“Just a mo,” the Prime Minister said, pulling his jacket off, then struggling with the bullet proof vest. His close protection officer helped him. It was the lightest model they could find, as the PM was “fed up looking like the Michelin man” on television, but it still added to his not inconsiderate bulk. The security services had insisted he wear it in public after he’d been shot at a month ago by yet another demented right-winger screaming at him for being a traitor. That was outside of London. In London they screamed at him for being a racist. Tony Blair had rang him recently to thank him for taking the pressure off him.
“I really appreciate it, man. I’m being invited to dinner parties in Islington I haven’t been to in years!”
He ran a hand through his blonde mop, and fell into a seat at the table, facing his chief of staff and that very sharp focus group lady they’d drafted in.
“Right, let’s get on,” he waved his hand in the air, as if signalling a dancing girl whose performance he had to tolerate.
The focus group expert clicked on a slide.
“Basically, they think you’ve betrayed them. The words liar, traitor, all keep repeating. And it is all to do with immigration.”
“But we’ve reduced immigration! Look at the stats! In the last quarter…” the PM blustered.
“Prime Minister, they don’t care about the actual details.”
She wasn’t lying, the PM thought. The justice secretary had his two front teeth punched in by a yob at a public meeting screaming at him about mass migration and “experts”. Indeed, the tone of the country had turned nasty in the three years of his premiership. Hate crimes were going through the roof as people deemed not English, whatever that meant, were subjected to all sorts of abuse on the streets. In some schools they were even having to segregate students to stop them fighting by race.
He’d been appalled by this, and was pouring resources into the police to tackle hate crimes, but that seemed to have angered some people even more. When he appointed the first non-white home secretary the amount of abuse he’d received in the post had been shocking.
“The perception, prime minister, is that you lied about stopping immigration and kicking the foreigners, in particular the Muslims, out.”
“But I never promised that!” he protested.
“They think you did. In some demographics, over 80% of respondents are convinced they heard you make that specific promise. It’s becoming a self-reaffirming loop. The more they get angry at you not delivering what they think you promised, the more they convince themselves as to what they heard you and others promise.”
He picked up a Jammie Dodger and munched on it. He really wasn’t enjoying being PM at all.
“Right, so how do we get the truth out? Brief journalists better? I mean, there’s a 14% reduction in immigration…”
The focus group woman looked at the chief of staff.
“I’m sorry prime minister, but I’m not sure it’s possible.”
“What?” the PM asked.
“This demographic is impervious to statistics or experts. All lies as far as they’re concerned, and Brexit to them was the signal that it’s OK, that they’re the real voice of the ordinary people. They only trust their own eyes, and every time they see a woman in a headscarf or a dark skinned man…I mean, we’ve had to stop using mixed-race focus groups for political work because it’s getting too dangerous. A man was nearly stabbed in one last week. Their measure of success on immigration would involve closing mosques, public arrests of non-whites, evictions from public housing. Making non-ethnic whites carry national identity cards was quite popular, especially if they were required to wear them on clothing…”
“Bollocks to that!” the PM said.
“A significant proportion think we should leave the EU?”
“We have left the EU!” the PM blurted out, biscuit crumbs going everywhere.
“They don’t believe you. Many believe we’re secret members. They believe UKIP are telling the truth. The phrase EU-Lite, you know, his phrase, comes up a lot. Also a number want to know why you aren’t promising to veto Turkey joining the EU?”
“And then there’s the £350 million a week,” the chief of staff said awkwardly.
“Not still!” the PM exclaimed.
The focus group woman nodded.
“It seems to have really locked in to public consciousness. Every local cut to spending, every school, hospital, the 350 comes up. They want to know why you aren’t using it to fund the given service. Some people think you’re using it to build a giant mosque in the next town over. It’s always the next town over.”
“It funds our access to the single market?” The PM said to nobody in particular.
“Yes, well that feeds into the UKIP line about you funding secret membership of the EU.”
The PM looked at his watch.
“I have to go. Have a state dinner for President Capaldi. Wish I had a bleedin’ TARDIS,” he muttered, as he went out the door.
Michael Caine, David Owen and John Cleese have all come out for Britain leaving the EU. I like and respect all three, and it saddens me, but you know what? Good for them.
They’ve expressed an opinion I don’t agree with. Big deal. I have friends that support Brexit, and we go at it hammer and tongs and never agree and that’s friendship, and democracy too. Accepting the other guy has a different opinion. But also accepting that it doesn’t make him a morally inferior person to you.
