As Christmas draws near many among us who are Christians turn our thoughts to the birth of Christ, the story of the Nativity and beyond to Easter next year and the Passion, the story of the ordeal that Christ endured at the hands of the Romans, ending in his crucifixion on Mount Calvary, and it is this second story that has particular symbolism for we British at this time as we witness a passion play of a somewhat more earthly kind as Theresa May endures agony at the hands of those who are ‘Romans’ by treaty, in a process that must surely end in her political ‘crucifixion’.
On 23rd June 2016 the referendum on our continued membership of the European Union was conducted and to the great shock and dismay of our entire political establishment and a large section of our mass media, a majority of the electorate voted for us to leave. What followed was the almost immediate resignation of David Cameron, contrary to his previous assurances that he would stay on and deliver the verdict of the British people, and the subsequent ascent to the position of Prime Minister of Theresa May, the former Home Secretary who had campaigned for Britain to remain within the EU.
Not-withstanding her previous position on Britain’s membership of the EU, Theresa May declared that “Brexit means Brexit” and pledged to negotiate our withdrawal from the EU in line with the wishes of the electorate. So far, so good, but the factors in this equation that seem to have been ignored ever since are the economic imperative that our withdrawal from the EU should be concluded as quickly as possible, and that ‘Brexit’ really should mean ‘Brexit’, i.e. our complete withdrawal from the EU.
For businesses to grow and flourish they usually rely upon inflows of investment capital and they rely upon legislative and regulatory stability if they are to adequately plan for the future. Obviously, the matter of our withdrawal from the EU with all of the associated ramifications rather throws a spanner in the works until the matter is successfully concluded and stability and some degree of certainty and stability is once again established.
Article 50 of the Consolidated Treaty of the European Union provides for a maximum two year period of negotiation when a member state wishes to withdraw, but the two year period is not mandatory. If a member state wished to withdraw unilaterally upon, say, three-months notice, there would be nothing to stop this other than a desire to avoid the anxiety that businesses and government would experience during that short period and the urgency of adapting to the terms of trade that would apply thereafter. Upon unilateral withdrawal at short notice and in the absence of a bespoke trade agreement, the default trading position would be on World Trade Organisation terms which potentially could result in tariffs being imposed by either side.
If tariffs were imposed by the EU on all British goods entering their internal market, it could potentially have a significant impact upon our exports, however Britain’s exports to the EU represent only 13% of our economic activity and so the effect of tariffs would not be disastrous. In fact in the twelve-months to September 2016 we in the UK imported £302 billion worth of goods and services from the EU, while we exported only £242 billion to the EU. Therefore while our exports to the EU might suffer through the imposition of tariffs, reciprocal tariffs that we might impose on EU goods and services entering Britain would potentially cost the EU far more than we would stand to lose. The overwhelming probability is therefore, that when push comes to shove, it is in the interests of the EU to accommodate a mutually beneficial trading arrangement with the UK, post Brexit, even more so than it is in ours.
As anyone who has ever been involved in negotiating a business arrangement knows, both sides will normally want to play hardball and employ a considerable degree of bluff right up until any arbitrarily imposed deadline for agreement is reached. Then as the deadline closes in, the side with the weakest nerve or with the most to lose from a failure to reach agreement will reluctantly make as few as possible last minute concessions in order that an agreement can be struck at the eleventh hour. Therefore if the period allocated for negation is two years, the negotiations will take almost the full two years before agreement is reached, and prior to that deadline there will be much uncertainty as to the outcome.
The way to avoid a long period of uncertainty therefore is to bring the deadline forward as much as possible, and instead of taking six months to invoke Article 50 as Theresa May did, and instead of agreeing to a two-year negotiation period and a further two-year transitional period, creating a damaging and stressful four and a half-year period of uncertainty, Theresa may should have given three-months notice of a unilateral withdrawal. This may have caused initial shock waves through the EU but it would have brought them to the negotiating table quickly, under circumstances in which we would have been in charge of the process, and they would have been under the maximum pressure to agree a deal quickly before the deadline was reached.
