Two Month Report Card – First Thoughts On Theresa May’s Premiership

After an assured and confident start, Theresa May’s government shows welcome signs of moving boldly, if not always in the right direction

To date, this blog has not wasted undue time speculating about Theresa May’s premiership and assessing her early performance – not least because we are only just starting to emerge from summer silly season, and there has not been much yet to judge.

But as somebody who would never have wanted a flinty-eyed authoritarian like Theresa May to become leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister of the UK, I must admit that so far I am cautiously impressed.

The relative silence from Number 10 Downing Street over the summer break was refreshing, and the fact that we were not bombarded with press releases, superficial policy announcements and a load of government spin showed the best side of Theresa May – the no nonsense, hardworking operator.

Such rows and dramas as did break out – like the childish playground spat between Liam Fox and Boris Johnson over responsibility for promoting Britain’s commercial interests – were slapped down quickly, while similar turf wars and petty rivalries between SpAds were frequently allowed to fester and spiral into damaging newsworthy wars under David Cameron.

Of course, the worst Big Government, security state instincts of Theresa May are never far from the surface, and soon this blog will likely be riding to battle against the government’s Investigatory Powers Act, due to return before Parliament soon.

And on the most important issue of Brexit, there is still no sense that ministers have even truly begun to wrap their heads around the complexity of what is to come, let alone have an appreciation of the key challenges and opportunities. Theresa May has made a rod for her own back by stating her commitment to significant up-front immigration reductions as a key part of the package, which only makes the vital interim EFTA/EEA transitory option (with controls on immigration in the line of the Liechtenstein model) that much harder to achieve.

And yet there is also good news on Brexit, not least the willingness of our allies in Canada, New Zealand and Australia to lend us the services of their skilled trade negotiators as Britain struggles to regain core competencies in areas of national sovereignty which we allowed to wither and atrophy during our EU imprisonment. Also somewhat heartening is the seeming enthusiasm and energy which the government is throwing into pursuing various assorted “trade deals”.

While the devil will be in the scope and the details, this newfound diplomatic vigour is encouraging to witness, and only emphasises why David Cameron and George Osborne had to go after fighting against Brexit and losing the referendum. This is no time for surly, sulking brooders more keen to prove their Brexit doomsday scenarios true than to faithfully serve the nation to be anywhere near the levers of government. Senior civil servants should take note.

The confident appearance at the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China, also marked a welcome break from the past. Gordon Brown’s desperate, fawning approval-seeking, so unbecoming to the leader of an indispensable nation, and David Cameron’s oleaginous Davos Man act, the coping mechanism of somebody who never really understood what it is to be a statesman, were both beneath Britain. By contrast, Theresa May looked every bit the equal of Barack Obama at their joint press conference, neither Blairite poodle nor Brownite starry-eyed fan. For a country which has too often punched beneath its weight diplomatically (thanks in no small part to our absorption within the EU) it is encouraging to see that Theresa May seems to be taking her marching orders from the British people seriously.

But these are only first impressions. The complexities of Brexit have yet to bite (those daily articles either celebrating the Brexit success or gleefully validating the apocalypse are mindless puff pieces from a Westminster media class which has no interest in getting enmeshed in the details, or learning from those in the know). The migrant crisis remains unresolved. ISIS and the threat of radical Islamist terror remain pointedly undefeated. Domestic policy needs to be given new direction and urgency – preferably, given the Labour Party’s ongoing implosion, in the opposite direction to the Cameron/Osborne march to the political centre.

Looking ahead, this blog hopes and expects to see Jeremy Hunt let off the leash and given authority to tear some much-deserved chunks out of the arrogant BMA and the junior doctors’ dispute which has been a grubby pay dispute and not a high-minded defence of Our Blessed NHS (genuflect) all along.

Sensible measures on tax reform would be welcome too – though the words “daring” and “bold” hardly come to mind when picturing Philip Hammond, it would be good to see the scope of Theresa May’s ambition extending not just to make Britain’s tax regime attractive to foreign investors, but also to rewarding and encouraging individuals and small businesses. The 45% top rate of tax, a partial remnant of the stench of Gordon Brown’s premiership, must certainly go, but we also hope to see something more ambitious than mere tinkering around the edges of the tax code.