This is an issue where reasonable women and men can disagree.
What’s really struck me during the campaign is how the phrases “Give us our country back” and “Take back control” have become shorthand for something else.
Immigration is certainly in the mix, and with it, the reality that politicians don’t want to discuss, because it is so unsettling. Large scale migration is here to stay, a feature of the 21st century, and something governments cannot control without taking huge society-changing measures. We know this because Britain has been unable to seriously reduce its non-EU immigration, even though it has the tools that many in the Leave campaign say will reduce EU migration. The US is the most powerful nation in the world, and not a member of the EU, and it can’t seal its borders either. People want to live in Europe and the US because even though they know that they’ll be in competition with other immigrants they still want to come, because they think they might be able to work for a safer, better life for themselves and their families.
Because, and here’s the bit we never get, they have more faith in our system, our way of life, than we have.
The second fact about immigration, which no one wants to talk about, is that birthrates among indigenous Brits are dropping. It is the children of immigrants who will be paying for the NHS and the pensions of older Brits in 20 years time, because someone has to pay. But they won’t regard themselves as immigrants, they’ll regard themselves as Brits, as generations before have done so.
At it’s heart, a lot of Brexit is a lashing out at change, and it’s pace. It’s so easy, so reassuring to believe that Brexit is basically telling the rest of the complicated world and its problems to go away. The immigrants, the economic changes, maybe Brexit might just stop some of that? Maybe Brexit might make modern life just a little bit less complicated? In your hearts you know that just isn’t true, no mater how much you want it to be. You can vote against modern life, or you can try to direct it, and Brexit gives you less control over those global forces, not more.
The biggest absence in the campaign has been the fact that Irish, German, Finnish or Greek families want the same things for their kids that Brits want. These aren’t alien cultures. Take a Brit and put him at a Greek supper table and the arguments and the worries and the laughter will be the same. Yes, we’re all different countries with our own cultural uniqueness, but it isn’t alien. The Austrians and the Danes want the best for their kids too.
For me, the idea that Britain won’t be at the European table is weird. It’s as simple as that. The idea that the debates as to the future of Europe will be missing one of Europe’s most positive forces, the country that gave so many of its sons and daughters to create this free Europe won’t be there is just plain weird. It’s like the US without California or New York.
You own Europe as much as continental Europeans do because you paid for it in blood, in Normandy, in Arnhem. This is your Europe too. Please don’t go.
There’s a lot of hysteria in the British debate on leaving the EU. The Outers paint an image of a glorious new Elizabethan age where a nuclear armed swashbuckling free trade New Switzerland can be towed off the coast of Hong Kong without consequence. The Stayers paint a scenario of utter economic collapse if Britain leaves.
What’s the truth? The truth is that neither will happen. Britain will save some money, although less than they think. After all, the rest of us aren’t running the European Single Market for the benefit of Britain. Britain’s exporters will still have to play by rules set in Brussels, as they currently do with those in Washington and Beijing. If a Britain outside the EU takes serious measures to undercut European workers by imposing less employment protection there’s nothing to stop the EU putting tariffs on British goods in response, and happily spending a few years in the WTO debating it. That’s the thing about not being at the table where decisions are made. It takes longer to change them.
Chances are, it won’t come to that, because as every person who becomes the prime minister of a European country (including Britain) knows, solving problems becomes the obsession. Deals will be done, just not openly at EU summits. Britain, even out, will still be parked beside 450m of the richest consumers on Earth. Eurosceptics keep trying to suggest that Europe is somehow going to die off. The same people, by the way, who claim Europe is being swamped by new arrivals. The truth is, if a country of 450m people arrived beside Britain and announced it was going to leave in 20 years, would the Brits refuse to trade with it? They would in their eye.
Instead, British civil servants will continue to use draft EU product regulations as the basis for draft UK regulations. It’s just easier and suits exporters better.
There’ll be no more EU flags in Britain, but the substance will remain broadly the same. Britain will still maintain a presence in Brussels (as the US does) and that’ll be the de facto permanent representative to the EU.
Britain will of course be able to represent itself in global trade talks, which is a big deal to the eurosceptics. Although you have to ask: if Britain thinks it can’t get a good deal within the EU negotiating with comparable-sized nations (UK is second largest country in the EU) how on Earth will it get a better deal with China, a country 20 times bigger than Britain? will that be the headline on The Daily Mail when Prime Minister Boris comes back from Beijing having been thoroughly rogered in trade talks? “At least it wasn’t the French?” No, Britain will negotiate with the 450m EU as well, only this time from the outside and without rights. Bizarre.
