Fresh from the disaster at Salzburg, with her back to the wall, the Chequers deal as dead as Gary Glitter’s career and the ERG circling, Theresa May has delivered a combative speech at Number 10. You can imagine the crisis meeting that led up to that one:
“What can we do now? Even Tusk is openly mocking us.”
“Nothing. We’re fucked.”
“I know, deliver a combative speech. Make yourself look their equal. Keep up the pretense that this is two equivalent sides negotiating a trade deal.”
“But everyone knows that’s bullshit.”
“No they don’t! That’s the beauty of all of this! Nobody has worked it out…….. Yet.”
And so Mrs May trots out in front of the press and puts on her best Maggie Thatcher face and says: “It is not acceptable to simply reject the other side’s proposal without a detailed explanation and counter proposal.”
That’s telling them Theresa.
It sounds perfectly reasonable as well. I mean perfectly reasonable if you haven’t read Article 50. Because Article 50 says that it is the Union that negotiates and concludes an agreement with the exiting state and it is the Union that sets out the arrangements for that withdrawal and that it is the Union that sets out the framework of the future relationship between the two. And this Union does not have to play ball if it doesn’t want to.
This is not, nor has it ever been – a negotiation.
In the run up to the EU referendum one of the most popular tropes trotted out by the Leave camp was: ‘they need us more than we need them.’ Whenever a Remain voice started to explain the complexities of leaving the Single Market, or the issues surrounding security, trade, law, freedom of movement or how the many thousands of British citizens living in the EU would cope……. Farage or one of his mates would pop up and say:
“Ah but they need us more than we need them! German car manufacturers will still want to sell BMWs to Britain and they won’t let anything get in the way of that.”
It chimed well with the public, largely because it was a simple concept that people could get their heads around. Why deal with challenging questions when you can grasp simplistic platitudes. Unfortunately, as with a lot of Brexit catchphrases – see also “take back control of our borders” “take back our sovereignty” and “take back control of our fish” it was a pile of dead pollocks. The UK needs the EU for the simple reason that they are our biggest trading partner. While the EU is responsible for around 43-50% of all of our exports just 8-18% of all EU 27 exports go to the UK . The EU is the second biggest economy in the world and there are nations lining up to do business with them. They do need us yes – but not more than we need them.
But if truth was the first casualty of Brexit, the second was our negotiating hand. For in her resolve to appear steely and Prime Ministerial and determined to carry out “the wishes of the British people” Theresa May rushed to invoke Article 50 – without apparently reading it first. By doing so she effectively triggered the mechanism on the time-bomb without thrashing out the terms for entering the bomb shelter first.
It was clear from the start that the EU would not be doing things on the UK’s terms – largely because this would be to allow Britain to have a better EU deal outside of the Union than anyone has inside it and secondly, because they don’t have to.
The UK thus currently finds itself in a position akin to a tub of ice cream, on the back seat of a car, on a very hot day, trying to work out its future relationship with the Sun. And why? Well in part – because 17 million people thought it easier to parrot Mr Farage’s old pollocks rather than read and digest a page of A4 and a booklet thoughtfully posted through their door. I mean that would have been like homework or something…….
Spoon of warm cream anyone?