A renewed commitment to national defence and the Armed Forces would also turn the page on David Cameron’s willingness to see the UK lose core capabilities. The NATO target of 2% of GDP to be spent on defence should be treated like a minimum requirement, not an aspiration or a triumph to be crowed about. For a seafaring island nation, the Royal Navy is worryingly undermanned, and may struggle to operate even one of its new aircraft carriers, let alone both. Unlike other European powers, our maritime patrol and coastguard capabilities are virtually nonexistent. These and other issues should be remedied.

One would like to add robust support for freedom of speech and civil liberties to this list, and an end to persecution of people at the hands of the criminal justice system merely for the beliefs they hold or the ideas that they express – but let us not kid ourselves. There is no sign yet that a popular rebellion against the state’s efforts to criminalise thought and speech is anywhere near gaining traction. In fact, even many of those who spend half their time praising free speech (when it suits their own purposes) are happy to turn around, play the wounded victim and demand that others are held to account for expressing speech which they dislike.

A nasty authoritarian streak runs through Britain, and by no means only at the level of the political elite. Go to any pub or hipster coffee shop and you’ll hear people of all backgrounds and demographics expressing outrage at something and suggesting that it should therefore be banned by the government. And while Theresa May’s Conservative government is almost certainly likely to be a disappointment on the issues of free speech and civil liberties, they will be no more of a disappointment than many of the British people themselves.

So here we are, nearly two months into Theresa May’s premiership and there are unexpected causes for optimism and good cheer in a number of areas. There are also, inevitably, areas where May’s instincts and political convictions mean that she must be watched like a hawk and opposed where necessary. But over two months since the historic EU referendum and nearly two months into a most unexpected new premiership, Britain does seem to be walking a little taller and more confidently in the world.

Long may it continue.

 

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Gibraltar Brexit Fears Are False, But Remainers Are Right: Our Foreign Policy Clout Has Atrophied Within The EU

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The government’s case for remaining in the European Union is based on an unedifying, unpatriotic and false misrepresentation of Britain’s supposed weakness and vulnerability as an independent country. But there is a small, disturbing element of truth to the Foreign Office’s scaremongering claims

One theme which has emerged consistently throughout the EU referendum debate is the degree to which the British government’s ability to conduct an independent economic, trade and foreign policy has atrophied through over-reliance on the European Union to manage our affairs.

This is primarily seen in the debate on trade – the future lies with the slowly emerging and hugely promising global single market, but on this most critical of issues, Britain has simply outsourced our own decision-making ability by vesting it in the EU.

To prosper in this globalised world, Britain should be exercising our full influence on key global bodies such as UNECE, Codex Alimentarius, the ILO, IMO and others, but since we allow the European Union to speak for us and interpret rules made by these bodies on our behalf, Britain’s ability to argue our own national interest has gradually withered through lack of practice.

We see the same corrosive forces at work in foreign policy. Nearly every pro-Remain intervention made by the hapless Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, has served to reveal not only his own incompetence in the role, but also the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s growing inability to robustly defend British interests outside the context of being an EU member state.

The latest example:

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has angered Brexit campaigners by claiming a vote to leave the European Union would put British sovereignty over Gibraltar at risk.

His shocking comments came in a joint warning with Gibraltar’s chief minister today, which has led to accusations of scaremongering from the out campaign.

The Rock’s Fabian Picardo even said the prospect of Spain wrestling back at least partial control of the Mediterranean island would be “back on the table” if the UK opts to leave the Brussels union next month.

His stark warning risks being seen as another example of the pro-EU camp’s Project Fear and comes as Mr Hammond visits Gibraltar to discuss security threats to the British Overseas Territory.

On his first official visit to the Rock since taking up the post in 2014, the Foreign Secretary said: “I genuinely believe that the threat of leaving the European Union is as big a threat to Gibraltar’s future security and Gibraltar’s future sovereignty as the more traditional threats that we routinely talk about.”

