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.
When the governor of the Bank of England dies suddenly, and his obvious successor Sir Guy Acheson (Rowan Atkinson, in a surprising straight role) is ruled out because of a shares scandal, brilliant but maverick economist Steve Darblay (Episodes’ Stephen Mangan) finds himself appointed Governor of the Bank of England, in the middle of a currency crisis, by the ruthlessly ambitious Chancellor of the Exchequer Tom Parrish (Hugh Laurie.)
For Darblay, his appointment not only places him in the driving seat in dealing with everything from interest rates to the future of the euro to who goes on the new £5 note, but also a target for Acheson who feels bitterly wronged but also that the new governor is not exactly from the right side of the tracks.
With his former Cambridge tutor Bill Burke (Roger Allam-The Thick of It) and even more brilliant economist (and former girlfriend) Yves Cassidy (Lenora Crichlow-Sugar Rush) at his side, Darblay gets ready to take his seat at the most elite of the world’s councils.
Guest starring Delaney Williams (The Wire) as US Fed Chairman Matt O’Malley and Sidse Babette Knudsen (Borgen) as ECB President Martina Delacroix.
Special appearance by Stephen Fry as the Prime Minister.
*I wrote this as a joke, but as I wrote it I thought “Jesus, I’d watch this!”
Watching the British debate over Brexit one would be forgiven for regarding both sides of the argument as slightly hysterical. One side say that Brexit will destroy the British economy. The other that Brexit will unleash a new Elizabethan age, setting Britain free to sail off towards Asia.
You could spend months, as we probably will, arguing the details.
But for me, here’s the single biggest reason that Britain should remain.
The European room isn’t going away.
European integration is often painted in the UK (and Ireland) as a bit of a cult obsession, about building a superstate. There are, no doubt, some who believe in that goal, but that is not the reason why many moderate and mainstream continental office-holders continue to support the EU.
The first time I realised why continental Europe views European integration so differently was standing in a railway station in Paris, and seeing destinations on it that in Ireland you’d only see in an airport. It made me understand how on top of each other European countries actually are, and not just for trade, but shopping, work and school.
So many Europeans think nothing of crossing the border every day.
That mentality forces their elected leaders to work together. To respect each other’s workers and products. To want each other’s cars and trucks and drivers to obey the same laws. To want to ensure that other countries care for your people when they are visiting. To help each other’s police chase terrorists and sex traffickers across Europe.
These issues are all resolved in the European room, by ministers sitting and meeting and discussing and arguing and finally agreeing.
They will continue to be discussed post-Brexit and they will continue to affect Britain. Britain has been affected by events and decisions made in Europe for thousands of years, from the Vikings to Napoleon to Hitler. Why on Earth will that suddenly stop post-Brexit?
And here’s where it gets tricky: once the 27 members have decided a position, it becomes much more difficult for Britain from outside to get that position changed.
That’s not hyperbole, it’s simple logic. Imagine being a member of any club where one member refuses to attend meetings and then demands later that whatever everybody who attended the meeting decided be over turned. The rest simply won’t agree, especially not for a member who deliberately chose to vacate their place at the original meeting. British demands will require the other 27 countries still in the room to return to the room and carefully unpick agreed deals with each other to suit a country not in the room. Really? It’s like giving Canada a veto over anything decided in Westminster.
This is the issue at the heart of Brexit that eurosceptics choose to ignore. That there will be a place were most of Britain’s closest allies will meet and decide issues that affect Britain and Britain won’t be there.
It is, quite simply, odd.
If anyone advocated the same logic for NATO, the WTO, the WHO, the IMF, the G8 or the UN eyes would roll.
Eurosceptics keep pushing a vague idea that Britain will still somehow have some form of say over what the rest of Europe decides and debates. But that is also the logic for Britain withdrawing its ambassadors from across the world on the basis that “if it’s important I’m sure they’ll give us a call.”
Britain is important to the rest of Europe. But the idea that other countries in a room will put Britain’s interest ahead of their own is very courageous. Best case scenario will have British diplomats hanging around the wheelie bins outside the European Council building hoping to buttonhole the Swedish or Irish foreign minister to stop a directive that will inadvertently hurt Britain. This is how Britain sees itself? Hanging around the bins at summits?
Finally, on a non-technical point, how weird is it that Britain decides to walk off the pitch because it’s too hard and the other players are just too rough? The idea that Britain can handle the Chinese but not the Belgians? Please.
