“There are lies, damned lies, and Brexit”
Mark Twain’s possible contribution to the Brexit mess.
Brexit: Power, Pomposity & Policy
Alphen, Netherlands. 12 September. A United States of Europe never, the States of Europe United, forever. Regular readers amongst you will have noticed, no doubt with some relief, that I have steered clear of writing about Brexit of late. There has been nothing to write about. This blog is devoted to matters strategic and the froth and nonsense of what both Brussels and London claim passes as Brexit negotiations are a disgrace to the Latin origins of the word negotiationem; to carry on business. The EU’s lead negotiators Messrs Barnier and Verhofstadt (Mr Tusk?) are Euro-federalists who want nothing more than Britain’s capitulation, suggesting a vengeful Holy Union Empire, rather than the free association of national democracies in which I still believe. I worked for the EU and I saw at close hand just how elitist Brussels is, how vengeful it can be towards non-believers, and how little regard Brussels really has for effective democracy, proper accountability, and the will of the people. The British side has ridiculously failed to understand this reality, and that the negotiations are not about the policy and legal technicalities beloved of Whitehall Mandarins, but about power. However, what has driven me to pen this blog today is the sheer bloody, God awful irresponsibility of all those charged with leading the Brexit process – Leavers, Remainers, Remaoners, Wreckers, and Commissioners alike.
Let me first deal with the issue of power, particularly that of Brussels, and to some extent Berlin. For the EU Brexit is about the power relationship between the European institutions and the non-German member-states, something which hitherto London has failed to understand, and which explains why Michel Barnier and a poorly-advised David Davis seem so often to be speaking different languages, both literally and figuratively. The British should approach the negotiations as a top-five world economic and military power, not a pitiful supplicant seeking concessions from its imperial masters. There is at least some suggestion that London is beginning to understand this hard reality. Today’s ‘position paper’ from the British on future UK-EU security and defence co-operation hints at the importance to ‘Europe’ of Britain’s armed forces, diplomatic machinery, and vital intelligence capabilities. It is an approach I have long been calling upon Britain to adopt, and was the centre-piece of a speech I gave at the Royal Society in late 2016. It was also an approach that I was told repeatedly by Whitehall that London did not want to adopt. Better late than never, I suppose. The no-brainer admission in the paper that Britain’s security will be ‘indivisibly linked’ with the rest of Europe will certainly be welcomed in Paris, which only sees Brexit in terms of power.
Leavers, Remainers, Remoaners, Wreckers, and Commissioners (et al)
So, what of Leavers, Remainers, Remoaners, Wreckers, and Commissioners (et al). Frankly, all sides in this many-sided dispute leave me close to despair. Last night a weak British government managed to get a relatively comfortable majority for the ‘first reading’ of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill through the House of Commons. It was just the beginning. The Bill faces months of blocking and wrecking amendments in the House of Lords, and the various parliamentary scrutinising committees. Some revisions will be precisely what a reinvigorated and sovereign Parliament should do. Sadly, a lot of it will be die-hard Remoaners determined not simply to improve the Bill, but to destroy it. At the very least the Government needs to make an important distinction between amending Remainers and Wreckers.
Leavers: it is now well-established that the 2016 campaign claim that leaving the EU would a) see £350m a week repatriated; and b) contribute to funding the holy National Health Service was a bald-faced lie. There are other lies Leavers are peddling. The Leave mantra of ‘take back control’ plays to the fear of mass immigration in parts of Britain, and implies London will soon be able to ‘control’ Britain’s borders. With Brexit Britain might indeed re-establish responsibility for its borders, but it is unlikely to control them. If Britain really wanted to control its borders it would mean deporting a significant number of people with no right to remain, which is implied by a leaked Home Office (Interior Ministry). That would also mean in turn repealing the Human Rights Act beloved of human rights lawyers. There is neither the political nor legal will to do that, nor any apparent willingness in London to invest in the infrastructures and agencies needed to ensure a properly-controlled border.
Remoaners: on Saturday a sizeable march of Remoaners took place in Central London which was addressed, amongst others, by Sir Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats – the clue is in the name. Sir Vince railed against the incompetence of the incumbent government (fair point), and talked at some length about what he feared would be the negative economic impact of Brexit. He also implied the EU was a functioning Utopia. However, he singularly failed to admit that today’s EU is not set in stone. He failed to mention the federalist imperative at the heart of Union (the clue is also in the name), nor that were Britain to change its mind about Brexit, and reverse Article 50, it could only do so by accepting the Euro and many other tenets of the federalist European project – including one day a European Army. He also failed to mention that implicit in the European project is a ‘finalité’ that Messrs Barnier, Juncker and Verhofstadt have been working towards all their political lives; the end of the European nation-state and its replacement by an elitist, Mazarin-esque European super-state.
So, Why (on balance) Did I Back Remain?
Regular readers will also know that in spite of my profound concerns about democracy, governance, and the accountability of ever more distant power in the EU, I decided in 2016 that, on balance, Britain should remain in the EU. There were several reasons. Firstly, I foresaw this mess and did not believe the mediocre British political and high-bureaucratic class, which does not believe in Brexit, were up to the challenge of delivering a political settlement that did not look like the compromise from hell. Secondly, I feared Brexit would make an already fragile United Kingdom even more fragile. Thirdly, I feared (and still do) that London’s self-induced weak negotiating position would reduce a leading power to the status of de facto EU colony – forced to abide by rules made by others. That is certainly the Barnier Gambit. Fourthly, I rejected a central tenet of the Brexit argument – that the EU was responsible for the immigration levels that had driven so many (and not without reason if one witnesses the tensions in my home city of Sheffield) to vote to quit the Bloc. To my mind the inclusion of Central and Eastern European states in the EU on equal terms was a fruit of victory in the Cold War, and was an opportunity that had to be seized.
Ultimately, I rejected Brexit on ‘big picture’ geopolitical grounds. There are a range of very real strategic dangers faced by Britain and its allies and partners from a revanchist Russia, and a virulent Islamic State. My quintessential fear was that Brexit would undermine the very cohesion upon which sound security and defence must be established, weaken the EU’s important security role, and damage NATO’s all-important collective defence role. My fears were not misplaced.
Lies, Damn Lies & Brexit!
For all my concerns I am at the end of the day a democrat. A decision was taken by the British people in a legitimate poll. Like many Remainers I am now firm in my belief that Brexit must be realised at the minimum cost to all concerned. Therefore, given the dangers we Europeans collectively face those responsible for negotiating the new post-Brexit political settlement (that will inevitably come) must stop posturing, stop trying to turn the clock back, and stop wallowing in deceit and half-truths, and get this whole damnable process over with quickly.
In other words, both sides need to recognise their political responsibilities if the strategic consequences of Brexit are not to be disastrous.
Assessment? Fat chance!
Lies, damn lies & Brexit!