BREXIT finally got real this week. The clanging sound you heard around 4pm on Monday was a massive penny dropping because, and I can barely believe it myself, because with many of those supposed to be in charge of the UK negotiations with the EU, the irresistible force has started to make contact with the immovable object.
They’ve got away so far with wishing problems away, with weasel words, with constructive ambiguity, but it fell down this week, and it fell down on Ireland. Ireland has proven what independence in Europe really means — way more clout than the UK alone has. As always, we need to remember how we got here, lest we risk falling for industrial-scale Tory spin. The first thing to remember is that 27 is a bigger number than one, and that wanting to have our cake and eat it might just appear unreasonable to others.
First published in The National, 06 December 2018
The rest of the EU has organised itself as a collective mandate to the lead negotiator, Michel Barnier, who was intimately involved in the EU support for the peace programmes in Northern Ireland, and knows the island and its politics well.
The EU proposed, and the UK accepted, how the negotiations would go. There are two phases. Phase one covers three key issues (citizens’ rights, the financial obligations and Ireland) which need to be pinned down to avoid a disorderly Brexit. If, in the view of the member states and the European Parliament, “sufficient progress” has been made on that, then phase two is about the future relationship between the UK and the EU. In less than two weeks, the December meeting of the European Council will decide if sufficient progress has been made, with the European Parliament voting, probably on Wednesday next week, on a resolution to give our view in advance of that.
Crunch time. On citizens’ rights, we have seen nothing like the clarity we all deserve, but I think we are almost there, and agreement would allow us to move on with a greater level of certainty while we fix the details. On the financial obligations, there is just no question from any objective assessment that the UK should settle its tab. If “global Britain’s” actual advertising streamline is “walking away from legal and financial obligations” how will anyone, anywhere, take it seriously for future talks. Walking away is a joke policy proposed by charlatans, and I’m glad May has moved on this also. So, as I have predicted in these pages for months, Dublin is the arbiter of what is, or not, acceptable to the EU as a whole.
Just imagine if Scotland had been independent by now. Safe at the top table in the EU, obviously affected by our closest neighbour’s Brexit decision but able to rely on our other allies, make common cause with our Irish friends, north and south, to find actual solutions. Saving this UK Government from the madness that seems to have taken hold of it.
But we are where we are, and doing what we can. I hope that we will get on to phase two in the next weeks because people need to see what Brexit is actually going to be. For many, it has become white noise, an irritant that folk just want to go away. I have lost count of the emails telling me to just get on with it and make the best of it. Would that I could, and it hasn’t been for want of trying.
Sadly, we need to see, community by community, line by line and issue by issue, what the future actually holds, and until phase two starts we can’t. If you voted Leave because of fisheries, wait till you see what Brexit is actually going to deliver.
David Davis “did not accept” the UK was losing the EU medicines and banking agencies, yet it’s happening. The UK Government allowed Dundee and four other cities to prepare bids for the EU Capital of Culture title when it was clear we weren’t eligible. Brexit has real-life consequences. Your rights are being traded away. It is not hyperbolic to say all aspects of life are going to be changed, not least when it comes to the devolution settlement being ripped up. Some might not notice immediately, but at the stroke of 11pm on March 29, 2019 (because in a sublime irony Brexit takes effect at midnight Brussels time) everything changes, especially on the island of Ireland. Even if there is a transition period, it only kicks the crash a bit further down the road.
Scotland deserves better than this. We’ve done our bit, we’re working with everyone we can. We lack any other member state making our case for us, but there is still a great well of goodwill, and a clear awareness that Scotland wants something different. This week things started to get real, and not before time.