Britain has legitimate complaints about the EU. But if anything, it has been the hesitating by the door that has prevented the UK’s leaders from going full throttle in Brussels to get what Britain wants. Perhaps, after a clear yes, a British prime minister could go into the council without worrying about what the Daily Mail says and get a better deal? Just look at Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Britain was powerful enough to do a deal with France and Germany and block JCJ. But only if it had a serious candidate it would support. That’s the problem: even if David Cameron had nominated a serious British candidate the right-wing press would have called him a traitor rather than hailing it as a huge success. No serious candidate would have been insulting enough to the rest of Europe.
That’s the post-Brexit challenge: a British PM with a mandate to face down those who would sabotage Britain leading Europe.
From Geert Wilders in the Netherlands to Gerry Adams in Ireland to Marine Le Pen in France and Nigel Farage in the UK, there’s a common theme emerging across modern Europe.
After 50 years of European integration and globalisation, it has started once again to become fashionable to believe that nationalism has the answers. That if a country could just retreat behind its borders everything would be fine.
It’s a very attractive proposition in its simplicity. Close the borders, tell Brussels and whomever else to f**k off and we can all go about our business like we did in the nostalgic golden period that existed before the EU. When did it exist again? Before 1914? When we didn’t have obesity because the poor literally hadn’t enough food? The 1920s and 1930s when one after another European government fell under fascist control? That Golden Age?
But let’s set that nostalgia to one side, and face the reality of the nation-state as solution to our modern problems. Can we control multinationals and make sure they pay tax? Perhaps the US can, maybe China, but pretty much nobody else.
Immigration? Given the option of every country just quietly moving the refugees onto their wealthier neighbours, the answer is that border control would cost expenditure on a de facto warlike footing. That imaginary money you’d save by stopping immigrants, on housing and healthcare? Spend that now on border police and fences and holding centres and massively expanded navies.
Then there’s selling stuff. Regulation, tariffs, quotas, all the tools of the nation-state trying to keep various interests happy, and all with a price attached.
Want to buy a new imported car? Sure why would you need that when we make our own here? Why doesn’t it come with Bluetooth? Listen to you and your unpatriotic notions!
There is something of a gut appeal about the nation-state, being amongst “our own”, with our own culture and language and music. It feels safer for sure. And let’s be honest: it does work. As long as a country is willing to make its own hard choices about its own resources, and carry the appropriate burden, it can work. But as you expel young foreign workers and tax their imports and restore the national currency, be aware of the choices, as other countries send your aging ex-pats back to you.
The greatest source of unhappiness during the Great Recession has been the anger created by governments making hard choices. Every nationalist hardliner has tried to suggest that nationalism presents an easier path of less hardship and easing of burden.
A Europe without the euro and the EU is a Europe of sovereign nations standing up for their own interests. Sounds fine, and it will be right up to the moment the French government shields French farmers from Irish and British competition. Or Germany puts a tax on German pension funds investing in London. Or Britain taxes pharmaceuticals coming into the UK from Ireland. Or Spain devalues the Peseta Nuevo against the Franc Nouveau. All the acts of sovereign governments. All new problems.
The European Union was, and remains, a forum where like-minded nations can work together to resolve the problems of the modern world, which are bigger than modern nations. Syria isn’t a British or Danish problem, but it affects them, and their leaders know it too.
The leaders of modern countries know that so many problems from trade to disease to war to refugees to crime start outside our borders. You can either cooperate on them, or hide behind your borders and try to manage the consequences. But the idea that the problems themselves will vanish or get easier is nonsense.
This is the world we live in. It isn’t going away no matter had hard we wave our flags.
Posted by Jason O on Nov 23, 2015 in British Politics
, European Union
Listening to the Islamophobia spewing out of some US GOP candidates, and others in Europe makes my blood boil. As an Irish Republican and a European, I find the idea of any person being categorised and pigeonholed by their religion to be repugnant. That’s why my teeth go on edge when people talk about problems with Muslims and Islam. I don’t see that problem: I see groups of individuals who have made a twisted assessment of a religion and hijacked it for their own vicious fascist ends.
Having said that, even liberals such as I can’t ignore the fact that Islam seems to be capable of acting as a peculiarly effective breeding ground for extremism.
The role mosques and madrassas play in this can’t be ignored. Many are moderate places that preach tolerance and respect for other faiths. But some aren’t, and we cannot tolerate any place, regardless of how holy or revered it be, being used as a base to plot against western liberal values.
How do we balance our values of religious freedom with the need to exterminate extremism?
One possible solution could be, as happens in Turkey and the UK, for certain religions to be brought under direct state control. At present, the British prime minister appoints the head of the Church of England. It’s a nominal appointment at the moment, but establishes a precedent. Given the unique position of Islam, is it time for European governments to take direct control of its institutions?
