Thursday 2 July 2020

The problem with foreigners

There is a mantra beloved of self-help, positive-thinking gurus to the effect that if you believe strongly enough in yourself the rest of the world will accept you on that basis and treat you accordingly. If it doesn’t work for you, it’s not because there’s anything wrong with the approach (for which you’ve already parted with your hard-earned cash), it’s just that you aren’t believing hard enough. I’ve never been convinced about that; it’s an approach which seems to me to depend on turning off any sense of social awareness and objective reality and interpreting all reactions as some sort of self-validation. At an individual level it may appear a little eccentric but it’s generally harmless to others, and if it makes people happy… However, only a crazy person would think that extreme self-belief could be applied to interstate relationships. Fortunately for the UK, there is currently a plentiful supply of such people in positions of authority. They really do believe that the power of collective positive thought is so great that the rest of the world will bend to our will.
The problem with the rest of the world is that they just don’t understand how special and unique the UK (and especially England) is. It’s not as if they haven’t been told repeatedly, but they are all too thick to understand plain English, even when it’s shouted loudly and slowly at them. When the UK government says that it wants to rediscover the buccaneering spirit (aka piracy) of the past, it means exactly what it says – rules are for other people, the UK only has rights. Recent examples of foreigners’ stupidity include:
·        Believing that the UK would implement the protocol on Northern Ireland trade just because the government signed up to it in the Withdrawal Agreement. As Gove has pointed out, the arrangement was always going to be unacceptable to Unionists; it is utterly unrealistic to expect the UK to implement it. The Withdrawal Agreement specifies only the EU’s obligations, it’s entirely optional for the UK.
·        Expecting the UK to abide by WTO rules in the event of there being no deal. The UK government has made it perfectly clear that if tariffs are introduced in Northern Ireland, the government will reimburse those tariffs Reimbursing tariffs may be illegal under the WTO agreement but the WTO rules are an à la carte arrangement for the UK; they’re only mandatory for everyone else.
·        Not understanding that the UK has rights which don’t apply to anyone else. When the UK eschewed the not brilliant but nevertheless functional track and trace app in use elsewhere in order to pursue an alternative, it assumed that Apple and Google would agree that the UK should uniquely be allowed to amend and over-ride the proprietary code of their operating systems. There was no need to discuss that in advance because the UK is a sovereign country with the absolute right to do as it wishes.
·        EU negotiators insisting that the UK can’t pick and choose which rules to follow if it wants tariff-free access to the Single Market. Their refusal to countenance the idea that the UK can have such access and then change its own rules to give its own businesses a competitive advantage is wholly unreasonable – any trade agreement applies to the EU until changes are agreed but obviously only applies to the UK at the moment it is signed.
Some unkind souls may see this as a case of misplaced self-belief running into hard reality, but they’re wrong. If self-belief doesn’t work, it’s because we’re not all believing hard enough. It’s not the government’s fault (nothing ever is) it’s ours. We just need to believe harder. Apparently. That’ll show Johnny Foreigner what’s what.

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