What Brexit means is that Britain goes from having some of its key relationships in the openness of the EU moved into the behind closed doors style of the WTO, Commonwealth and NATO. Fair enough. Because let’s not forget: the British tabloids get to bitch endlessly about “mad” EU proposals because the EU actually makes and debates its proposals in public, unlike the aforementioned bodies. The WTO and NATO would pale at EU levels of openness. The Commonwealth is too busying trying to ignore some of its members kicking homosexuals to death.
When it comes down to it, Brexit is based on the belief that you can have more influence over a room by not being in it, but in reality standing outside a half open window and trying to slip notes through the gap, hoping your own people don’t see you doing it.
It’s certainly a novel concept.
A version of this was previously published in The Times Ireland Edition 6th June 2016
Supposing one had to conjure up an ideal candidate to bridge the divide between the British and their continental partners. For a start, such a candidate must speak English well, grasping all the nuances such as when a Brit says “that’s an interesting idea” they mean “there is not a hope in hell we’re agreeing to that”.
Secondly, the ideal candidate must have a grasp of British society and culture and the realisation that the British grasp of European history, for many, struggles to get beyond “Where Eagles Dare” and the girls from “’Allo ‘Allo”.
Thirdly, that country must understand the EU and the way around a CAP application form.
Fourthly, they must be trusted by the rest of the EU as a country that believes in the concept, or at least is willing to pretend it does and doesn’t get all snarky when the Germans start crying during Ode to Joy.
Finally, the ideal candidate must believe in both sides coming away from the table with enough in their back pocket to be able to go home and brag that they rogered the other guy good, in the traditional European manner.
You can see where I’m going here. We’re the guy. We’re the country that stayed in the euro, survived an almighty kick to our economic unmentionables but still didn’t go all Greek. We’re the poster boy for Angela. But also the Brits know, despite our history, that we’re not ideologues about the great European project. We’re about what works.
The problem is that we don’t have a plan, and that’s always been our problem. We react. We panic about CAP, abortion, neutrality and the tax opt-out and let the others think about the big picture: what sort of Europe we want in twenty or thirty years.
What’s the Ireland Plan?
We need a plan which addresses some of the British worries but also the concerns of the rest of the EU. We have friends in every capital, and we also recognise that the British do raise genuine concerns but are so cack-handed about it that they can’t build a consensus on it. We can.
We’ll call it the Dublin Declaration. A short, legally binding statement of principles, not much longer than this article, signed by all Europe’s leaders and sent to every household in Europe. In language that Citizen Sean in Galway or Citizen Maria in Malta can read and understand. A clear declaration about what the EU is for, and possibly more importantly, what it’s not for.
Every member state will have a few pet demands it’ll want in the text, but here are a few we could push for, and why:
The member states recognise that the European Union is a community of sovereign democratic nations, and that some may wish to integrate to different degrees from others. The EU will respect the sovereign right of each nation to determine its own level of integration. Let’s shout that reality from the rooftops.
No new country may join the European Union without the consent of all existing member states. Sorry Turkey: it isn’t happening any day soon. We just can’t get it past the voters, and you know, they own the place.
Whereas some member states may wish to cooperate on defence issues, no member state or its armed or security forces shall be forced to participate. The European Union shall not have the power to introduce conscription. As if it even could. It can’t even ensure bananas are straight.
The European Council, voting by a majority of both member states and population, may overturn any ruling of the European Court of Justice. This would be a biggie: recognising that the ECJ is a servant of the elected governments of Europe, not the other way around.
A majority of national parliaments representing a majority of the population of the EU may vote to suspend or abolish any existing EU directive or regulation, or block any proposed one. This would be another big deal, recognising that the EU is not all heading in one direction. Power can be taken from Brussels too.
Any European Union citizen may renounce their EU citizenship, and all the rights attached to it. Let ordinary Europeans strip themselves of EU rights, with a single signature. It’ll greatly focus the mind. And make UKIP MEPs swap their seats for a UK Only passport. Snigger.
Finally, no member state shall be forced to accept refugees without its consent. Currently the law, but there’s no harm reminding people.
As it happens, many of these are already EU law, or a variation of, buried in the treaties. But a blunt reminder to every European on these issues would not do any harm. In addition, giving such powers to national parliaments would be a clear recognition of the fact that most Europeans, even those who support the EU, still see it as a bloc of sovereign nations.