Let me be clear: we are not talking about turning Islam into a state religion. Many of our countries, my own included, would have a serious problem now with any state religion. But the possibility of the state taking direct control of the training and appointment of Imams and the running of Islamic schools and mosques, and yes, their funding, should be considered. Better us running them than some fanatic funded by the Saudis.
In many instances, the existing Imams will remain in place, and nothing on the surface will change. There are downsides, of course. Will radicals flee the “official” mosques and set up radical secret ones? Possibly. But they’ll be illegal and will be hunted down. Let’s be clear that those who regard an Imam who cooperates with the state as a traitor are exactly the people we need to be targeting. Let’s also be clear that we are not talking about the state imposing a Christianised or liberal form of Islam. That will be the business of the communities running the mosques under the Imam’s guidance. The state’s only interest is that mosques not be abused to preach against broad western democratic values. They should have the same freedom as any Christian church.
Yes, it’ll be messy and controversial, and maybe it won’t work. And I do find the idea of the state interfering in the private religious practices of its Muslim citizens to be pretty repugnant.
But these are the times we live in, and unusual compromises to defend European values must be considered.
Posted by Jason O on Nov 21, 2015 in British Politics
, European Union
It’s a curious thing watching the reactions of UK eurosceptics to the current difficulties the Schengen area is going through. They sure loving queuing, those guys.
The concept they’re pushing is straightforward enough: if we bring back rigorous border controls we can catch terrorists at the borders. But even that logic is shaky. Won’t we have to stop and search every vehicle, every truck for secret compartments, to make that work?
Good luck with that.
Actually, the anti-Schengen people seem to be relying on a)luck, b)the idea that all terrorists are essentially foreigners, and c)we’ll be able to determine whether someone is an Islamist through some sort of non-intelligence based test. I look forward to seeing what that could be: maybe make them French kiss another man and judge their reaction? Ask them to tell us their favourite Woody Allen film? See if they can dance to YMCA?
UK opponents of Schengen just can’t see beyond the blue flag, as usual. If we called it the Dad’s Army Zone and put up pictures of Gene Hunt on the border maybe that would help?
The way they tell it, Schengen is some sort of rogue self-controlling entity, as opposed to a tool for member states. Schengen can be temporarily suspended (rightly) by a sovereign member state. It also allows the sharing of information, the most effective way of tracking and determining would-be terrorists. Yet ask UKIP about sharing information with Frontex or Europol and they go all Chief Inspector Dreyfus on you.
But, after Brexit who do they think they’ll be dealing with? Do they think they can phone up President Obama, inform him that they refuse to deal with the FBI, and demand that all 50 state police forces deal directly with them? If the rest of Europe decides that Europol or Frontex is to be our central clearing house, then so be it.
Of course, if they really believe that random checkpoints are the solution, then surely they should be implemented inside member states too, along with national ID cards to allow security forces to identify the illegals, right? Checkpoints outside supermarkets, on the tube, train stations, on the street.
There’ll be another irony: eurosceptics bringing in that most continental of devices, one’s “papiers” after leaving the EU.
Here’s an awkward reality: if we can stop relatively small contained terror cells before they strike, it’ll be through intelligence, and that means mass surveillance of phones, social media, gaming sites. That’s how we catch them, not randomly hoping they turn up at our borders in “I love IS” tee-shirts. That’s the debate we need to have. How to do that but prevent abuse of that information.
But that’s not the biggest single reason why we should be wary of scrapping Schengen. Schengen is part of the European way of life, and if we are going to scrap it, let us scrap it for a definite guaranteed result.
But to get rid of it just to do something is to accept that a handful of hateful fanatics in Daesh get to shape our society. Al Qaeda got to change the United States: are Americans living in a better country having permitted waterboarding? Do Americans feel safer? Have you listened to the leading candidates for the GOP nomination?
Of course we must examine every option to make Europe safer. But we should be very reluctant to casually toss away one of the things that makes Europe the freest place on Earth.
I was recently at a Halloween party (dressed, incidentally, as that figure of terror to all right-thinking middle classes, Jeremy Corbyn) when a very robust debate broke out over the future of the EU. My gracious host and others not uncomfortable on the libertarian right (he was dressed as Dracula, by the way. Insert left-wing metaphor as appropriate) raised a very valid point about the rise of euroscepticism. In short, they claimed that the obvious and very visible rise of euroscepticism across the EU is pretty much a rejection of what we refer to as The European Project.