As is always the case with those on the Remain side, Hammond speaks as though Britain is entirely without agency, a passive blob to be moulded and shaped by outside forces rather than a powerful global player in our own right.

And yet there is some truth in Hammond’s pessimism. Having acted primarily through the European Union for so long, and with the EU’s Federica Mogherini a better known voice on the world stage than our own Foreign Secretary, it could almost be the case that Britain’s ability to wield our clout and influence on the world stage has atrophied to such an extent that the FCO is genuinely no longer capable of preventing foreign interference with a British Overseas Territory.

This is what the EU does. This is the modus operandi of Brussels – gradually assuming more and more of the day-to-day governing from national governments, until one day, quite unexpectedly, the national layer of government finds that it no longer has the technical capability or willpower to function on its own. But the answer is not to throw our hands up in acceptance of this state of affairs, or play the hopeless part of an insect stuck in a Venus flytrap. The answer is to extricate ourselves, and re-learn those skills and competencies which we shamefully allowed to lapse during our failed flirtation with supra-national government.

Pete North puts it best:

George Osborne has said of Brexit re-negotiations: “If we leave EU, the House of Commons is going to be doing nothing else for many, many years”. He’s right. The government will have to govern. It’s going to take years to undo the damage. We are going to take years rebuilding our domestic expertise and design new policy. The whole Whitehall establishment will have to be re-ordered and redesigned. The Foreign Office will have to get busy doing what they should have been doing for the last forty years.

We are going to have to have serious debates about fisheries management. We are going to have to rethink our rural policy. We are going to have to take a very close look at our energy policy. We will need a serious debate about foreign aid, immigration and trade. We are going to have to rethink the way we do nearly everything. Leaving the EU means rebuilding our capacity for self-government and we will have to muddle through that process, kicking out the failures as we go.

What it does mean is that we are not bound by EU directives and targets which means we are free to innovate in policy making – which means we may actually see some change because ministers are then responsible. The buck stops with them rather than idly shrugging their shoulders and saying “the EU made me do it”.

And furthermore, as this blog pointed out the last time our Foreign Secretary decided to be a spokesperson for Brussels instead of his own country:

If Hammond’s words are to be taken seriously, it means that he has presided over the worst diplomatic failure in recent British history – namely the failure of a declared nuclear power, as well as a leading military, economic and cultural power, to command such respect on the world stage as might survive us leaving a supranational arrangement which we no longer believe works in our favour. Is that really what the Foreign Secretary wants to tell the British people?

Europhiles and Remainers can’t decide whether Brussels is friend or frenemy; whether the other EU member states are dear friends who would be sorry to see us go, or bitter rivals who would seek to punish Britain for rejecting their vision of a politically unified Europe.

Is the European Union a cuddly, benign club of countries coming together to trade peaceably, or a snarling mob waiting to inflict “punishment beatings” and infringe on our sovereign territory if we cross them?

It’s about time that Remainers made up their minds.

 

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Cameron The Weakling

David Cameron thinks that publicly exaggerating and flaunting Britain’s supposed weakness and vulnerability will make people vote to stay in the European Union, while having no impact on perceptions of his own leadership

We have already been treated to the spectacle of our wobbly-lipped Foreign Secretary insinuating that he is so inept at managing our foreign relations and defending Britain’s interests that we would likely be “punished” by our European friends if we voted to leave the EU.

And now it is David Cameron’s turn to make an ostentatious public spectacle of just how weak and insignificant he believes we are as a country, and how hopelessly unable to defend the British interest he is.

From Michael Deacon’s sketch in the Telegraph:

Francois Hollande, the President of France, respects the British people. He respects their democratic right to choose how they wish to be governed. He would never wish to put pressure on them. And if, when the referendum comes, they decide that the UK should leave the EU, he will respect their decision.

But, he added casually, there would of course be… “consequences”.

He said the word many times. “Consequences.” There would be “consequences” relating to trade, “consequences” relating to immigration. “Consequences?” Oh, he was “unable to deny” there would be “consequences”.

