Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Just another stunt

As I understand Boris Johnson’s somewhat belated missive to the EU27, he is arguing that a mechanism to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland be replaced by a mechanism to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.  The key difference is that the mechanism in the Withdrawal Agreement is defined, whereas his is not.  Why replacing a defined arrangement with an undefined ‘alternative’ one would be acceptable to anyone is one of the many unanswered questions, but ‘because UK’ is not much of an answer.
In his letter, he commits the UK to accepting a “legally binding commitment” to “not put in place infrastructure, checks or controls at the border” and vaguely hopes that the EU will make a similar commitment.  That makes it sound like a major and generous concession which it would be churlish not to reciprocate, but for a regulatory regime which seeks to abolish tariffs on imports and reduce the standards to which goods and services must be provided it’s very easy to remove controls with an area with higher standards and tariffs.  It’s considerably more difficult for the regime with higher standards to simply lower the gates and let anything and everything through, and the PM knows that.  It will always be those states which wish to maintain the highest standards which have the incentive – nay the requirement – to control the external borders of their market.
It’s probable, of course, that his letter wasn’t really aimed at the EU27 at all; making such a letter an open one and releasing it to the media at the same time as sending it to the EU looks more like a stunt aimed at the UK public than a serious attempt to negotiate anything, and I’m sure that that is at least a part of the truth.  At another level, though, it underlines yet again the real aim of the Brexiteers, which is to destroy the EU as an entity.  Keeping an entirely open border between a carefully constructed single market and a regulatory regime which seeks to reduce or abolish standards and controls can only end up one way – the integrity of the market would be destroyed, not least because the infamous WTO rules would require the EU27 to apply the same rules to the rest of the world as to the UK. 
Brexit, in isolation, has never made much sense, and it’s never been the sole objective of the Brexiteers.  As the first step towards destroying the EU and reducing the extent of regulation on employee rights, environmental standards etc it is a great deal more coherent as an objective.  They have always claimed that it was never the economic aspects of the EU which they didn’t like, only the political ones, such as the reference to ‘ever closer union’.  In truth, what they don’t like is that the EU has been a force for controlling capitalism (even if not to the extent that some of us would like) rather than allowing it to operate entirely unfettered, and that’s more about the rules of the single market than about political union.  It’s a curious irony for those of us who originally opposed membership of the EEC because it looked like a capitalist club that it has actually done more to control the worst excesses of capitalism than the UK would ever have done alone, and that the real promoters of unfettered capitalism have proven to be the domestic variety.
I don’t think Johnson’s letter has anything to do with negotiation; it has everything to do with justifying his position, blaming other people, and getting on with the job of dismantling the regulatory structure that the EU has jointly developed.  Those who accuse the EU of using the situation in Ireland as a means of keeping the UK under the EU’s regime are themselves trying to use the situation in Ireland to undermine the EU itself.

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