At its heart, such a declaration would have a core message: Brussels works for us, not vice versa, and when we snap our fingers, Brussels should be politely asking how high we’d like it to jump.
That’s a message I suspect would resound across the union, and not just in eurosceptic Britain.
England, 2023. Five years after Brexit.
The roaring and shouting after England and Wales left the EU was loud and colourful. A generation of politicians who had supported British membership found themselves demonised as Quislings and traitors, and quietly retired from public life, and every ministerial speech was peppered with Eurosceptic hyperbole as the new regime took office.
Over time, however, the EUphoria died away, as the government and the tabloids turned to the issue that had carried the Brexiteers over the line: Immigration.
The new government moved quickly to deliver on the issue. Tough new visa requirements were in place, and whilst existing legal residents were permitted to stay, they could not be joined by relatives, and so as many returned to their home countries they were not replaced. The teary-eyed right-wingers who had choked back stories of Commonwealth citizens (“our kith and kin”), every one of whom seemed to be related to a spitfire pilot, being put behind queues of stony faced Poles, suddenly and bizarrely seemed to go cool on Pakistani and Indian and African immigrants having easier access. The number of people legally entering the UK dropped significantly.
The tabloids, robbed of the EU pinata to mercilessly beat, but knowing that immigration was still the story that stirred the loins, turned their attention to the government. the new line was that the government was full of mealy-mouthed liberals letting people sneakily in. That and the EU was actively conspiring to flood England with immigrants through Ireland, Scotland and Calais, of course.
The government, like all populist governments, was as concerned about how to be seen to be doing something as actually doing something. The truth was that the immigration controls were not delivering the rewards the tabloids had promised. Housing was not cheaper, as fewer immigrants had only freed up the very lowest in housing quality, which in turn had forced landlords to improve the quality but raise rents to pay for it. The vast numbers of manual workers needed to fund large scale building of houses didn’t exist, resulting in builders struggling to find the skilled labourers to do the job. The Irish workers that they could source, due to a common deal with Ireland, expected top dollar, and all that contributed to higher costs and thus higher prices. The NHS and other public services were struggling under staff shortages as it emerged that many of the hard-pressed English white working class didn’t actually have the skills to fill the jobs. But the government was too scared to issue too many working visas to fill those jobs, as the tabloids, bereft of the EU to blame, had now doubled down on ANY immigrant “depriving” Brits of a job. Politically, it was better to leave those jobs empty.
With the labour shortage feeding into wage rises, inflation, public service waiting lists and rental rises, the Government decided to go fully for immigrants as the problem.
The launch of the Immigration Police was a huge media managed affair. The logo of the new force, a union flag in the shape of a shield, was emblazoned on the fleet of shiny new vehicles and officers unveiled by Prime Minister Johnson. The helmeted, combat trousered police, who vaguely resembled the baddies from “Blake’s Seven” but with huge union flags on their shoulders, grinned at the prime minister’s jokes about them “scaring the hell out of him”.
As with everything in post-Thatcher Britain, the Immigration Police was a private for-profit tendered service, the contract held by a huge security company with a very mixed record.
Within months of commencing operations, the IP was the new source of fury for the right-wing tabloids. The fact that a significant number of IP officers were themselves illegal immigrants who had gotten through the cut-price vetting process resulted in the resignation of Home Secretary Gove, and the tender holder announcing that it could no longer fulfill the contract under such arduous “red tape”. The subsequent taking of the company to court by the Home Office resulted in even more embarrassing revelations including the fact that some immigrant IP officers from some countries seemed to be using their very considerable IP powers to pursue vendettas against people from other tribal areas or religious groups.
The Government was forced to introduce emergency legislation to nationalise the whole IP organisation, making it a state agency. This, as it always seems to do, then sent costs through the roof as the new IP management, made up of Home Office staff, were more than happy to spend millions on vetting.
Three years after its initial launch the IP had been “purged” of illegal immigrants. It was also running hugely over-budget, requiring cuts elsewhere to feed its huge fiscal maw, and led by a very media savvy chief executive who fended off any attempt to trim the rapidly expanding budget with tales of hordes of terrorists and illegal workers sweeping towards virginal England. The IP’s media budget was very substantial.
