Monday, 5 March 2018

Were her fingers still crossed?

If the main audience for the PM’s much-heralded speech last Friday was her own party, and if its main purpose was to reunite that party, then success was at best limited, with the former deputy Prime Minister firing another salvo over the weekend.  I can understand why any party leader would prefer to have a party united behind her on policy and direction rather than with the simple intent of inserting a knife between her shoulder blades, but given the depth of the disagreement on Europe within her party, and the fact that it’s been a running sore for three decades, I suspect that her attempts are doomed from the start.  Time to recognise that one of the world’s most electorally successful parties is no longer fit for purpose.
Paradoxically, if the main audience was anyone but her own party, then the speech could probably be considered marginally more successful.  It’s still peppered with ridiculous fantasies and contradictions – what can anyone make of her claim that she wants the “broadest and deepest possible agreement – covering more sectors and co-operating more fully than any free trade agreement anywhere in the world today” whilst also admitting that any deal on her terms will mean less free trade than at present.  There already is a ‘most ambitious free trade deal’ in existence.  It’s called the EU and she’s leading the UK out of it, so what she’s actually calling for is the ‘second broadest and deepest’ deal.
Her talk of the deal being a ‘win-win’ is equally silly if confined solely to economics.  There can be little doubt that it’s actually ‘lose-lose’, and the purpose of any negotiation is to mitigate the losses, not maximise the non-existent gains.  The only way that anyone can interpret any aspect of this as a ‘win’ is by treating non-economic considerations as being more important than economic ones.  That is, ultimately, the position held by Brexiteers, and it would be an entirely honourable one if they were to be honest about it.  Some of us would still disagree, of course, but at least we’d be debating on an honest basis.
At one point in her speech she actually said “I want to be straight with people”.  But if that’s what she wants to do, why not do it?  It’s the sort of political rhetoric that always makes me certain that what’s about to follow is going to be the exact opposite. Still, even if at a detailed level she’s still asking for what she knows to be impossible, at a headline level it’s easy to see why the EU negotiators have welcomed what looks like the start of a realisation that the UK’s red lines are going to have to be rubbed out one by one.
In fairness to the Prime Minister, I thought that she did a pretty good job, in most of the speech, in setting out why membership of the EU is such a good idea for the UK, and why we will lose out unless we retain membership of various agencies and keep most of the EU’s rules and regulations.  At least, that’s what I thought she was saying, and that’s what the EU negotiators seem to think she was saying as well.  On the other hand, both they and I thought that she had committed, last December, to keeping Northern Ireland in the same customs and regulatory regime as the rest of Ireland.  It turned out that she had her fingers crossed behind her back all the time, invalidating all promises made.  The question now is whether they were still crossed last Friday.  The Brexiteers who praised her speech certainly seem to think so.

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