It’s a fair point, and one made by eurosceptics across Europe. It’s also fair to say that it is not broadly incorrect. If there is one thing that unites eurosceptics, it is that the finger points squarely at Brussels and at those of us elsewhere who continue to advocate European integration.
My host then laid down a challenge at the feet of pro-integrationists. Call a referendum across the union and ask the ordinary peoples of Europe do they want a United States of Europe? He predicted, correctly, I suspect, that such a proposition would be rejected by the great majority of European voters. In short, he said, there is no mandate for further integration.
It’s a powerful argument, and led to heated but good natured exchanges, and I left with plenty to think about.
As with so much to do with Europe, it’s the details that do you in. Is euroscepticism on the rise across Europe. Undoubtedly. But is it the same euroscepticism across the continent? Do eurosceptics want the same thing? Does the word even mean the same thing?
That’s where the wheels come off, because unlike centre-right, centrist or centre-left pro-Europeans, who can compromise, the problem with eurosceptics is that they are often diametrically opposed to what defines euroscepticism.
Poland, for example, has recently elected a Law and Justice party nominally eurosceptic government. Cue cheers in Tory gentlemen’s clubs across London and much despatching of Mr.Carsons to break out the good brandy. “Three cheers for the Poles who will now support us in, eh, banning Poles working in the UK, or, eh, getting welfare even if they live and pay taxes in Britain, or, um, getting rid of the Common Agricultural Policy…”
See the problem? Think all Irish eurosceptics agree with Tory free-marketeers that the CAP is too generous and needs to be cut back, if not abolished? Think French eurosceptics agree with the same Tories that the EU gives too many rights to workers? Think those Tories agree with French eurosceptics on CAP or that the single market is too open to cross-border competition? Think Greek or Italian eurosceptics think that dealing with the Mediterranean refugee crisis is purely an internal national sovereignty matter and not any other countries’ problems?
The truth is, there is as much unity on the hard detail between eurosceptics as there is amongst the Irish Alphabet Left. This is People’s Front of Judea stuff.
Even the wording of the issue gets you into trouble. Take the aforementioned United States of Europe referendum. What would be the wording? “Do you want a United States of Europe?” Grand. So if we don’t call it the USofE we can carry on? Or “Do you want any more European integration?” Fine. So does further co-operation on, say, child trafficking count as further integration? Is it now illegal? How about “Should federalism be banned in Europe?” Again, a lovely day out. How do you define federalism? The centralising of all power to a non-directly elected body with weak to non-existent lower authorities? Great. You’ve just abolished Ireland. This thing could run and run.
Oh, it’s true that the EU is now the irritating political itch of the day, the piñata to be waved about and clobbered by every politician desperately trying to distract attention from their over-promising and under-delivery.
May be it might even work. Maybe a common consensus might be arrived at that a majority of Europeans can’t agree on why they hate the EU but just do, and if that’s the case, it’s farewell EU.
But it still remains a false solution, because the problems will still be there, and the interdependence that a globalised society and economy creates will still be there the day after the “For Rent” sign is put up in the window of the Berlaymont. Products manufactured in Poland will still have to meet Portuguese and Finnish standards. Irish paedophiles who assault a Greek child and then flee to Slovakia will still have to be tracked, arrested and tried. China will still have to be negotiated with. Syrians will still wash up in Italy and try to get to Calais or Stockholm.
And then the victorious eurosceptics, sitting in their national ministries, will order their officials to solve X. And their officials will tell them that they’ll need the cooperation of countries Z and Y to do that. But countries Z and Y are looking for something else, and so negotiations on some form of European cooperation will probably be needed…
Still, you can’t beat watching JR Ewing, Jeremy Corbyn, Dracula and a Roman Centurion debate the future of Europe. That’s a sitcom right there, surely?
Posted by Jason O on Oct 28, 2015 in British Politics
, European Union
For a short period, they were almost vilified as traitors. In that period after Britain voted to leave the EU, those politicians who had campaigned to remain found inside themselves being demonised as not quite British. Many quietly retired at the next election, indeed some forced to after being told firmly that their constituency parties would not be renominating them as they sided with “a foreign power”. Everybody was a eurosceptic now.
The populist eurosceptic press weren’t sure what to do with themselves. Having spent 30 years blaming a city in Belgium for all Britain’s woes, the sudden departure caused quite a psychological blow. The departure negotiations had been a source of great material, of course, but even they turned out to be less dramatic than expected. Despite some very nasty speeches in the French National Assembly, cooler heads prevailed, and an amicable trading relationship was found between Britain and the EU.