Aside from its internal chaos, the daily operations of the IP became problematic. Although initially popular, with black cab drivers beeping their horns at speeding IP vehicles, sirens flashing, off to defend England, the reality of the organisation’s nebulous task began to take the shine off rapidly. The new Home Secretary, of Asian extraction and from the hard-right of the party, was adamant that the IP must be visibly active which led to huge poster campaigns asking the public to cooperate. One stand-up comedian likened the posters to the “Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!” posters of the 200oAD comic character Thomas De Torquemada. The IP also started setting up random street checkpoints, which began to jar even with the most right-wing of blazer-wearing golf club Mosleys. Camera footage of IP officers singling out dark-skinned pedestrians alone caused a row, and in one case a riot where a number of black and East Asian youths proceeded to beat up the aggressive IP officers. This resulted in the local police having to intervene.
Indeed, relations between the IP and the regular police were strained at best. In London, where the Metropolitan Police had made a serious effort to diversify its membership, the jarring approach of the IP did not go down well. The commissioner complained that the IP was stirring up racial tension in areas where painstaking work by community police officers had finally started to show results. One incident in particular, where two Metropolitan Police officers challenged an overly aggressive IP checkpoint resulted in the IP officer in charge demanding that one of the officers, who was black, prove his legal status in the country and then attempted to arrest him. The situation, again all over the web, was only contained when the Met officers called in an armed SO19 unit and arrested the entire IP patrol to loud cheering and applause from local youths of mixed races.
The Home Secretary was furious. The commissioner backed her men, and when the Home Secretary threatened to fire the commissioner, the commissioner revealed that she had a special investigation unit looking into penetration by the far-right of the IP. She revealed taped footage from an undercover officer of IP officers, who were revealed to be members of various white supremacist organisations, joking and laughing at how they were paid “by one Paki to fit up other niggers and Pakis”.
The Home Secretary was gone by teatime.
Another source of problems for the new Home Secretary was how to verify someone was legally resident in the UK. His officials excitedly dusted off an old file: a National Identity Card. Not surprisingly, he balked at the idea, but the issue was unavoidable. In order to avoid charges of racial profiling, IP checkpoints were now stopping and demanding identification from every person, regardless of age, colour or gender. Many people were now carrying their passports with them everywhere, and the grumbling was beginning. In time honoured fashion, The Daily Mail and The Daily Express, having demanded a “get tough crackdown” on immigration, now did a u-turn and started banging on daily about the IP being a version of the Gestapo harassing ordinary Brits going about their business.
The Home Secretary stared blankly at his officials. Polls showed that middle England was vehemently against having to carry “papers”. Is this what we fought a war for? On the other hand, without some form of verified state backed ID, his officials said, there was no way for the IP to check on-the-spot. Unless, we created a national biometric database, one junior official mused. Then we wouldn’t have to carry ID, just be scanned. Of course, we’d have to scan the entire population.
The Home Secretary died in the ambulance on the way to hospital. The coroner said it was a massive heart attack.
The huge camp near Dover (christened Camp Boris by the media) was also the problem of the new Home Secretary. Since Brexit, the EU had decided that illegal immigration into the UK was not its concern, and so turned a blind eye to migrants making their way across the channel. France had announced that the UK could do its own border control in Dover, and closed its facilities in Calais, the infamous “jungle”. French, Belgian and Dutch police and coastguards were told that preventing “outflows” were not a priority, to the extent that many boat owners on the continent were taking a few quid for carrying illegals to the edge of the UK’s territorial waters and letting their passengers take their chance in a rubber dinghy. All to huge protests from the British ambassador to the EU who was embarrassingly filmed being kept back by security personnel as he tried to lobby ministers attending an EU council meeting.
Huge resources were being deployed along beaches in the south east to capture illegals, and send them to the camp, which now had over 9,000 residents. The decision as to who should run the camp had turned into one of the finest games of bureaucratic pass-the-parcel in years. The Prison Service had said that they were a criminal rehabilitation service, and weren’t suited. The NHS said they weren’t a prison service. The local police said they would have to take “Bobbies off the beat”, and the chief of staff of the army had threatened to publicly resign if the army were told to run the camp. So, it had ended up with the Immigration Police, whose CEO had happily accepted the task then submitted a huge budget supplement request which took the IP’s annual funding clear of the Metropolitan Police’s £3.7 billion.
