Wednesday, 5 July 2017

An honest Brexiteer

Brexiteer and honest aren’t words that I would normally use in combination, but in one important aspect at least they clearly apply to the newest member of the UK’s ministerial team handling the Brexit negotiations.  In comments he made in 2010, Steve Baker called not just for Brexit, but for the whole EU to be “wholly torn down”.  Labour, Lib Dem, and even some Tories have piled into the issue claiming that having someone with such views negotiating on behalf of the UK will be counter-productive, and one Tory MP said “It just reveals what the extreme Brexiteers have been about all along.  It’s not enough to take the UK out of the EU.  They want the entire thing to fall apart”.
Well, yes.  All of that is true, but why is it such a surprise?  Destroying the EU has always been the intention of most Brexiteers, even if they’ve mostly been rather more reluctant to say so.  Indeed, it’s the only position which really makes any sense of much of what they have said.  During the referendum, many of them told us that we could have all the economic benefits without membership, but never told us exactly how that could be achieved.  There is one – and only one – scenario in which that was ever going to be possible, and that was if the EU reformed itself into a much looser entity, based almost entirely on economic agreements and without any of the political elements which were the founding principle behind the organisation.  In short, the successful Brexit which they promised was predicated on an assumption that Brexit would result in a sea-change in attitudes in the other 27 countries.
And it isn’t just among the Little Englander type of Brexiteer that bringing down the EU makes sense.  I’ve noted before that Welsh independence outside the EU makes less sense to me than full Welsh membership of the EU, because the existence of the EU redefines the meaning of independence in a European context.  But take away the EU, and revert to a position where independence is again redefined as meaning the status of a country which is a member of a much looser trading arrangement, and an independent Wales once again looks like the normal state of any European country rather than something rather exceptional.  For independentista Brexiteers, destroying the EU is also the logical conclusion of their position.
In fairness to Mr Baker and his ilk, bringing down the EU is a coherent and consistent world view; the problem is that it shows so little understanding of the drivers which led the original 6 members to create the EEC.  Not all the more recent recruits to the EU wholly share that original vision of a different type of Europe, but that vision remains much more powerful in the seats of government of Europe than the Brexiteers have ever understood.  Instead of weakening the bonds tying the other 27 together, Brexit has succeeded in strengthening them – and getting rid of what has probably been the most awkward and disruptive member state may well turn out to be the biggest British contribution to European unity in history. 
It would be an unintentional contribution, of course.  The UK’s position has always been ‘divide and rule’, and we’ve already seen elements of that in the UK’s attempts to split individual members of the EU off into separate negotiations and discussions – with talk even of aid in exchange for support in some case.  The strategy hasn’t changed at all; it’s just that, in this case, it has the potential for backfiring spectacularly.
The reaction of those who disagree with his position was predictable, but I’m not at all convinced that it will make any difference at all to the position of the other 27 countries in dealing with the UK.  I’m sure that they’ve realised all along that the only logical context for Brexit was the collapse of the EU – they’re as capable of interpreting the demands for all the benefits with none of the limitations or obligations as I am – and will already have assumed that to be one of the UK Government’s aims.  Insofar as it makes any difference to anything, the domestic context is the more important.  A more open statement of the real aims of the Brexiteers can only assist sensible debate within the UK.

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