Friday 15 October 2021

Is 'cheating foreigners' really UK foreign policy?


There was plenty of evidence that Boris Johnson never intended to implement the agreement that he signed with the EU even before the agreement was signed, and the evidence is piling up even higher now. The EU must take its share of the blame here – given the very public history of mendacity and duplicity throughout Johnson’s career, they really have no excuse for believing that they could trust him. Believing that he really, really wouldn’t sign an agreement which he had no intention of honouring showed a high degree of stupidity and gullibility.

Johnson’s former bestie, Dominic Cummings, has ‘excused’ Johnson’s behaviour by arguing firstly that he wasn’t lying – he just doesn’t know what truth is, and was clueless about what he was signing up to – secondly that it is part of the PM’s job to cheat foreigners, and thirdly that the EU, China and the US regularly break the rules in agreements to which they have signed up, so it’s nothing unusual. It’s not exactly helpful to be defended against a charge of lying by being called stupid and ignorant, but it’s unlikely that Cummings was trying to be helpful anyway.

He may have a point, though, about others breaking rules at times. It’s disingenuous to suggest that there’s some sort of moral or legal equivalence between ignoring a few parts of an agreement if they’re found not to work and making an agreement which you have no intention of keeping – negotiating in bad faith from the outset is on a rather different scale – but it’s true to say that not all countries adhere to all parts of agreements which they’ve signed. It’s notable, though, that the trading blocs he specifically named (China, the EU, and the US) just happen to be the three largest and most important in the world. The biggest fish in the pond have more freedom to do as they like, however much many of us might dislike that fact. The UK, however, has chosen to opt out of being part of a big fish in order to become a small fish; the idea that it can behave with the same degree of impunity as the school yard bullies goes to the heart of the delusion which underpins Brexit. If the little kid wants to behave like one of the big bullies, he’d better make sure that at least one of the big kids is going to protect him. Alienating all three, aka ‘cheating foreigners’ as Cummings puts it, is unlikely to end well. As we’re all about to find out, unless there is some rapid backpedalling.

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