With scandals within the IP, the ongoing battle to secure the coast (most of the Royal Navy, including the UK’s two new aircraft carriers, were on coastal patrol), the growing unhappiness with the overt and hostile street presence of IP officers demanding “papers” on street corners, the outbreak of riots in Camp Boris was not welcomed by the Government. The IP officers, even with riot gear, struggled to maintain order in two days of rioting. On the third day a large group of young Syrian refugees charged the perimeter, panicking a member of one of the IP armed response units. Without authorisation he emptied his full clip into the crowd, killing nine refugees and wounding another four. Three children were killed in the stampede from the fence. The image went worldwide, and resulted in massive demonstrations against UK embassies.
The Home Secretary, who had only authorised the creation of armed units of the IP three months earlier, in response to stories of some refugees being armed with knives, handed in his resignation to the Prime Minister later that day. The PM was harangued in the house, and in a fit of pique that was typical but would come to haunt him, announced that he would be his own home secretary.
He arrived down to the camp bearing his name just as another riot was getting into its own. Outside the camp, hundreds of young and middle-aged white men, members of the self-appointed United Kingdom Defence Force gathered with baseball bats and crowbars, telling the gathered media they were there to back up the IP and back Boris. Another crowd, larger than the UKDF, were made up of anti-fascist protesters who roared abuse at the first crowd.
When the PM arrived, the UKDF cheered and chanted his name, prompting him to wave just as another surge broke through the IP line and charged towards the main gates. The UKDF surged forward before breaking into a Braveheart-style run at the main gate of the camp. The two groups met. The UKDF, unlike the refugees, were armed with a variety of weapons and ploughed into the refugees.
The PM’s bodyguards shoved him into his car, screaming at the driver to get them out of there, all live on TV as a huge fight broke out around them. The IP commander, totally overwhelmed, ordered the use of rubber bullets and water cannon, all aimed at securing the main gate. Some of the baton rounds hit UKDF members, who, seeing the IP firing at them, were overcome with the fury that can only come from experiencing treachery, and attacked the IP vehicles.
The news of the surge at the gate of the camp swept through the camp, encouraging thousands more to rush the entrance, overwhelming the IP officers at the door.
On his way back to Downing street, the PM gave the order for the army to be sent in with more baton rounds.
By evening, order had been restored, but half of the residents of the camp had fled. 39 people were dead, a mixture of refugees, children, IP officers and UKDF members.
In Munich that night a far-right group held a rally, holding aloft images of the British prime minister as they sieg heiled in support. Watching this on TV, the PM had the good grace to vomit.
Previously published on the 24th January 2016 in The Times Ireland Edition.
Watching our British, and specifically English neighbours having their ongoing nervous breakdown over their relationship with the rest of Europe, we have to be concerned. To us, it’s sort of like watching Mammy and Daddy fighting, and knowing with that awareness even the youngest of children have that if the outcome is bad it’ll affect us badly too.
Having said that, it also raises an awkward question for us. As a country that is Olympic gold medal standard in ignoring awkward questions, we have to confront this one. If the Brits go, should we consider leaving the European Union too?
Put that question to the spin-the-bottle FF/FG/Labour political establishment and they’ll blurt out an automatic no. But this is done without thinking, and not because of any commitment to the cause of European integration but to a hardwired revulsion of anything that sounds like change.
As it happens, European unity is not just about World War II but about a group of small countries with similar values magnifying their power to shape the global forces that affect us, from mass migration to terrorism to international trade. But that does not mean that we shouldn’t take a dispassionate eye to what is in our national interest.
Here’s the awkward reality: yes, keeping the Brits in is in our interest. But if they leave, getting them a good deal is absolutely vital. We trade nearly €1 billion a week with them, and anything that interferes with that, from border control to tariffs to British access to the single market is a threat to our national interest. Any threat to that trade is the biggest and most likely single non-terrorist threat to our economy. In short, if our membership of the EU threatened our access to the British market, that would be a serious conundrum for us.
Then there’s our membership of the euro. There are some in the country who believe that returning to a national currency would allow us more flexibility in that we’d have nominal control over interest rates again. They’re right, of course. But we’d also have to balance our desire for appropriate domestic interest rates with the need to keep the currency shadowing both sterling and the euro. And that’s before you consider how lip-licking populist Irish politicians would look at political control of interest rates. It’s not hard to imagine them demanding that the central bank pay attention to “social justice” when setting interest rates and ending with politicians wondering why we can’t just “temporarily” print more of our new national currency.
Sorry, but I have more faith in a currency run by Mario than Mary Lou.
