Monday, 5 November 2018

Choosing a century

Underlying the whole Brexit process from the outset has been a current of Anglo-British not-nationalism-at-all which starts from a perspective of general arrogance towards the rest of the world underpinned by a sense of superiority and entitlement.  It’s a strong form of a toxic mixture which would be called nationalism anywhere else, but these particular not-nationalists are so special and unique that they alone are, in their view at least, entitled to deny the application of that word to themselves.  It hasn’t made for a smooth process of negotiation, yet still they persist.
We saw it at the outset with statements about ‘the easiest deal in history’; ‘they need us more than we need them’, and so on.  It’s a perspective from which the EU’s determination to treat the UK as it has asked to be treated – as a ‘third country’ – is interpreted as some sort of punishment or revenge.  It’s a point which has been well debunked many times – here’s a good summary – but every attempt to explain that it's what the electorate voted for simply leads to even louder howls of protest from those who continue to argue that the UK has a right to be treated differently.
Most recently, we’ve seen it in relation to the suggestion put forward by Nick Boles that the UK could ‘temporarily’ join EFTA and thus enjoy many of the benefits of continued membership whilst negotiating an alternative longer term relationship.  In fairness, there’s a certain logic to the idea – from a UK perspective.  It’s not without its problems, though, not least because it doesn’t resolve the problem of the British border across Ireland, and nor does it satisfy the extreme Brexiteers. 
But there’s another problem with it too – such logic as it does possess might be obvious from a UK perspective, but what about the other countries involved?  Expecting the existing EFTA members to simply change their structures and procedures to accommodate a new member whose GDP is larger than that of any existing member, and to do so on the basis of an expected membership period of just a few years, is another display of that famous non-nationalistic sense of entitlement and arrogance.  Their compliance with the requirements of a UK government which still hasn’t worked out what it’s trying to achieve as an end point is taken as a given – just like it was taken as a given that German carmakers and Italian prosecco producers would force their governments to give way so that they could continue to trade with the UK.
From the outset, the UK has apparently managed to misunderstand and misinterpret almost everything that the EU27 has said; assuming instead that the EU27 will ultimately come to see everything as the UK Government does (i.e. in simplistic terms of economic transactions) and blithely ignoring the clear and repeated messages that, for the EU27, ‘Europe’ has always been about much more than trade.  As we approach the end game, nothing in the UK’s attitude seems to be changing; the government still doesn’t really know what it wants in the long term and is still assuming that the EU will give way.  They simply can’t escape from that inherent sense of superiority and entitlement.  Despite the reports of a ‘secret’ deal about to be agreed, such details as have been leaked so far seem to suggest that it’s little more than another exercise in kicking the can down the road whilst the UK – and more particularly the Tory Party – continues to argue with itself.  The problem is that that argument is still about how to achieve a result which recognises that superiority and entitlement.  It’s an argument doomed to continue indefinitely until the political culture of the UK is able to mature enough to accept that the UK’s place in the world isn’t what they want or believe it to be, and that the world isn’t going to accept the UK on the UK’s terms.  I keep hoping that the whole Brexit shambles will have the one positive effect of dragging these non-nationalists into the twenty-first century – it certainly ought to.  So far, it seems to be having the exact opposite effect – they’re retreating into the eighteenth.

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