Thursday 9 August 2018

Some big boys did it

The Bloomberg Editorial Board produced an opinion piece a few days ago, urging the cancellation of Brexit, arguing that “It isn’t too late for the U.K. to change its mind about this whole misbegotten venture”.  The suggestion that Brexit is a ‘misbegotten venture’ isn’t exactly uncommon in the rest of the world, although there are always those, such as Trump and Putin, who see it as an opportunity.  For them, if not for the UK.  But there have been a series of thoughtful articles in recent months in overseas publications wondering exactly what Brexit tells us about the UK – and the answers never seem to agree with what the Brexiteers tells us.
Bloomberg did acknowledge that reversing Brexit would require a second referendum and that that isn’t exactly a straightforward proposition, but suggested that the other EU members could aid the process by making it clear that they’d prefer the UK to stay and that the Article 50 notice could be withdrawn and/or the date extended if that would assist the UK government in arranging a new vote.  Some EU governments have already made encouraging noises in that direction, and I’m confident that the EU would be willing to agree on both those points if there were any signs that the UK government wanted such an outcome.  But there aren’t, and any suggestion that the EU were attempting to prompt such a move would be immediately portrayed by Brexiteers – with their usual complete disregard for mere facts - as an attempt to ‘force’ the UK to vote again until ‘Brussels’ gets the answer it wants.  The idea that the EU ‘forces’ countries to re-vote has, after all, been a basic mantra of the Brexiteers from the outset.
Bloomberg does offer another alternative, which is “… offering non-voting membership of the single market, with all its rights and obligations, for as long as it takes to arrange a limited free-trade agreement of the sort that Europe has reached with other non-EU countries”.  It’s a reasonable suggestion, although there’s no obvious reason why it should be restricted to circumstances in which “… EU governments have come to think Britain is more trouble than it’s worth, and would now prefer it to go”.  It’s equally applicable if they would prefer us to stay, but recognise the unlikelihood of that and simply want to ensure an orderly exit.  It’s an obvious, sound and sensible interim approach which makes more sense than an immediate rush to the door.  It’s never going to be as good, in economic terms, as continued membership, but as a halfway house it would buy the time to work through the implications properly.  I’m not sure, though, that the EU actually needs to make such an offer – it seems to me that it’s an option that has been on the table from the outset.
And that brings us to the nub of the issue.  It’s not the EU which has ruled out such an option; it’s the UK - by insisting that it wants all the rights but none of the obligations implied by such an option: a form of super membership better than that enjoyed by any other member.  And the fact that the EU27 won’t allow the UK better terms than they themselves enjoy is all down to the 'intransigence' of those 27 EU members.  That’s the basis on which the new Foreign Secretary has warned the EU that if they don’t back down, the UK is walking towards a no-deal ‘by accident’.  It’s not an ‘accident’ at all – it’s the probable outcome of deliberate UK policy.  In similar vein, the Trade Secretary has now talked about ‘no-deal’ being the likeliest outcome as a result of the EU’s 'intransigence'.  There’s certainly a lot of intransigence around, but it’s coming from the Brexiteers with their continued demand for free unicorns or else.
As the pound slumped on Monday, some ‘senior Whitehall sources’ were quoted as saying that if the UK crashes out with no deal “we will make it clear whose fault it was”.  And there, in a nutshell, we have the Brexiteers' latest core strategy exposed: ‘It wasn’t me, Miss, some big boys did it and ran away’.  It's no wonder that the rest of the world is scratching its collective head in amazement.

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