As it is, Theresa May has been feeble at every step and turn. She has accepted the framework for the negotiations imposed by the EU and she has consequently been induced to make costly concessions in a desperate effort to speed up the process.
The most telling factor betraying the Prime Minister’s lack of negotiating ability is her rush to ‘guarantee’ the Good Friday Agreement with Ireland and the other partisan stakeholders in Northern Ireland. In so doing she has guaranteed that there will be no physical border between the North and Southern Ireland. This promise made to the Southern Irish government effectively prevents us from reasserting control of our borders and negates our assertion of freedom from the EU. Theresa May has prioritised the maintenance of the Good Friday agreement ahead of the interests of the British electorate as a whole.
What we witnessed this week in the ‘frantic’ negotiations undertaken, was a British government led by a prime minister who did not want Brexit, ‘negotiating’ on behalf of Britain with politicians from the DUP — the majority of whose electorate voted against Brexit, with the Southern Irish government and the European Commission, neither of whom want Brexit. Is it any wonder therefore that what was overlooked in these negotiations was any defence of the interests or promotion of the wishes of the British electorate?
Theresa May’s reluctance to address head-on the self-evidently contradictory and mutually exclusive nature of trying to appease Southern Ireland while at the same time delivering what the British people voted for, does not take us closer to an agreement. At best it simply ‘kicks the can down the road’, as they say, deferring the task of grasping this thorny nettle to a later date.
If we take a look at the ‘Joint Report from the Negotiators of the European Union and the United Kingdom Government on Progress During Phase 1 of Negotiations Under Article 50 TEU on the United Kingdom’s Orderly Withdrawal from the European Union’, the document produced following this week’s negotiations, we can see clearly how our interests have been betrayed.
The report is composed of ninety-six articles, articles 1 to 5 of which simply set out the three aims and the parameters of the report. The three aims are as follows:
- To agree measures protecting the rights of EU citizens living within the UK and of UK citizens living within the EU;
- To set out the relationship that will exist post Brexit between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland; and
- To agree the method by which the financial settlement between the UK and the EU will be calculated.
Regarding aims A and B above, there was nothing particularly significant or contentious in the wordings. There was not even any approximate, let alone explicit statement of what the eventual ‘divorce bill’ would be, contrary to what the media might have us believe.
Articles 42 to 56 however deals with the relationship between Northern and Southern Ireland and this is where the agreement becomes a dog’s breakfast, as follows:
Article 42 reaffirms that “the achievements, benefits and commitments of the peace process will remain of paramount importance” and that “the Good Friday Agreement … must be protected in all its parts”.
Article 43 reaffirms the United Kingdom’s “commitment to the avoidance of a hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls”.
Article 44 asserts that the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU “must remain fully consistent with [the] provisions of the Good Friday Agreement while at the same time ensuring Northern Ireland’s position as an integral part of the United Kingdom.
Article 45 expresses our respect for Ireland’s place in the Single Market and the Customs Union, and recognises the need to preserve the integrity of Britain’s internal market and Northern Ireland’s place within it.
Article 46 asserts that further discussions regarding the future trading relationship between Britain and the EU must not be prejudiced by measures introduced to cater for the “unique circumstances on the island of Ireland”, and vice-verse.
Articles 47 and 48 again reaffirm the paramount nature of the Good Friday Agreement, the institutions created under that agreement and “the full range of political, economic, security, societal and agricultural contexts and frameworks of cooperation” created, and asserts that the maintenance of the Good Friday Agreement relies upon a “common European Union legal and policy framework”.
Articles 49 and 50 assert a United Kingdom “guarantee” of avoiding a hard border. “Should this not be possible”, and “In the absence of agreed solutions”, the United Kingdom will “maintain full alignment with those rules of the [Single] Market and the Customs Union”, and furthermore, “the United Kingdom will ensure that no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom …”
Article 51 states that “Both Parties will establish mechanisms to ensure the implementation and oversight of any specific arrangement to safeguard the integrity of the EU Internal Market and the Customs Union.”
