Brexitania - a sinking ship or onward and upward?
At the peak of the furore during the past few days, the same questions over the Brexit deal keep arising rather interminably in my mind. The first of these was how many people have actually read all 500-plus pages of it? In particular, how many ordinary people, regardless of which way they voted in the referendum, have read it?
The answer is, as far as we plain folk are concerned, precisely none.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, it transpired that neither had those strident voices in the ranks of Conservative MPs who were ultra-quick denouncing it on the day it was announced.
Equally unsurprising is the amount of hype and spin that has been swirling around what this deal actually is. Perhaps we should clear that up first. What it is not is the deal that will cover the relationship the UK has with the EU after we leave and stop being members of it. All this current deal does is create a means by which the UK actually does leave. It contains nothing about trade deals and flying to Spain for a holiday or any of the things that really concern voters, on either side of the divide. That divide of course, includes EU citizens travelling in the direction of the UK. It covers nothing about Mercedes selling cars in the UK or any British company doing the same in the EU.
So what is it all about? What’s the problem?
The deal announced means that the UK will remain definitively linked to the EU for a further period of time to allow those trade arrangements to be made. The primary objection to it is that although the UK will no longer be a member of the EU after the end of next March, the UK will still have to follow EU laws and rules until it finally does extract itself completely – which will not be until trading arrangements and so on are dealt with at some point in the future. Consequently, the UK will not, as from March 2019, be free to make its own trade deals with countries outside the EU but will still have no say in making the rules; the UK simply has to do what it is told.
This is what Boris Johnson meant when he referred to the UK being a ‘vassal state’.
He may have a point, at least until the very final relationship deal is concluded – which is the other big problem; to actually leave completely, the current deal only allows a ‘joint agreement’ for the UK to do so. In other words, if the EU says the UK can’t leave, then it can’t leave. This however, is a little misleading. The EU is not going to actively prevent the UK from fully departing once the final trading relationship is done. It isn’t in the EU’s interests to do so as it would provide irrevocable proof that the EU is what its critics say it is – a plain old-fashioned, oppressive dictatorship that exists to feather the nests of its elite.
Whether it is or not is a matter for individuals to decide but the rise of anti-EU feeling across the populations of member countries would indicate that increasing numbers of ordinary people feel that it is. Indeed, Donald Tusk said after the referendum that the EU needed to ‘take a long hard look at itself’.
So what do we, the British, do about all of this?
The first thing that must be accepted is that all this talk of a ‘people’s vote’ has to end. The people already had a vote and in this democracy, that of the United Kingdom, the majority wins. And whether those who voted to remain like it or not, a majority of the eligible voting population voted to leave. That said, the numbers of remain-supporting voters are such that their needs must be actively thought of and considered. That applies no matter how big a majority wins any vote; an elected member of Parliament may well have a huge majority in their favour in their constituency but they are there to represent all the people of that constituency, including those who voted for somebody else.
The next aspect to this is the oft-repeated comment that leavers ‘didn’t know what they were voting for’. This is nothing more than a spurious insult and as I wrote in my book, ‘Comments of a Common Man’, such remarks do no credit to those making them. The other side of this are the equally insulting headlines of the leave campaign; talk of billions being immediately available for the NHS and other domestic needs was never a reality.
Another point I raise in my book are the reasons for the EU existing to begin with. This is something that has never been made plain so allow me to give you an extract from the book (with due apologies to those who have bought and read it):
‘The EU exists for one reason and one reason only; to stop Germany, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg and Italy from being torn apart by armed conflict again. Those six countries were the founders of the EU, and more than any others, have been at the centre of continent-wide war twice in modern history and numerous times before 1914. And it is those six countries that have, one way or another, suffered the most from those conflicts. By binding those six together as closely as possible, politically, economically and in every way that can be thought of, the European project is to ensure that it is simply not possible for war to break out between them again. If other countries can be drawn into this, and be bound just as tightly to it, the chances of war are lessened still further.
If one can grasp this and truly understand it, it becomes easier to understand why the EU behaves as it does; why ‘harmonisation’ is considered so important; why the single currency exists and why free movement of people and trade is such a fundamentally important part of the EU ethos and culture.
There is a strong case to be made for being in membership of the EU but there is also an equally strong case to be made for leaving it. If one is going to be in it, then it is logical to embrace the methods of running it and to equally embrace the positives and negatives of membership. One cannot sit on the fence and pick and choose which bits one likes and which bits one doesn’t. What one can do is be the driving force behind the change that the EU undoubtedly needs - if one is a member of it.
