The government’s declaration that in 2019 the UK will revert to a navy blue passport produced a predictable outburst of jingoism amongst the zealots who have had little to cheer about since Article 50 was triggered. Nine months of misplaced arrogance, forced compromises and finally capitulation by Brexit Secretary, David Davis has brought into sharper focus the UK’s diminishing power. In seizing upon the announcement, the zealots confirmed that in their world nostalgic nationalism continues to trump reality and common sense. Theresa May proclaimed that a blue passport would be ‘an expression of our independence and sovereignty.’ Unsurprisingly Nigel Farage, tweeted ‘Happy Brexmas.’
Ironically, the passport announcement is a perfect metaphor for the ‘cargo cult’ mentality of the Leave campaign based on deception and delusion. Adopting a burgundy passport has never been a requirement of EU membership. We always had the sovereignty to retain; or indeed revert, to a navy passport. Much more worrying is the delusion, as expressed by Brandon Lewis, that it would help Britain ‘restore our national identity.’ Really? The return to a UK passport – of whatever colour – would only serve to demonstrate the limitations of our reclaimed sovereignty. As a ‘third country’ UK citizens, at particularly cost to the young, will lose the right to travel freely amongst the EU’s 27 states. Post 2020, EU travel will start with online form filling and the payment of 5 euros for a visa under the European travel information and authorisation system. The EU is spending €100mn to prepare for ETIAS, a sum they will obtain and more from UK citizens post Brexit. Clutching their navy passports while standing in line, or answering questions at EU borders, British citizens might reflect on just who is yielding power to whom. Nicola Sturgeon got it t right when she denounced the proposed navy passport revival as ‘insular nonsense.’
Evidence of the UK’s waning global influence mounts daily. Most recently by the embarrassment of our hapless foreign secretary as his litany of complaints regarding Russia’s misdeeds was brushed aside by his counterpart Sergei Lavrov. Symbolic was the fact that Johnson though it appropriate to announce to the final press conference that Russian imports of Kettle crisps had increased – a statement the official interpreter didn’t even bother to translate. On her recent trip to Japan Mrs May was forced to reassure her host Shinzo Abe after the Japanese prime minister expressed concerns about the Brexit and the fact that Japanese companies had invested in the UK primarily as a ‘gateway’ to the EU. Despite Phillip Hammond’s trip to India earlier this year the UK-India bilateral investment treaty has lapsed, a harbinger of just how hard Britain will find it to use its past Commonwealth ties to promote international trade. And, evidence that a post Brexit, weakened UK will find it hard to achieve much in the way of special treatment was confirmed by the joining of the US, Australia and New Zealand with others to object to a UK-EU plan regarding tariff rate quotas.
Who can doubt that the government’s only purpose in announcing the colour of a future UK passport was to deflect attention from its calamitous handling of the Brexit negotiations, now revealed as a concoction of ignorance, confusion and deceit. The early morning ‘agreement’ – at an embarrassing second attempt – between Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker continues this vein. No two politicians seem to have the same view on what exactly was agreed or indeed, what Mrs May has committed the country to. David Davis’ – who seems intent on rivalling Boris as the Cabinet’s biggest buffoon – lack of clarity regarding the deal is typical. After telling Andrew Mar that the Irish border deal was not ‘legally enforceable’ within twenty four hours he was saying that the guarantees of ‘full alignment’ were ‘much more that legally enforceable.’
Why this apparent u-turn? Because at its heart the deal contains a fundamental contradiction that I think Dave Davis was clumsily attempting to deal with. In principle, the stage one agreement is without prejudice to the framework negotiations on a future trade relationship, but ‘full alignment’ suggests that rules and regulations on either side of the border will be the same or very similar to facilitate unimpeded cross-border trade. Thus, the agreement circumscribes the forms that a trade relationship could take. In keeping with this chicanery, the government has failed to spell out the strength and implications of its commitments over Northern Ireland. It has given the EU a guarantee that the Good Friday agreement will be protected, including the avoidance of a hard border involving physical structures, checks and controls. Most importantly, it has settled that the agreement will be upheld ‘in all circumstances,’ irrespective of the nature of any future agreement.
Short of abandoning Brexit, the only way that the UK can satisfy its Irish border commitments is by remaining within both the single market and the customs union. This, as Boris correctly opines, reduces the UK to a vassal state and is in direct conflict with the government’s current policy. David Davis bats away such observations with the claim that the UK will negotiate an, as yet, unspecified solution. His original suggestion that this might be done by means of an IT import tracking system has been ditched after he was forced to admit it was nothing more than ‘blue sky thinking.’ He now persists with the mantra that he can negotiate a free trade, plus, plus deal that will deliver unimpeded trade with the EU. This is yet another example of blue sky thinking as any attempt to achieve the benefits of the single market without accepting its four freedoms – an outcome that would not be regarded by the zealots as leaving – has been ruled out by Michel Barnier as ‘non-negotiable.’ As regular readers know, I still hope that as the unfolding disaster of the UK’s Brexit conundrum is revealed, sense will prevail and Brexit along with blue passports will be consigned to history.
28th December 2017