To great irony, it was the Irish, led by Sinn Fein’s minister for foreign affairs MaryLou McDonald, who put up the stoutest defence of a good deal for Britain, the Irish well aware of the importance of British trade. Indeed, the quiet but nevertheless public decision to beef up Britain’s Dublin embassy with a special EU affairs unit, to allow for the Irish to keep the British in the loop on issues of common interest, was noted by many. Opposition wags in the Dail were quick to remark that it wasn’t the first time Sinn Fein kept British intelligence in the picture.
The great liberation caused by British exit never happened. There were some savings from now defunct contributions to the EU budget, but when marked against EU regional spending in Britain, and the British contribution for access to the single market, as per Norway, the savings were modest, and certainly not the windfall eurosceptics had hinted at.
Likewise with the much ballyhooed end to Brussels redtape. When British civil servants attempted to strip out all the “unnecessary” EU regulation, they kept stumbling across laws on labelling poisons in the workplace or maternity rights that were too politically awkward to start abolishing. In short, many of the EU regulations were in fact the regulations the population of a modern industrialised state demanded of their politicians anyway. The horse, as they say, had bolted on that issue.
When British companies started finding themselves being targetted, particularly by the Irish enterprise development agencies, Whitehall got quite upset. The fact that there was now an Irish cabinet minister who made it her business to sit down with British business leaders to discuss upcoming Commission legislation within the single market, provided those companies invested in Ireland, raised hackles. It was the same with the City of London. In a joint press conference between Prime Minister Cooper and President Lagarde of France, the Frenchwoman delicately but firmly pointed out that the EU proposal to tax European pension and investment funds that went to London was, “with all due respect, none of Britain’s business. How we regulate EU capital flows is the business of EUmembers. If those decisions happen to impact non-members…”
A Gallic shrug sealed the comment.
Likewise with the inflow of immigrants which had done so much to aggravate the Tory right and its UKIP offshoot. With Britain out, the logistics of ending the freedom to work and travel proved to be much more challenging. The City of London was adamant about not loosing the cream of continental talent it attracted. Likewise, France, Spain and Ireland all had significant British populations that needed to be accomodated, and the Poles and rest of central Europe were willing to play hardball over the issue, refusing to tolerate the mass expulsion of large numbers of their citizens working in the UK. The possibility of large numbers of ex-pats living for years in France and Spain (Britain and Ireland worked out a side deal) suddenly being required to pay hefty residency and visa fees because they were no longer EU citizens became a front page issue in The Daily Mail, with that paper demanding some form of “special European passport for ex-pats”.
The Foreign Secretary, Mr Milliband, ordered by parliament to seek Britain’s fortune away from “decaying” Europe and instead in the glistening cities of Asia, found certain realities. Britain did still matter in the world, even outside the EU, but certainly not as an equal partner. Both India and China were of course eager to do business, but insisted upon the right of their citizens to travel to Britain to study, work and sell. The Chinese in particular were very firm, and so just as Britain moved to deny the Polish plumber entry, young Chinese and Indian men and women began to arrive in their hundreds of thousands to conduct business, study, inter-marry, pay taxes, require housing and healthcare and begin familes. Just as the Poles had. Within a few years, the Chinese government had begun to decry the unfairness of her citizens contributing to the UK’s coffers but not being able to vote on how they were spent. Mr Milliband vowed to give the issue serious consideration.
The fear campaign that suggested that Britain was economically doomed outside the EU proved to be nonsense. But British ministers found themselves outside the room constantly at major economic events. The EU/US Free Trade Area, and the EU/China trade pact both were conducted without British representation, but with British companies already bound to meet EU regulations with the single market now having to comply with more joint EU/US regulations for access to the Atlantic Free Trade Area. Indeed, when footage leaked from the EU/US talks of the Irish Taoiseach, Ms Power, briefing (and noting concerns from) a half dozen major British industrial and business leaders, all of whose firms had recently announced major job investments in Ireland, the British media was quick to cry foul. The Irish Department of Enterprise, on the other hand, reported a sharp spike in enquiries from major UK and US businesses to discuss the perceived Access-For-Jobs scheme.
Ten years out, it wasn’t the end of the world. Britain was still trading with the rest of Europe and the world. But the much suggested radical departure into a new British “Golden Age” just didn’t happen. Britain still had to pay attention to what commissioners and the European Parliament did, because that was the world Britain lived in. Globalisation was irreversible, and whether it was Brussels or Beijing, it wasn’t a matter of not letting other countries affect you. It was a question of shaping that effect, and that was going to happen whether inside the EU or not. Britain chose to go it alone.
Posted by Jason O on Oct 21, 2015 in British Politics
, European Union
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.