If one is going to leave, the consequences of doing so need to be fully understood. Are there going to be any barriers to trade and industry? What barriers will be placed in the way of free movement of goods and people? Will any barriers at all be placed by the UK Government? Will any barriers be put in place by the EU itself? Are there any legal implications of withdrawal? Or legally binding obligations that would arise from withdrawal? Only by fully understanding ALL the ins and outs of being in or out can a decision be made’.
I originally wrote that over two years before the referendum and it is that last paragraph that gives rise to comments from some that people did not know what they were voting for. As we have seen, trade arrangements have been the primary focus of most commentary, but nobody has been equally forthright about the actual ‘leaving’ deal itself – which includes the point I made about ‘legally binding obligations that would arise from withdrawal’.
Naturally the EU has placed great emphasis on this and it has every right to. The obvious example is any EU project that had been proposed and agreed to by the UK before the referendum; a perfect analogy is buying your house; you make an offer, it is accepted, you spend a fair bit of your money making arrangements and then seller decides to sell to somebody else because they have made a better offer - leaving you up the creek.
The EU, entirely understandably therefore, wants to protect what it does from the effects of a country leaving it. How it does so is another matter and there is little doubt that there are certain elements within the EU that wish to punish the UK and show the rest that ‘you cannot leave…’
Could much of the fuss, bother, acrimony and political posturing have been avoided?
Of course it could. It is that posturing – on both sides – that has been the primary cause of the problem. Part of that has been the frequently-repeated remarks about how difficult it all is and how much time it would take. This, to put it bluntly and in an old English fashion, is a load of cobblers. The only reason the departure of the UK from the EU is complicated and time-consuming is because those directly involved have made it so. I like to think of myself as a very simple-minded kind of person in that, despite being a journalist (or maybe even because of being one), I have found that the simplest things tend to work best – another point I made in my book. So let’s do so and suggest what could, and still should, in my humble opinion obviously, be done to make Brexit work.
Firstly, the referendum; all the talk of reversing it, stopping Brexit and so on, is claptrap. As I have already said, the people delivered their vote and unlike elections, every five years in the UK, there is not another one. Parliament and its MPs gave up the right to decide on the UK’s membership of the EU when it handed the decision to the people in 2016. A majority result meant that the UK is leaving the EU.
Having become Prime Minister, Theresa May should then have made the following speech:
‘The UK will leave the European Union in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the people. However, the UK is not and will not, turn its back on the EU. It and its member countries, its people, are our friends and our allies. Although we will not be a member of the EU, we will remain friends and allies and we will stand by you in every way. We will never turn away from you. If you need us, we will be there, by your side to meet all and any challenges that may arise. We will be your strongest partner.’
Right there some of the problems would have been avoided. Not all by any means but such a reassurance would have helped, and especially when it came to talking about how the UK would leave and what happens after that.
So what about the nitty-gritty of it? let’s have a look at it – this is obviously my take on things and undoubtedly there are many who will say, ‘Ah, yes but…’ I repeat my remark above; the simplest things often work best.
Trade and business movement: The UK will place no barriers to trade and industry, or of free movement of goods and services. There will be no tariffs or any other restrictions on EU based companies wishing to sell their products in the UK.
Free movement of people: The UK will place no restrictions on EU citizens coming to the UK to work, live and visit, or for any other lawful reason. Just bring your passport with you since the UK is not a member of the EU and the UK has never signed the Schengen agreement (in other words, no change at all and the key word there is lawful. Put another way, the UK can refuse entry to convicted criminals if it wants to along with people who don’t have a job - there are no free benefits). EU citizens will receive healthcare when needed.
Security, crime and terrorism: The UK will share information, intelligence, law enforcement and stand alongside the EU in every way – just like it did before we joined.
Financial commitments: having agreed to pay its fair share of projects before the referendum, as an honourable and trustworthy friend and ally, of course the UK will fulfil those commitments (a.k.a. the ‘divorce bill’). Further, if the EU has additional projects that it wishes to ask the UK to become involved with, the UK will play its part in every way, including, as a partner, financial obligations (such costs by the way, would be far, far less than that of an annual membership fee, as paid up to now).
As an independent nation, the UK