The big question is whether it’s enough to justify our exit? The vast majority of our FDI must regard our membership of both the euro and the single market as a key factor for investing in Ireland. Obviously along with our “Hey, Apple, keep your hand in your pocket, this round is on us!” approach to corporate taxation, but access to the single market matters. It’s certainly not for our tiny domestic market that they’re here. We haven’t even got a proper Apple store. Likewise, leaving the Common Agricultural Policy would be a shocker too, as, post Irish exit, the IFA lads point that famous rattling bowl at the Irish taxpayer and ask “Well?”
I’ve no doubt we should stay. The deciding factor for us on staying will be the same thing that can be traced all the way back to Michael Collins. Small nations need a place at the table, to be inside the room. The Brits used to think that way until the eurosceptics came up with the surreal concept that either a) the EU, and therefore the room, was going to go away, or b) the room doesn’t matter. Or there’s the even more bizarre idea that you can have as much influence in the room by not being in it, like some form of geo-political séance. Sort of “Knock once if you want a change in banana curvature regulations.”
There’s also one reason why examining Irish exit might be dangerous. It might make the rest of Europe look at what they get out of us being in the EU, with our two-faced approaches to things like abortion and neutrality and our bloody referendums. It’s true, Angela wants to keep us on board because she can scold the Greeks and point at us. But that all hinges on Irish politicians not making a future balls of the public finances. I wouldn’t be brimming with confidence on that one. This is a political class, after all, whom I suspect now regard calling in the IMF as a form of political ctrl-alt-delete button.
If someone had told the lads on Easter Monday 1916 that 100 years from then a sovereign Irish government would be sitting in the councils of Europe demanding a better deal for the Brits they’d have choked on their figrolls.
Yet the truth is that it is in the interest of Ireland that we side with them against our gallant allies in Europe on this issue.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we shouldn’t stop trying to slap some sense into them before the referendum. Nor will we be alone: I suspect the run up to the referendum will have the Americans and the rest of Europe imitating that scene in “Airplane” where a queue of people line up to slap sense into an hysterical passenger trying to get off the plane in mid-flight.
Still, surely we’ve come a long way. 100 years ago we would have just shot them.
The 7th May 2017 is the final date in a 12 month perfect storm of political events that threaten western stability and indeed democracy like none since the 1970s. Between now and that date, the second round of the French presidential election, we will face three major events that have the potential to upend key stability factors in our society.
The first is Brexit. As it happens, British withdrawal from the European Union itself can be managed. The European Community existed before the UK joined, and can function without it. The big fear, however, is that Brexit might trigger a domino effect of populist forces declaring exit from the EU as the Deux Ex Machina that solves all modern anxieties. Even then, it can be contained, provided that Italy, France or Germany don’t leave, with smaller countries leaving just becoming de facto non-voting satellite states of the EU.
The second is a Trump victory. As it happens, such a result would almost certainly result in the Republican party rushing to be forgiven by him in the hope of sharing in the patronage and spoils. But is it impossible for a man with an ego like Trump to decide that he is in fact above party politics and to appoint some popular Democrats to office too? That coupled with the very real difficulties of implementing the more extreme of his policies could trigger a sharp backlash in his hard-core base. Or mass rioting amongst Hispanics if he tries to implement them. Don’t forget, Hispanic-American citizens have the right to bear arms too. The sheer unpredictability of a Trump presidency, never a good thing when the control of nuclear weapons is involved, is a serious worry for us all.
The third and final is the possibility of Marine Le Pen becoming President of France. As with The Donald, “right thinking” people keep saying that it can’t or won’t happen. But we live in dangerous times, and the Le Pen plan, based on withdrawal from the euro and protectionism for French business, as well as mass deportation, would almost certainly destroy the European Union. There can be no EU with France and Germany in step.
Next month, we enter the maelstrom…
Memorandum to the Federal Chancellor from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Berlin.
Subject: British withdrawal from the European Union.
As part of our preparation process with regard to the upcoming decision of the British people, I’d like to take this opportunity to put an alternative viewpoint.
As you are aware, it is the stated policy of the federal republic that Britain should remain in the European Union, both for her own benefit but also to avoid the disruption and possible “copycat” moves by other member states to leave the union.
I would like to suggest that a decision of the British to “Brexit” the EU does, in fact, open up a number of options for us which may be of great usefulness.
1. Britain has been, as you are aware, the key obstacle to many initiatives with regard to further integration. In particular with regard to greater defence cooperation and a super return on European defence spending, the so-called “bigger bang for our buck” issue. Even with British withdrawal, EU defence spending is significant, and removing the British ability to constantly veto defence integration may allow us to make progress on common defence and possibly even a common defence force. Our friends in Washington have voiced support discreetly for such an option.
