Poor Mrs May, humiliated in Salzburg by EU leaders and humiliated at home by Tory zealots. True to form she blamed the EU for the debacle warning with a mix of defiance and desperation of the danger of a chaotic ‘no deal’ Brexit. In reality the blame lies with her. Following her ascent to power in the aftermath of Cameron’s reckless Tory referendum she made the unenforced error of adopting the zealots red lines in her negotiations with the EU. In doing so, she demonstrated the Eurosceptic misunderstanding of the EU and the UK’s power to influence. It was fanciful to believe that the EU would compromise on the benefits and principles embedded in membership of the single market by allowing a country who had chosen to leave to ‘cherry pick.’
In Salzburg her refusal to recognise this reality and/or diplomatic incompetence, was the cause of her miserably failure. In denial, she accused EU leaders of failing to treat Britain with respect, thereby implying that she herself is incapable of earning it. If there has been a lack of respect, it has been the government’s disregard of Michel Barnier’s repeated warnings that if the UK stuck to its red lines, the only option for negotiation is a Canada type free trade agreement which would trigger the UK-EU’s agreed backstop on Northern Ireland. Something Mrs May now says she can’t accept – thus demonstrating little respect for a solemn undertaking she entered into last December. The problem with a FTA is that it does not result in frictionless trade with the EU – non-tariff barriers remain - and, rabid Tory zealots aside, this is recognised as being very costly for the UK economy while threatening the Norther Ireland peace settlement.
Despite the Tory zealots’ lack of respect for their leader, Mrs May seems to believe that by repeatedly asserting that the Chequers’ Plan is the only option, both domestic critics and EU leaders will eventually roll-over and accept her position. Yet another miscalculation by our hapless PM. Her negotiating travails could fairly be described as disrespectful to EU negotiators who have remained remarkably patient in the face of David Davis disorganised approach to the negotiations. Given her diplomatic failure in Salzburg, I wonder if Mrs May now regrets her decision to replace Sir Ivan Rogers as the UK’s Permanent Representative to the EU when he warned her that the UK risked sleepwalking into a major crisis that could poison UK-EU relations for a generation. Not much respect there for the sound advice of a loyal civil servant.
Mrs May’s mantra that the Chequers plan or ‘no-deal’ are the only choices is duplicitous and lacking in respect for the UK’s population. The country may ultimately have only two choices but they are not as offered by Mrs May. People could choose – if given the opportunity – to remain a full member of the EU. If we leave the UK appears to have three options. In increasing order of economic cost, they are: continued membership of the single market and possibly the customs union; a Canada type FTA; or no-deal. But closer inspection shows that these are not alternatives. Remaining in the single market relegates the UK to the status of a non-voting member of the EU. Moreover, if Mrs May persuades her divided party to stick with the Chequers blue print, she will only make progress with EU leaders by accepting something along the lines of continued membership of the single market and customs union. Surely given the choice, sensible people would vote to remain a full member rather than become a ‘vassal’ state.
This leaves a Canada type FTA and no-deal but the only difference between these two options post Brexit is timing and arguably a more congenial attitude in the negotiations. No deal means an indeterminate period of self-imposed WTO tariffs while we attempt to negotiate – from a weaken position – FTAs with the EU and other third countries. That said, ‘no-deal’ is not a credible alternative. Opinion polls suggest that support amongst the population for ‘walking away’ is shrinking to the nostalgic, the racists and the ‘bloody minded’ and in a ‘meaningful vote’ Parliament will not vote to make the country poorer. But the dire consequences of pursuing a FTA with the EU were implicit in the failure of the Tory zealots – or more precisely, the European Research Group – to publish their grandly announced alternative to the Chequers Plan. Their lack of, or refusal to publish their plans shows both a complete lack of respect for those minded to support their position and tacit admission that the costs are horrendous.
Instead the zealots sought more chaos by attempting – in a now familiar incompetent manner – to remove Mrs May. Their Svengali leader, Jacob Rees-Mogg, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, insists Tory zealots do not want to unseat Mrs May. If he were more respectful of the truth he would admit that this is conditional on her adopting their position and the fact that currently they lack the numbers to put Boris Johnson in to Number 10 – a man whose behaviour commands little respect. The zealots are in despair. If the Chequer Plan morphs into non-voting membership of the EU it is unlikely that a ‘meaningful vote’ in Parliament will be able to resolve the issue. Knowing this, and armed with dire warnings from all reputable experts regarding the economic cost of no-deal, Mrs May’s only respectful course of action is to offer the people a vote on no deal or remaining a EU member. She is reluctant to do this because she is still engaged in a futile attempt to stop the Tory Party tearing itself apart. Enough. It’s time to end the deceit and start treating the people of Britain with respect by putting before them a coherent and transparent analysis of the alternatives including remaining a full member of the EU and letting them decide in a peoples vote.
24th September 2018