Friday, 17 July 2020

Compromise is for everyone else

One of the advantages of achieving Welsh independence within a wider grouping of sovereign states, such as the EU, is that it provides a context within which the political change occurs whilst leaving the external economic relationships largely untouched. That is precisely the reason why some argue that it isn’t ‘proper’ independence, because Wales would not have the same degree of freedom to determine economic policies as it would have outside such a grouping. It’s true, but more in theory than in fact. As the UK is finding out – and this would be even more true for an independent Wales outside the EU – even one of the world’s major economies is going to have to compromise significantly with the rules set by one or other of he world’s major trading states or blocs if it wants the best trading terms. The freedom to ‘set our own rules’ is largely illusory in practice.
The determination of the UK government to protect the UK’s internal single market demonstrates very clearly that they understand in principle why having a common set of rules is generally a good idea when it comes to promoting frictionless trade. But the way they are setting about it also demonstrates very clearly why they see the EU internal market and the UK internal market in two very different ways. Any single market necessarily involves the pooling and sharing of a degree of sovereignty, an agreement, in effect, to make rules jointly rather than unilaterally. But ‘jointly’ means two quite different things in their minds. In the case of the EU, all those involved have to discuss and compromise; in the case of the UK internal market, the ‘smaller’ partners must simply fall into line. No discussion, no agreement, no compromise, just do as you’re told, even if, under statute, those partners have the right to set policy in the affected areas.
It’s perfectly possible – maybe even probable – that in most cases a discussion would lead to consensus anyway. It is, after all, in the interests of all concerned to keep the internal borders frictionless. And in any imaginable approach, the sheer size of England in relation to the three devolved administrations gives them more clout than the other parts of the state (which is precisely the problem with any proposal for a ‘federal’ UK). But the English nationalists running the UK cannot conceive of the possibility that they should ever need to discuss or agree their rules with anyone. That would be to cede some of the absolute sovereignty that they foolishly thought Brexit was going to give them. If only those Europeans had allowed the UK to dictate unilaterally the terms of the Single Market rather than discuss them, things might have been different. The Single Market would still look much the same, of course – much of the impetus behind it came from the UK in the first place. But it’s not the outcome which matters, it’s the principle – England is special and different. They entirely accept that sometimes compromise is needed; they just start from the position that compromise is what everyone else must do, not them. The problem with the rude awakening which lies ahead of us at the end of this year is that it won’t affect those driving the process; they and their backers will profit either way. The price will be paid by the rest of us.


dafis said...

The fundamental inconsistency of the UK government's position on most things is an inherited, genetically imprinted hangover from our "proud imperial" past. Anyhing bigger than the UK must be seen as some kind of threat or negative force while the smaller nations of the UK must accept at all times the diktat of the Anglo-centric ruler. Time for change, where's the exit ?

John Dixon said...


"Anything bigger than the UK must be seen as some kind of threat or negative force" I'd slightly amend that by adding the words "which isn't controlled by the UK" after UK. They didn't mind being part of the empire (indeed some would be delighted to reinvade and reconquer large swathes of it if they thought they could get away with it), so it's not 'being bigger' in itself to which they object.