Was it true, asked a journalist, that if the UK left the EU, France would abandon the deal that helps stop migrants crossing illegally from Calais to Britain?

Monsieur Hollande looked at the journalist equably. Well, he replied. Naturally there would be “consequences”.

All of this took place while our prime minister stood limply next to the French president at his podium, as though French special forces had kidnapped Samantha and the kids and were holding them at gunpoint in the background.

At what point does the dirge-like, pessimistic drivel offered up by the Remain campaign and spouted ceaselessly by loyal government ministers stop making the public question whether Brexit is safe, and start making them question why the hell we pay these people if not to aggressively defend our own national interest?

Not to get all Land of Hope and Glory here, but Britain is still a reasonably big deal in the world. A major economic power, the premier European military power and one of a handful of countries in the world with real expeditionary capabilities, and a cultural reach probably second only to the United States. Most British people know this, and do not buy into the miserablist, declinist view of Britain peddled by so many in the Remain camp.

David Cameron has clearly made a calculation that talking about the catastrophic consequences of Brexit on the United Kingdom will scare up a significant number of votes and thus undermine the Leave campaigns. Never mind that it makes him look like a liar for having previously suggested that he might recommend Brexit if he was not successful in securing his pitiful package of “reforms”. And never mind the galling spectacle of a British prime minister actively and passionately running down his own country for electoral advantage.

Allister Heath picks up on this same theme in the Telegraph:

But the Government and many of its anti-Brexit allies have gone too far: instead of carefully stoking the public’s understandable fear of change, and planting doubt in its mind, they have decided to wildly exaggerate the downsides of leaving. The hit to the economy could be greater than that from the Great Recession, we are told by some hysterical economists, and even that best-selling children’s books would no longer be written because, apparently, no non-British authors or illustrators would be allowed into the UK if we were not part of the EU.

These and many other of the similarly extreme claims that have been made in recent days are laughably implausible, even to nervous, swing voters; fear is only effective as a political strategy if it is credible. Even worse for the Government, it has also allowed a toxic narrative to set in: the idea that it would be powerless to stand up for Britain’s interests and look after our economy in the event of a Leave vote.

It’s all rather pathetic and defeatist. It would be too hard and time-consuming to conclude alternative trade deals, we are warned, and we apparently don’t have the requisite skills in the Foreign Office; there is nothing anybody could do to stop our companies, consumers and tourists being bullied and victimised by vindictive foreign governments; and we would be bulldozed by the angry bureaucrats of Brussels wherever we turn. Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, has claimed that British expats living in Europe would risk “becoming illegal immigrants overnight”, even though their status would in fact be protected under the Vienna Convention of 1969.

Project White Flag, as we should learn to call it, boils down to one long stream of nauseating, miserable, declinist negativity. Alarm bells ought to be going off in Downing Street: politicians don’t win elections or referenda by pretending to be weak and powerless, and by claiming to be at the mercy of foreign governments.

As this blog has repeatedly stated, the Remain campaign need to make up their minds. Is the EU a soft and friendly club of countries getting together to braid each other’s hair and co-operate on a range of mutually beneficial issues, or is it a snarling, angry organisation which threatens to rough us up if we attempt to leave? Are we in a happy marriage with the EU, or an abusive relationship?

And we British citizens also need to make up our minds about something. We need to decide why we should continue to tolerate having in office a prime minister, foreign secretary and other elected officials who hold our country in lower estimation than many of their own citizens, and who – by their own admission – have stated that they would be unable to aggressively defend our national interest in the event of Brexit.

Because we are rapidly reaching the point where the public may start to question the point of keeping a pampered man and his family installed in Number 10 Downing Street at all,  when all he does is openly boast about his inability to influence other nations and stand up for Britain.

 

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Philip Hammond’s Weak Diplomacy And Our Friends In The European Union

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If the Foreign Secretary sincerely believes that other member states would punish us for leaving the European Union, he hasn’t been doing his job cultivating strong diplomatic relationships and standing up for Britain

Alan Johnson and Philip Hammond both clearly attend the same branch meeting of the Dewy-Eyed European Union Cheerleaders Association, because both politicians – one Labour and one Conservative – are both now peddling the same pathetic line to the media, namely the suggestion that Britain amicably leaving the European Union would be like “sticking two fingers up” at our allies and inviting some form of deserved retribution in return.

