Monday 23 July 2018

Boris, Tinkerbell and Brexit

The way in which politicians use words is often less about communicating a message than it is about framing the terms of a debate and trying to present things in a different light.  There were two classic examples from the UK government last week.
Firstly, we had Andrea Leadsom telling us that the EU should be told that the White Paper on Brexit was the UK’s ‘final offer’, and there was no scope for negotiating any changes to it.  Those two words, ‘final’, and ‘offer’ are doing a lot of work here.  In the first place, it’s not really an ‘offer’ at all, more of a request.  It sets out what the UK would like to get from the negotiation, and offers the EU little, other than the ‘opportunity’ to water down the rules around the single market.  And secondly, this so-called ‘final’ offer is the first time that the UK Government has managed to spell out what it wants; it’s more akin to a first proposal than a last one.  And an opening bid which is also a final bid, which is what she wants this to be seen as, ends up looking more like a set of demands than a basis for discussion.  Faced with that, the fact that the EU27 are even bothering to discuss it formally shows a great deal of patience and goodwill on their side, rather than the intransigence as which it’s being painted.
Secondly, we had Theresa May claiming that to date all the proposals put forward by the EU have been ‘unworkable’.  In the first place, I’m not convinced that the EU has put any proposals forward to date; it’s been more a question of them waiting for a proposal – any proposal – from the UK.  What they have done is to set out the options as they see them, based on the set of rules under which they operate and experience of deals with other countries.  In the second place, when the Prime Minister says that they’re unworkable, what she seems to mean is that they don’t accommodate her own red lines.  In fairness to the EU27, that really isn’t their problem; the problem stems from the UK’s continuing adherence to cakeism.
The common thread in both statements, however, is that they look like an attempt to present the situation as one in which the UK is being reasonable whilst the EU is being intransigent – setting up a position in which the ‘blame’ for any failure in the negotiations can be attributed to someone else.  And for as long as the UK sticks by its insistence that the EU must change its single market rules and undermine the integrity of that market to suit the departing member, then failure looks inevitable.  By now, it’s obvious that failure is the desired outcome of the Brexiteers, but they know that they need to be able to blame anybody other than themselves for the resulting damage.  And the EU will do for starters.
It’s not the only scapegoat being lined up, however.  As the former Foreign Secretary made clear last week, there’s an alternative scapegoat available as well.  It is all those who refuse to believe in Britain and the glories that await us after Brexit.  The sheer force of belief, if strongly shared by enough people, will be enough to make it happen, apparently, whereas failure to believe will lead to the death of the dream.  It provoked a childhood memory of going to watch Peter Pan in the theatre; if we didn’t all believe in fairies Tinkerbell would die.  But I suppose that a Tinkerbell Brexit is just what we might expect from a pantomime government.

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