YOU cannot have failed to notice that the pitch and tone of the Brexit discussions has got sharper lately, and the industrial-scale misinformation campaign has stepped up a notch to claim that the lack of progress is down to those ghastly Europeans.
Well it ain’t – don’t be fooled. The Brexiteers lied and lied and lied, and promised a number of things they can’t deliver in the real world, and now as the penny is dropping they are desperate for someone to blame. My concern is that too many people will just sing along with the band, and the “why are they punishing us?” stuff will gain credence.
First published in The National, 19 October 2017.
A reminder – the UK referendum vote was not legally binding, and only narrowly won by Leave at 52 per cent v 48 per cent, and in Scotland we voted to Remain by 62 per cent to 38 per cent. My instruction is from the people of Scotland is to keep us in as much as we can. Article 50 of the EU treaties sets out the basic procedure whereby a member state can leave: once the intent to leave is communicated a two-year period of exit negotiations commences, and at the second anniversary of the triggering, EU law ceases to apply and EU rights are lost in the former member state. And that is important – it is not that the rights somehow continue, they stop, in a scenario that will make the fall of the USSR and Yugoslavia look like a constitutional cakewalk.
The other 27 EU member states acting as the European Council have appointed Michel Barnier to be their lead negotiator, and have given him a mandate under which to conduct negotiations. The European Parliament will need to sign off on any eventual deal, so we have appointed Guy Verhofstadt to be our “Brexit co-ordinator”. The EU proposed that the negotiations take part in two phases, phase one on guaranteeing citizens’ rights, the Irish border and the financial commitments the UK has made and is expected to honour. Unless “substantial progress” was made on those three issues in the view of Barnier and the European Parliament, the talks would not move on to the further issues like what tariffs the UK will pay to access the single market. The UK accepted that formulation lock stock and barrel.
The European Parliament decided two weeks ago, and now the council agree, insufficient progress has been made, so we must all try harder.
May even made a speech in Florence and had a dinner with Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the commission to try and break the deadlock, but where in Florence she made a couple of concessions, the UK negotiators have since rolled even these back.
I can’t actually write what our European friends and colleagues think of the UK, because I’m too focused on the expressions of concern. In their view, one of the great member states of the EU is capering to the tune of Russia and the US, destabilised from within with a bit of directed external help.
It’s temping to say May was handed a poisoned chalice, but that’s simply not true. Continuing the grand Cameron-esque tradition of choosing party over country, she leapt at the chance to push a hard Brexit, seeking to outflank Farage and the rest of the Eurosceptic rabble that has gained so much airtime in UK politics lately. When challenged with her lack of a mandate, she called a snap General Election... and lost her majority.
Short of a great golden hand scrawling “You have no mandate for a hard Brexit” across the wall during a cabinet meeting, it’s difficult to see how this could be more obvious. OECD findings released this week show that a second referendum to reverse Brexit would kickstart the economy and pull us back from the cliff edge. This is serious, but the only thing the Tories are taking seriously is their own career options.
Calling a referendum is serious business, there are consequences. That’s why I was so surprised to see that the Leave campaign had no credible plan, and why I’m so angry that we’re now – to paraphase the great Aneurin Bevan – going naked into the negotiating chamber.
There was no plan. They don’t know what they’re doing. And now we’re expected to go along with it when Scotland so clearly rejected this madness? There are thousands of decent people who voted to Leave because they thought the people promising them the moon and the stars had a plan. But now, surely, it is obvious to the dugs in the street that there is no plan.
There is no last-minute game-changer. You can’t play a whole game on a Hail Mary pass, yet that’s exactly what’s happening. There may have been a plan had the Leave campaign actually been honest and said “OK, here’s what we’re going to do about Euratom”, etc, but instead they focused on spreading lies about the entire population of Turkey coming over to kip on your sofa.
So don’t believe their lies for a second. The EU isn’t the problem, the Tories are. Let's not let them away with it.