Alan Johnson writes in MailOnline:

In terms of our own borders, Britain is actually in the best possible position – in the EU, signed up to the Dublin Accord but outside Schengen.

Thus economic migrants have to register in the EU country where they first arrive (thousands have been deported from Britain in the past 20 years for breaching this requirement), and a visa is still required for anyone outside the EU to enter this country.

Furthermore, it was because Britain was part of the EU that David Blunkett was able to persuade Nicolas Sarkozy to, in effect, move Britain’s border from Dover to Calais.

If Britain put two fingers up to the 27 other nations in the EU the first reaction of the French would undoubtedly be to end that arrangement, thereby ending the security barrier that that arrangement offers us.

This was tremulous, scaremongering nonsense when the same idea was advanced by Conservative MP Mark Field, and it is tremulous, scaremongering nonsense when it comes out of the mouth of Alan Johnson, too, having been comprehensively refuted and debunked by many people, not least on this very blog.

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond – who one might have expected to know and conduct himself better, given the fact that he currently serves as Foreign Secretary – echoed the same cheap catchphrase to MPs in Parliament.

The Telegraph reports:

The Foreign Secretary has told MPs a leave vote the EU would be seen as “two fingers to European leaders and we can expect the same in return.”

He says that if Britain votes to leave the EU “the mood of goodwill towards Britain will evaporate in an instant”.

This is essentially an admission of incompetence by the Foreign Secretary. What Hammond is suggesting to us with this cheap attempt at scaremongering is that he has so mismanaged our relationships with key European allies, and so misled them as to the nature of British public sentiment toward the EU and the consequent possibility of Brexit, that our perfectly amicable and controlled departure would come as a complete shock to them.

Furthermore, if Hammond’s words are to be taken seriously, it means that he has presided over the worst diplomatic failure in recent British history – namely the failure of a declared nuclear power, as well as a leading military, economic and cultural power, to command such respect on the world stage as might survive us leaving a supranational arrangement which we no longer believe works in our favour. Is that really what the Foreign Secretary wants to tell the British people?

Europhiles and Remainers can’t decide whether Brussels is friend or frenemy; whether the other EU member states are dear friends who would be sorry to see us go, or bitter rivals who would seek to punish Britain for rejecting their vision of a politically unified Europe. And it is about time they made up their minds.

As this blog recently pointed out:

Of course, the cynical pro-EU “Remain” campaign tries to have it both ways. When it suits them in their campaigning, the EU is a happy-go-lucky club of like-minded countries who frolic and trade with one another. But when that hopelessly naive, childlike view of Brussels is questioned by eurosceptics and Brexiteers, out comes the other portrait of a snarling, vicious EU which will ruthlessly destroy Britain if we continue to drag our feet or think about leaving.

Good cop, bad cop. Europhiles will normally try the “good cop” routine first when engaging with undecided voters. But this tends to come unstuck as soon as eurosceptics and Brexiteers counter with their own positive vision of Britain restored as a sovereign democracy playing a full and engaged role in global trade and world affairs.

Since the pro-EU crowd are unable to share their own repugnant vision of a politically integrated Europe for fear of scaring people away, they are instead forced to go negative, hence the rapid and disconcerting pivot from “See how nice the European Union is, and all the wonderful things it does for us” to “If we try to leave the EU, they’ll rough us up”. Truly, their position is less a serious argument about governance and diplomacy, and more the tortured thought process of a battered spouse trying to rationalise staying in an abusive relationship.

In many ways, it is unsurprising that there is so much confusion over what would likely happen in the event that Britain declared our intention to leave the EU following a “Leave” vote in the referendum. Few journalists have taken the time to assimilate the information and share it with their readers, which then positively begs unscrupulous Remainers like Philip Hammond and Alan Johnson to exploit the public’s fear and ignorance.