Articles 51 and 52 both deal with the rights of citizens with nothing particularly significant or contentious.
Article 53 effectively states that the European Convention on Human Rights underpins many of the rights accorded to people living in Northern Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement and that these rights will be maintained and remain undiminished after Brexit.
Article 54 states that “the United Kingdom confirms and accepts that the Common Travel Area and associated rights and privileges can continue to operate” between Northern and Southern Ireland, “in particular with respect to free movement for EU citizens.”
Articles 55 and 56 simply conclude the statement of provisions relating to Ireland.
As readers will no doubt gather, if the European Common Travel Area is to apply to all of Ireland, there is to be no hard border between the North and South and there is no border between between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, it will be impossible for we British to maintain control of our borders. Anyone admitted to any EU member state and granted EU citizenship will be free to travel to Southern Ireland and to cross the border into Northern Ireland and from there travel of the UK without restriction. Ireland will become the ‘immigration gateway’ to the UK and it is conceivable that other EU countries may grant EU citizenship to unwanted illegal Third World immigrants on condition that they do precisely what I have just described and abuse that privileged status to gain access to Britain with our soft-touch benefits system.
Furthermore, if the rights granted to the citizens of all Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement, require the “full range of political, economic, security, societal and agricultural contexts and frameworks of cooperation” and a “common European Union legal and policy framework” to be maintained, and if Northern Ireland is to remain from an economic and legislative perspective an integral part of the United Kingdom, then clearly legislation throughout the UK must be kept in line with legislation determined by the EU and we will not have the freedom, self-government and self-determination that Brexit was always intended to deliver.
Under the agreement that Theresa May is negotiating, we will move from a situation in which we have no control of our borders and are subject to laws decided by the EU over which by virtue of our membership of the EU we have a small say, to a near identical position, but one in which by virtue of not being members of the EU we will have restricted access to the Single Market and we will have no say at all in the running of the EU!
Theresa May has ‘kicked the can further down the road’ so that her government can survive in power a little longer, but she has only deferred a final day reckoning in which she will be called to account and all of her failings will be laid bare. Theresa May was recently described by Jean Claude Junker as “a tough negotiator”, but this is clearly the kind of flannel and flattery used to console someone you have just walked over. If she really was the kind of tough negotiator we need, and had won valuable and bitterly contested concessions from the EU, Junker would afterwards have described Theresa May in much less flattering terms, possibly using an old Anglo-Saxon insult, consisting of a four letter word. The fact that Junker felt happy to flatter Mrs May tells us all we need to know!
Theresa May has moved from “Brexit means Brexit” and “no deal is better than a bad deal”, to a situation in which she is apparently arranging for us to become a vassal state of the EU, subject to all of its laws, but with no representation in the Council of Europe, the European Commission, or the European Parliament. It is however not too late, Mrs May could still take command of the situation and redeem herself by unilaterally withdrawing Britain from the EU at short notice. Whatever she decides, under the British constitution no parliament can bind a future parliament, and so there is always the hope and prospect that no matter what dog’s breakfast Theresa May eventually agrees to, a future nationalist Britain will be able to renounce it and unilaterally reassert our right to self-government and self-determination.
Her poor leadership of Britain during recent months of Brexit negotiations, negotiations that have been at times shambolic, uncoordinated and lacking in focus have been an ordeal and an agony, for the nation, for the government and most acutely for Theresa May, and Theresa May has been accorded little respect by her EU counterparts. This and her disastrous decision to call the last general election has transformed public opinion of her, which was initially quite good, and she is now widely regarded as something of a lame duck prime minister perpetually staggering from crisis to crisis. The great probability is that she will suffer a leadership challenge within the Tory Party before long and these bungling Brexit negotiations, the swansong of her career as a politician will be what she will be remembered for in the years to come. Perhaps not quite a crucifixion, but an inglorious end that is probably well deserved.
By Max Musson © 2017
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