Monday 14 December 2020

It's still all about Boris Johnson


There has never been any doubt that the Prime Minister is, like his hero, Churchill, an out-and-out racist. The superiority of some over others is one of those things which is ‘obvious’ to him, and it isn’t just restricted to race, nationality, or skin colour. His writings over many years betray a similar sense of dismissal of those whom he calls ‘oiks’, his social inferiors. It doesn’t follow, though, that he is as hostile to immigration as his government’s actions suggest. Playing to anti-immigrant feeling amongst the populace at large is more of a means to an end; it’s more to do with attracting votes than with immigration itself. It’s not about immigrants, it’s about Boris Johnson.

In the same way, I doubt that he really cares very much about the fishing industry, despite all the hoo-hah and bluster over its place in the Brexit talks. Its role in the economy is tiny, and a man who is willing to preside over an 8% decline in the economy over all is hardly likely to worry unduly about the demise of an industry which only accounts for 0.1% of that economy. It is, rather, another means to an end – the aim of his rage isn’t to change opinions in the EU but to appeal to that part of the electorate which feels jingoistic about protecting the sovereignty of British waters and British fish. It’s not about fish, it’s about Boris Johnson.

The other big sticking point at the moment seems to be about managing future divergence in regulations, and what such divergence means for the terms of trade. It’s presented as being all about ‘sovereignty’ and the right to ‘make our own rules’, but I doubt that he really cares much about any of that either. The idea of ‘sovereignty’ again appeals to a section of the electorate, and that’s what drives him. It is, again, all about Boris Johnson.

The same insouciance doesn’t apply, though, for some of those egging him on. One of the things which is becoming increasingly clear is that the ideological Brexiteers have a much narrower definition of ‘free trade’ than the one being used by the EU. They see free trade as being about simply abolishing tariffs and quotas, and given that there are no tariffs or quotas between the UK and the EU at present, it follows that a deal which continues that situation ought, in their view, to have been easy. The problem is – and has been from the outset – that the EU has another dimension to the definition of free trade, which is that trade should be fair. That, ultimately, is at the heart of the debate about level playing fields and is the underlying reason for much EU regulation. But ‘fair’ trade is the last thing that the Brexiteers want, as their continued references to buccaneering make clear. Being able to undercut others on price by freeing the UK from regulations that apply to others is, and always has been, their core aim. In their view, ‘the market’ should determine standards, not governments. Rolling back what they see as ‘government interference’ in the market (but which others might see as protecting the environment and the interests of working people) is an article of faith for them.

This gap in perceptions is not one which can be bridged by negotiation. Either the UK will gain full access to the EU market whilst being free to make its own rules and undercut EU companies, or else there will be tariff barriers to trade; there is no half-way house. And given the relative size and economic power of the two parties, there’s only going to be one winner in this debate. That doesn’t make a deal impossible; one thing that the EU is very good at is finding a form of words. What we can be certain of is this: if a deal is done, it will be a deal under which the UK has backed down on its core demand. In this context, presenting any deal as ‘win-win’ is about how that is dressed up for the UK domestic audience, not what it actually means. The difficult task left to the negotiators is how to find a form of words which Johnson believes he can present as a victory to his own extremists, yet which is tight enough to ensure the UK’s compliance. It’s still all about Boris Johnson.


Spirit of BME said...

I am at a loss to figure out what is in The Boy Johnsons head in prolonging what appears to be a gap where both parties are not moving. I know of two companies who are facing economic damage as each day goes by and no clear direction can be planned.
What is now going on could be that both sides are planning the optics of a clean break divorce to save their political skins, or the using the time to work out, where, when and how WTO rules will apply.
The main sticking points laid out by you, have always been the core issues but if I were to think out of the box, they may fail to agree one politically charged agreement, but could reach several agreements on cohabitation.
The fish issue has always been an EU give away point, as Brussels would be quite happy to dump the French overboard with a smile on their face. The main issue is so-called ‘level playing field ‘that effects Germany, so this could be accommodated by re-branding the issue.
The EU does not make the trade rules they adopt those created by trade organisations. These come on three levels – Global- where there is no divergence e.g., trading of gold and commodities, Regional, like North America, Far East and Europe which include their military spends and Domestic (National) which would be the most difficult to accept. So, both sides could sign up to Global rules and sign another agreement on Regional rules where they cross over in their interests.
One of the five most important clauses in every contract is which law the contract is interpreted in, so a lot of trade agreements have arbitration clause based on the Hauge International court or English Law owing vast body on opinion it holds.
On the other hand, as you say The Boy Johnson could be doing all this, because he can!!!!

dafis said...

Spirit of BME says in closing "as you say The Boy Johnson could be doing all this, because he can!!!!" On the other hand he may be doing it simply because he doesn't have a clue and his advisers have long lost sight of the real objectives but still crave a chance to be seen putting one over on their EU opposite numbers.

It is almost impossible to shake off that inflated opinion of self and the UK - better at everything, shame the EU can't see it.

CapM said...

Spirit of BME
"The EU does not make the trade rules they adopt those created by trade organisations."
The EU has a significant to very significant say in what those trade rules are. The EU even now it's minus the UK is I think still the world's largest trading unit so it won't be surprising if it continues to wield a lot of influence. A post Brexit UK will I think have less influence on those rules than it did through being a EU member.

To me your comment supposes that an equitable deal can be done because the negotiations are between equals whereas in reality the UK is and always has been the supplicant. The denial of this fact and delusion of equality(at least)with the EU by Leave supporters from bottom to top means that the UK is going to end up with a bad deal or a worse deal.