The excellent Brexit blogger Ben Kelly lays the groundwork – and demolishes a lot of misconceptions on both sides of the debate – in this piece at Conservatives for Liberty, well worth quoting at length:

Negotiations undertaken after citation of the withdrawal clause of the Lisbon Treaty will be a matter of practical politics. Although the application of EU and international law is not a settled issue, especially in this as yet untested area, the notion that the EU would refuse to cooperate, or even seek to “punish” the UK in the event of secession – thereby clearly violating EU law as well as failing to comply with international law – is beyond the realm of realistic politics.

Although Article 50 negotiations conducted under a framework of treaty law will be first and foremost a political matter, it is clear that lawyers will be consulted regarding the laws application. What we can be certain of is that – as Sir David Edward, the first British Judge of the European Court, has said – EU law requires all parties to negotiate in good faith and in a spirit of cooperation.

Article 50 requires the EU to conclude an agreement with the seceding state, “taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union“. Notably, Articles 3,4 8 and 21 of the Treaty on European Union require the EU to “contribute to … free and fair trade” and to “work for a high degree of cooperation in all fields of international relations, in order to … encourage the integration of all countries into the world economy, including through the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade” and to adhere to the “principle of sincere cooperation […] in full mutual respect” and “assist each other in carrying out tasks which flow from the Treaties.”

Moreover, the Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties obligates negotiators to act in “good faith” and “good faith” itself is an underlying principle of international law, and certainly a principle of WTO law.

The EU negotiators must therefore endeavour to reduce trade restrictions in accordance with treaty provisions and, crucially, their actions are justiciable. If EU negotiators were to veer away from treaty provisions, or indeed if any other EU member sought to impose sanctions or restrict trade, the UK could opt to lodge a formal complaint with the European Court of Justice (ECJ), and block the discriminatory action.

It must be remembered that during the Article 50 negotiations the UK remains a member of the EU and enjoys the full rights and privileges of membership. The Commission itself may be legally obliged to step in and begin infringement proceedings against the offending member state.

It may amuse lazy political commentators to paint the hypothetical future Brexit negotiations as some kind of zero-sum game, trial of strength or fiendishly complex case study in Game Theory, but this would simply not be the case. The truth would be altogether more boring and pragmatic than the europhile naysayers would have us believe, with both sides obligated to negotiate with one another in good faith.

Kelly is right to eschew the tub-thumping “they need us more than we need them!” kind of language as he builds his case, but nonetheless it is worth pointing out that in the event of Brexit negotiations being initiated, all national governments would come under huge and sustained pressure by their local business leaders and lobbyists to avoid taking any retaliatory or counter-retaliatory action which might lead to the throwing up of onerous new barriers to trade.

Given the amount of money and reputational capital that many multinational companies are willing to spend lobbying and campaigning for a “Remain” vote, it is not unreasonable that they would make equally strong representations to the British and EU member state governments to ensure a smooth and orderly Brexit – one which this blog firmly believes is best accomplished by following a fully worked-through plan like Flexcit, in which we would minimise economic disruption from leaving the EU’s political union by maintaining our EFTA and EEA membership.

Those people on the Remain side who seek to dumb down the argument and reduce the nuanced situation of Article 50 Brexit negotiations to a cartoonish “sticking two fingers up at Europe” / “get punished by France and Germany in response” are being deliberately misleading in attempt to distract from the paucity of their case. But worse than that, they are also subscribing to the fatalistic, anti-British mindset which states that our country – the fifth largest economy and one of the most consequential actors on the world stage – is actually nothing more than a minor, third-rate country, easily bullied by its peers.

But remember: by peddling this nonsense, EU apologists like Philip Hammond and Alan Johnson are not merely demonstrating their lack of faith in Britain (particularly concerning coming from a Foreign Secretary). They also reveal their lack of respect for the intelligence of their fellow citizens, whom they lazily assume can be swayed and manipulated by their base scaremongering and dark warnings of EU reprisals.

