Thinking about the new trade agreement between the EU and UK I was remined of the words of Michael Corleone in the Godfather 2 – “keep your friends close but your enemies closer.” And just like the film, the enemies speak of each other with admiration and respect, as forming a partnership, in coming together for what the EU describes as a ‘balanced’ agreement.
Of course, we can take this analogy too far: the EU and UK are not Mafia families. Let us not be too hard or too soft on notorious enterprises engaged in legitimate business as well as activities that can only be described as criminal from any objective and moral viewpoint.
As a free and ‘sovereign’ power the British will have to do something with their newly found freedom and power, even if it only draws attention to newly discovered limits to both. As I noted in the previous post – there will be no ‘moving on’ from Brexit, something noted in the European press.
In that post I noted that the EU would be going nowhere and the British would have to deal with it and the constraints it will impose. Whatever admixture of rivalry and partnership arises following the Agreement it will not be a rivalry and partnership of equals. The agreement shows that this is also true for the EU – Britain will still be there, as a rival and partner – and the Agreement leaves open the paths for both. It has registered the relative balance of power between the EU with (roughly) a population of almost 448 million and GDP of €13.5 trillion, and that of Britain with 67 million and €2.5 trillion.
What is noteworthy is just how much has still to be agreed, from acceptance of the UK’s data adequacy; to services, including financial services; recognition of qualifications and much else. In the next post I will look at the section on Energy that illustrates the extent of this, of what Brexit has torn up and now has to be replaced.
In the meantime the Tory Government and Tory press will sing the praises of an agreement that means that Britain will no longer benefit from free movement of goods, leading to more red tape for businesses; to customs formalities and checks on goods entering the EU, with more border delays; for food exports that require valid health certificates and systematic (phyto-)sanitary border checks, and companies wanting to supply both EU and UK markets having to meet two sets of standards and regulations while fulfilling all applicable compliance checks by EU bodies (with no equivalence of conformity assessment that would allow this to be done in and by the UK).
It will therefore probably take some time for the enormity of the losses to sink in, and for many Brexit supporters it never will; there will always be someone (foreign) to blame. It is perhaps therefore not surprising to see even the most sober and informed supporters of Brexit exaggerate the potential role of Britain out on its own.
So we see this: “The most immediate conversations will be over what we have in this deal compared with what came before. To what extent will the UK be able to continue exporting services and which authorisations are still valid. These are matters of immediate economic importance, but less important than the overall implications whereby Britain and Brussels have shifted the regulatory focus from Brussels to Geneva, where the UK may enlist the support of its allies and fellow EU FTA holders to bring pressure to bear on the EU.”
“The longer term implications of this means the EU weakens its grip on technical governance to become more of a political and monetary union, the type that Britain could never be part of. We wish them the very best in their endeavours and look forward to working with them, but in international organisations we shall sit as sovereign equals rather than subordinates.”
Except of course that the idea that Britain was a subordinate in the EU is a myth. The Single Market the Brexiteers have been so keen to leave is an example of the influence Britain has had, as was the enlargement of the EU after the fall of the Berlin Wall. British influence could also be seen in EU policy on Energy, which I will look at in more detail.
A summary evaluation of the Agreement by the same Brexit supporters is that:
“It is one, also, which keeps the UK closer to the EU globally-based trading system than anyone could possibly have imagined at the outset of negotiations. It is one of considerable depth which creates a framework for a relationship which, if explored by people of far more diligence than Johnson and his cronies, could eventually be turned into a useful working agreement, albeit at savage cost to the UK in the interim.”
This “framework” within the Agreement, to be deployed for developing future relationships, includes “a Partnership Council, 19 specialised committees and four working groups which will no doubt be expanded over time.”
Their summary goes on to state that:
“The economic cost of that [Agreement] will be considerable and it will take two years at least to get the ball rolling through the various committees. A lot of work has to be done to rebuild trust and confidence between the parties, where the EU has to get the measure of Brexit Britain’s intentions and behaviour.”
“In this, one gets a sense that certain pennies have dropped. No doubt the election of Biden poured cold water on a number of transatlantic ideas and the UK is reassessing its global strategy, perhaps realising that the EU still matters as a trading partner. If there is a change in tone and attitude, the process of rebuilding will be faster.”
“This will no doubt leave remainers puzzling as to why we would go through such an enormous bureaucratic exercise to accomplish what amounts to very little at enormous cost. This is a dispute where remainers and leavers will never see eye to eye. This exercise is a switch from supranationalism to intergovernmentalism, broadening our horizons beyond Brussels, recognising that Britain was never an enthusiastic member of the EU and would always have to disembark before it reached its final destination – whatever that may be.”
“Brexit will never satisfy the eurosceptic fundamentalists because reality simply cannot oblige their definition of sovereignty, and though we may sit as sovereign equals in international forums, we do not sit as power equals. If we are to accomplish anything internationally we will need to build partnerships and alliances of like-minded nations, not least because the problems and threats we face in this century are far beyond the capacity of any country acting alone. Leavers just believe cooperation can happen without political subordination.”
The problem here of course is that partnerships and alliances have to have an objective and for that you need to identify your potential allies. This would normally be those who are closest to you and with whom you trade most, but this is the EU and Brexit is all about tearing this alliance up. So who are your future allies?
In the past Britain has used its power to seek allies in Europe and to divide its continental powers to prevent their unity. However Brexit, far from dividing the EU, has united it by illustrating the price to be paid for leaving. The only two other allies with near equivalent weight in the world is the US and China. The former wouldn’t tolerate any real alliance with the latter, even if it made sense, and the former is, like every great power, interested in itself. As one contributor to the discussion on the Brexit site noted – Britain won’t be at the table as an independent player, it will be on the table as part of the menu. In any case any such alliance would render the just-signed Agreement redundant, which Johnson of course is quite capable of doing, as we have already seen.
These relatively sensible, if reactionary, Brexit supporters seem to envisage an ‘independent’ Britain forming ad hoc alliances with whomever Britain might seem aligned with at any particular moment. This might be credible if the issues they might align on were also ad hoc and not themselves systematically defined. The route of opportunist alliances has the potential for Britain to become a sort of rogue state, a deregulated offshore dump for the world’s criminals and partner for the world’s most disreputable regimes. These supporters of Brexit therefore misunderstand both the nature of interests and of the particular interest of Britain.
They are however far and clear-sighted compared to Sir Keir Starmer who believes he can support the Government and not share the blame; not share in the opprobrium of Brexit that the majority of his party’s members and voters have for it.
If the process of getting to a deal has proved tortuous this will be as nothing compared to the torture of its effects. When asked whether he was supporting something that would make people poorer Starmer avoided the question; but as the old saying goes – he may avoid it but it will not avoid him.
If, as it appears, his only justification is that the alternative of a no-deal is worse then he should oppose the rotten and false choice that the Government alone is responsible for. By voting for it, on the other hand, he will join himself to this responsibility. He claims to be giving leadership, but he is supposed to be the leader of the Opposition and leadership of the Opposition requires . . . guess what?
Once again, he has shown himself to be a smart lawyer and stupid politician, even when judged by the narrow electoralist criteria that appear to motivate him. He will assume that progressive Labour supporters will have nowhere to go, without considering that this might include nowhere near a ballot box.
Brexit has been toxic to everything it touches, as it continues to move on it looks like another casualty of it could be the Labour Party.