do this. They were groping in the dark. Because no country had ever left a prosperous trade bloc before, recreating a border with that bloc which would put new barriers to trade in place, while trying to ensure that there would be no economic costs to so doing. Keep all the benefits, avoid all the obligations. Johnson was not the only one who believed that there was cake to be had for free. They all did.
It is almost an iron law of politics that where there is doubt and uncertainty extremists will be only too willing to claim that they, and they alone, have the answers. The pendulum of politics will swing in their direction. This is what happened with Brexit.
It was back in 1972. I had joined the Workers Union of Ireland, now part of SIPTU, as a trainee official. Full of naïve, student radicalism. Impatient to change the world.
I was assigned to learn my trade with an old-time official named Paddy.
Paddy was had risen through the union ranks from a shop-floor worker, to shop-steward, to full-time official. He was no intellectual, but he was full of what we would nowadays call “street-smarts”. An old-fashioned, working class union official whose heroes were Larkin, Connolly, and Bevan. Marx and Lenin didn’t come into it.
At the time, Paddy was in discussions about the renewal of a two-year agreement with a major food company. I was the junior bag carrier.
Brexit, like employee relations, politics and much else in life, is all too often driven by magical thinking. Magical thinking is the belief that there is a formula, a magic formula that, if it only can be found, will allow all sides to have all they want, all of the time. It is only ill-will and bad faith on the part of some that gets in the way of the formula being found.
Magical thinking believes that hard choices do not have to be made, that tough decisions on resource allocation can be avoided. Conflict arises from a lack of communication. If only we “listened” more to one another a way forward could be found. It refuses to accept that what you want and what I want may simply be incompatible. Everything can be “aligned” if we just believe and work hard enough. It is at the heart of the belief that there is a “win/win” solution to every problem.
EU/UK Brexit negotiations ended last Thursday, a day earlier than planned, with both sides citing “significant disagreements”. This was the first-time face-to-face negotiations have been held since the outbreak of Covid-19, with discussions over recent months taking place by video link.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said his team had:
“engaged constructively” in a bid to “get negotiations successfully and quickly on a trajectory to reach an agreement.”
“The EU side had listened carefully to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s statements in recent weeks, in particular, his request to reach a political agreement quickly, and his red lines: no role for the European Court of Justice in the UK; no obligation for the UK to continue to be bound by EU law; and an agreement on fisheries that shows Brexit makes a real difference.”Continue reading →
One of the most overused and lazy words in the Brexit debate is the word “compromise”.
In how many articles on Brexit will you find some working of the phrase: everyone knows both sides will need to compromise? Why does the EU need to compromise? To get an agreement, will be the answer. But it wasn’t the EU that decided to end the relationship. The UK was the one that walked. And yet the EU is expected to bend its rules, to “compromise” to facilitate the UK?
It is not going to happen.
Picture this. Someone breaks into your house, intent on helping themselves to your goods and valuables. You confront them. Should you “compromise” with them? “Meet them in the middle”? “OK, you can take these two paintings and this watch. Maybe that laptop. That work for you?” I somehow don’t think so. Your sole intent would be to see them out the door as quickly as possible, preferably into the custody of the waiting gendarmes.
“a condition which causes hostages to develop a psychological alliance with their captors during captivity. These alliances result from a bond formed between captor and captives during intimate time together, but they are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims.”
However strongly the bond is felt, to the outside observer it is irrational, explainable only by the unreal circumstances created during the time of captivity.
A large part of the UK political class and the wider population now seem to be suffering from “Brexit Syndrome”. This is probably best defined as:
an irrational and emotional commitment to a political project which all objective evidence shows to be deeply damaging to the long-term national interest.
Brexit Syndrome causes many friends of the UK from across the world to shake their heads in disbelief that a previously pragmatic country could become so deluded.
At the time of writing the Commons vote on the EU/UK Withdrawal Agreement looks like it will result in a very heavy defeat for Prime Minister Theresa May.
Depending on which pundit you heed, anywhere between 65 and 90 Conservative MPs are expected to vote against the WA. When you add the government-supporting DUP, as well as all the opposition parties. the majority against could be up to 200 votes. For the moment there is little point in speculating as to what happens next. Quite simply, no one knows.
So, when Michael Barnier, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker on the EU side, and Theresa May on the UK side, say that the Withdrawal Agreement, and the accompanying Political Declaration, is the only deal available and that the choice facing the UK Parliament is the deal on the table, no deal, or remain in the EU, are they right?
I believe they are. That is indeed the choice MPs are faced with. Of course, the choice can be passed by parliament to the people in a second referendum, but it will still be the same choice: deal, no deal or remain.
In our Brexit Briefing last Tuesday (here) I wrote:
“So, how will Brexit end up?”, they ask. My answer is that I have no idea. I have been following Brexit developments in detail over the past two years and have written some 60 or so of these Briefings. Yet, I have absolutely no idea of what is going to happen between now and March 29th next year. Quite frankly, neither does anyone else.
What happened yesterday in Salzburg, when the EU brutally said that Mrs. May’s Chequers plan was unacceptable and would not work underscores the truth of this statement.
In the run-up to Salzburg it had been widely reported, especially in the UK press, that Mrs. May would use the occasion to appeal to the EU’s political leaders to go over the head of the “Brussels theologians” and show more flexibility in accommodating UK demands to be both in and out of the EU’s single market and customs union at the same time. “In” so as to ensure continued frictionless trade in goods between the UK and the EU so preserving the UK as the European off-shore manufacturing base for US, Japanese and, in the future, Chinese companies.
“Out” for services allowing the UK to cut buccaneering trade deals, with which a swath of UK politicians have an ideological obsession, with non-EU countries.
(For the arguments on why this approach was never going to work see this excellent article by former Irish ambassador, Bobby McDonagh: here)
Between 1946 and 1951, BBC radio aired a popular thriller, Dick Barton – Special Agent. The serial followed the adventures of ex-Commando Captain Richard Barton who, with his mates Jock Anderson and Snowy White, solved all sorts of crimes, escaped from dangerous situations, and saved Britain from disaster time and again.
It gave rise to a popular catchphrase of the late 1940s “With one bound Dick was free!” No matter how dangerous the cliffhanging situation Dick found himself in at the end of each episode, he would always escape by the easiest and most completely implausible method, ready to face danger yet again.
It seems that the UK government believes that it has found a “Dick Barton” escape from the troubles by which it is beset on all sides by Brexit.