 

British Foreign Secretary Hammond attends a news conference in Riyadh

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Pro-EU Campaigners Can’t Decide Whether Brussels Is Friend Or Frenemy

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The Good Cop/Bad Cop routine of the EU’s British cheerleaders betrays the fundamental weakness of the europhile argument

I have always struggled to wrap my head around that strain of pro-Europeanism which declares “the EU is a benevolent and harmless group of countries working together for mutual gain” on the one hand, and “the EU will ruthlessly punish us and seek to make an example out of us if we ever try to leave” on the other.

Call me stupid, but the two visions of Brussels don’t seem to be compatible. Either the European Union is a harmless coming together of independent European nations seeking to work together to meet challenges that no single country can face alone (ha!), or the EU is a process whose ultimate destination is a single sovereign entity possessing most of the executive, legislative and judicial powers which it gradually usurped from the member states.

If it is the former, nobody would much care whether Britain stayed or departed. Why would they, when the EU is just a harmless club of countries coming together voluntarily to deal with mutual challenges?

But if it is the latter – if the EU is in fact a deadly serious political project with clear federal aspirations, which dare not make themselves known for fear of alarming the electorate – then its portrayal as a snarling, vindictive beast when scorned suddenly starts to make a lot of sense. Any member state attempting to leave such an organisation would represent a stunning repudiation of over forty years of incremental, relentless political integration, and therefore it is a very helpful piece of deterrence if people believe that any country trying to leave would be dealt with ruthlessly and punitively.

Of course, the cynical pro-EU “Remain” campaign tries to have it both ways. When it suits them in their campaigning, the EU is a happy-go-lucky club of like-minded countries who frolic and trade with one another. But when that hopelessly naive, childlike view of Brussels is questioned by eurosceptics and Brexiteers, out comes the other portrait of a snarling, vicious EU which will ruthlessly destroy Britain if we continue to drag our feet or think about leaving.

Good cop, bad cop. Europhiles will normally try the “good cop” routine first when engaging with undecided voters. But this tends to come unstuck as soon as eurosceptics and Brexiteers counter with their own positive vision of Britain restored as a sovereign democracy playing a full and engaged role in global trade and world affairs.

Since the pro-EU crowd are unable to share their own repugnant vision of a politically integrated Europe for fear of scaring people away, they are instead forced to go negative, hence the rapid and disconcerting pivot from “See how nice the European Union is, and all the wonderful things it does for us” to “If we try to leave the EU, they’ll rough us up”. Truly, their position is less a serious argument about governance and diplomacy, and more the tortured thought process of a battered spouse trying to rationalise staying in an abusive relationship.

Latest to play the part of the battered spouse is Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, who spuriously claimed in Parliament:

Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty states that, on announcing its intention to withdraw from the European Union, the withdrawing state will automatically be excluded from all meetings of the European Council and, if agreement is not reached within two years, the withdrawing state will be automatically excluded from the negotiated terms. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that a withdrawing state is therefore liable to suffer what would amount to a punishment beating to dissuade others from withdrawing, and that therefore there is no such thing as a soft Brexit?

Of course, this is alarmist, hyperbolic nonsense emanating from the mouth of somebody who is either catastrophically stupid and truly believes his own fiction, or who hails from that school of thought which believes that pro-EU evangelists are allowed to tell blatant lies in service of the Greater Good.

The truth is that remaining EU member states could not be overtly vengeful toward a departing Britain even if they wanted to. The European Union is required by law to negotiate constructively and in good faith with any member exercising its Article 50 right to secede, besides which there are powerful business interests on both sides who have a lot riding on continued trade and good relations between Britain and the EU, and who would assert overwhelming pressure on politicians to overcome whatever petty personal gripes they may have in order to reach a pragmatic deal with the EU’s biggest trading partner.

As Ben Kelly points out over at Conservatives for Liberty:

The notion that the EU would refuse to cooperate, or even seek to “punish” the UK in the event of secession – thereby clearly violating EU law as well as failing to comply with international law – is beyond the realm of realistic politics. As Sir David Edward, the first British Judge of the European Court, has said – EU law requires all parties to negotiate in good faith and in a spirit of cooperation.