In short, “Brexit” may allow us to achieve something that hundreds of years of British foreign policy has prevented: the emergence of a single unified European superpower right on Britain’s border.
2. The so-called “domino effect”, where a low drama British departure may encourage others such as the Dutch, the Swedes, the Danes, the Czechs and the Hungarians to depart the union could be problematic, but not without possible merits. Let us bear in mind that all those countries will still be major trading partners with us, and will desire to continue. Only under a new arrangement (possibly EEA?) they won’t have seats, votes, or veto powers at EU level. But they will still be effected by decisions we make at EU level through sheer economic geography. In short, we end up with a leaner European Union decision making structure but a de facto same single market size. It’s true, the EU budget will have to be trimmed, but that was going to have to happen anyway as expectations exceeded resources.
3. Finally, the Scottish question. Whilst we must be hesitant about yet more members joining the union, with Turkey and Serbia both bringing their own problems, we should be willing to make an exception for Scotland as a developed effective existing member which also allows us to have two land borders with the UK. I would suggest that if “Brexit” occurs the EU should move to embrace the Scottish Government in Edinburgh, with the Scottish First Minister being accorded head of state status on her visits to EU institutions, and with an invitation to her to attend, as an observer, the next European council meeting.
I look forward to your comments.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 24, 2016 in British Politics
, European Union
One of the key tenets of the last 200 years of British foreign policy has been to prevent the emergence of a single powerful force on the European continent. It’s been a very successful policy. Yet for the last 15 years, the insular nature of British politics has effectively called that policy into question. British withdrawal is now a serious proposition, but what’s more is that other member states are now beginning to wonder as to whether the cost of keeping Britain is actually worth it?
What would be the actual consequences of British withdrawal for the rest of the EU? Trade would continue, after all, it’s in no one’s interest that it doesn’t. Brussels would still set many product rules that UK manufacturers would have to obey anyway, only without a UK voice at the table. Reform of the EU would lose a champion, that’s true, but bear in mind that Downing Street’s obsession with placating the Daily Mail means that Britain has been pretty ineffectual in pushing through reforms at EU level anyway, despite the fact that Britain has allies. British withdrawal would almost certainly trigger withdrawal by one or two other countries, but the reality is that most member states, even with their own gripes about Brussels, see being at the table as the least worst option.
Secondly, whilst the days of the overt federalist United States of Europe are probably over, the gradual subtle process of integration, through technical methods such as the Fiscal Treaty, could probably speed up with British or Danish or even Irish withdrawal. The end outcome would be a European confederation of sorts, orbited by a number of nominally independent states who have to make nominally sovereign decisions whilst paying attention to the vast economic gravity of the politically united Eurozone.
After all, to take one random issue: the UK has been a major obstacle to progress on combined European defence. Despite Nigel Farage’s warnings, it has been Britain IN the EU that has prevented a European Army. Once Britain was out the EU could work on transforming NATO into a binary US/EU alliance with a few junior partners like Britain and Iceland. And all without worrying what the Daily Mail thinks about British soldiers wearing EU cap badges. I’m not sure this is necessarily a bad thing.
The Northern Ireland Tourist Board has confirmed that the iceberg responsible for the sinking of the Titanic will arrive in Belfast later this week. The iceberg, which was discovered adrift north of Greenland and still with the paint markings from its epic encounter with the Belfast-built ship, will be part of the display in the Titanic Quarter.
The NITB has also confirmed that the iceberg will be a major part of the province’s plan for the 2016/2017 tourist season, with a cartoon character, “Bergie”, a mischievous baby iceberg, heading up the campaign. A cartoon series, which involves an evil ship named “Titan Nick” constantly trying to ram the little iceberg, will debut in the autumn.
Not everyone is welcoming the idea. Some have condemned the idea as sectarian. A spokesperson for No-Ice have pointed out that this is “once again celebrating the destruction of one of the great industrial achievements of Belfast”. He also wanted to know what was to stop the iceberg going rogue and sinking other ships. The group has pledged to meet the iceberg on its arrival with kettles filled with hot water. “Iceberg? It should be called Not-Niceberg!”
NITB have dismissed the suggestion, pointing out that the sinking of the Titanic, George Best, and the filming of Game of Thrones are key parts of Northern Irish history. “Nothing else happened here over the last 30 years. Got that?” A spokesman said, with menace.