Article 50 requires the EU to conclude an agreement with the seceding state, “taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union“. Notably, Articles 3, 4 8 and 21 of the Treaty on European Union require the EU to “contribute to … free and fair trade” and to “work for a high degree of cooperation in all fields of international relations, in order to … encourage the integration of all countries into the world economy, including through the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade” and to adhere to the “principle of sincere cooperation […] in full mutual respect” and “assist each other in carrying out tasks which flow from the Treaties.”

Add to that the sheer illogicality of effectively launching a trade war against the only vaguely dynamic economy and trading partner in the entire region, and the idea of the EU “punishing” Britain starts to look like the absurd scaremongering hyberbole which it so clearly is.

But being demonstrably wrong does nothing to deter the European Union’s cheerleaders within the British political establishment. Only back in October, this blog had to take Conservative MP Mark Field to task for tremulously suggesting that a vote for Brexit would somehow give France just cause to cease all co-operation with reciprocal border controls by way of retaliation:

On the border question, Mark Field seems to accept that it would be right and proper for France to retaliate against Brexit by ceasing all border co-operation and actively helping to funnel more illegal immigrants to Britain. If this is really what he thinks France would do – if he really believes that the French hold this attitude to the British – he should be railing against the French for their supposed immaturity and recklessness in the face of a European migration crisis, not holding it up as a warning to Britons not to provoke the French into doing something so patently unreasonable.

At every turn, Mark Field seems to not only imagine the worst, most apocalyptic response possible from our EU partners, but also then assumes that they would be somehow justified in being so intransigent and punitive in their dealings with Britain, and that it would somehow be our fault for having provoked them.

Where does this dismal, pessimistic attitude come from? Why does Mark Field think so little of his own country, our status and our potential that he sincerely believes that other (mostly smaller) countries would bully us if we vote to leave the European Union, and that not only would Britain be totally unable to withstand this bullying, but that they would be right to bully us in the first place?

Displaying Olympian feats of cognitive dissonance, the EU’s cheerleaders within the Remain campaign are somehow able to hold a number of poisonous and utterly contradictory ideas within their heads at all times, including the following rigid beliefs:

  1. The EU is our benevolent protector, always looking out for us
  2. The EU is a jealous lover, demanding our absolute fidelity
  3. The EU will attack us mercilessly if we ever decide to leave it
  4. Britain will deserve any attack by the EU if we choose to leave
  5. Britain is incapable of standing up to any act of bullying by the EU

Like a battered spouse, many pro-EU campaigners and commentators have convinced themselves that Brussels is always in the right, and Britain – with our pesky, awkward hangups about sovereignty and democracy – is perpetually in the wrong.

Like a battered spouse, many of the EU’s British cheerleaders have internalised the corrosive, national self-doubt and occasional sabre-rattling from the continent to such an extent that they sincerely believe that any punishment or retaliation coming our way would somehow be deserved.

And like a battered spouse, the Remain campaign are under the spell of an autocratic (and in this case imaginary) bully whose power to coerce is completely illusory – once we make the brave decision to leave.

But here’s the really good news: Britain does not have to remain in this abusive relationship any longer. There will be no retaliation for leaving, because there can be no retaliation – even if intemperate heads within Brussels wanted to make an example out of Britain, they would be constrained both by law and commercial imperative.

Better still, a rational and thorough plan of escape already exists, laying out a detailed strategy to separate Britain from the EU’s political tentacles in a phased, low-risk approach. That plan is called Flexcit (or The Market Solution), and any serious Brexit campaigner – or engaged citizen – should give it their serious attention.

By contrast, the pro-EU side – as well as being unable to decide whether Brussels is a trusted partner or an abusive spouse – have no plan for how Britain should react when the EU takes the next inevitable step toward fiscal and political union, leaving Britain with the choice of limited influence within the core (at the price of adopting the Euro) or complete irrelevance on the periphery. The status quo is not an option in this referendum.

And given the choice between the timid, euro-parochialism of the Remain campaign and the Leave campaign’s positive vision of a prosperous and democratic United Kingdom outside the EU, there is simply no contest.

EU Democracy - Brexit

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