In a galaxy far far away, May the farce is trying to negotiate with people on planet Earth. Well, I say negotiate, but negotiation implies some sort of meeting of minds, or at least that the parties concerned have a basic understanding of the parameters of the subject at hand. Over the weekend the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung carried a report on the disastrous meeting last week between Theresa May and the Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission. It’s safe to say that Jean-Claude was distinctly unimpressed with Theresa’s grasp of the complexities of the Brexit talks ahead. Funnily enough, the president of the European Commission wasn’t swayed by Theresa’s repeated soundbites. Who saw that coming eh? Well OK, just about everyone.
The Brexit negotiations are going to be extremely complicated. Untangling the UK from the web of EU legislation is a bit like trying to get a fresh egg out of a scrambled egg. The report in the German press over the weekend made it clear that the British government doesn’t even begin to grasp the scale of the task ahead of it. Theresa May still fondly believes that Britain and the EU can “make a success” of Brexit, when from the perspective of the EU Brexit is by definition a failure, and the UK must come out of the other end of the negotiations as a third state which is worse off outside the EU. The British government sees Brexit as cosmetic surgery that will enhance the appearance of Britain, while the EU sees it as an amputation.
It’s a very simple logic which the British PM either refuses or is politically incapable of grasping. If the UK makes a success of Brexit, then there is no point to any country being a member of the EU. Therefore the EU has an existential interest in ensuring that whatever happens to the UK after Brexit, it’s left worse off than whatever the UK has enjoyed as a member. A successful Brexit on Theresa’s terms means an acknowledgement from the EU that there is no point to the EU. That’s why it’s not going to happen. In the negotiations to come, the EU will press its advantages, and the UK will come off badly bruised.
What we’ve got with the UK’s approach to Brexit is rather as though the EU is trying to solve the problem of String Theory, a theory in physics that when you get down to its fundamental level, reality consists of the interactions of one dimensional extended sub-atomic objects, a theory whose merits and demerits are debated and discussed with eye wateringly complex mathematics. And then the UK’s contribution to the debate is a ball of yarn from the wool shop and a knitting pattern for a tank top.
The UK for its part denies the reports in the German media and claims that the talks were friendly and constructive. Which is true. A pet cat playing with the UK’s ball of wool in a meeting of quantum physicists discussing String theory is having a wonderfully friendly and constructive time of it, but that doesn’t mean that it’s got the foggiest idea of what’s really going on or what’s at stake. The difference of course is that the pet cat is cute, whereas no one is going to tickle Boris Johnson behind the ear and let him sit on their lap. Although like the cat he does provoke an allergic reaction.
Theresa May told Juncker during the meeting that the UK has no legal obligation to settle its debts with the EU in order to leave the Union. Juncker replied that if that’s the case, then the EU has no incentive to agree a trade deal. Brexit isn’t like leaving a golf club, it’s like a divorce, and the UK needs to meet the financial commitments it signed up to while a member. It was an illustration of the political reality that if there is to be a meeting of minds, there needs to be a mind to meet. The UK doesn’t seem to have one, just an arrogant entitlement and a fistful of soundbites.
According to Juncker, it’s now more likely than not that Britain will crash out of the EU without any deal at all. He’s very pessimistic about the chances of reaching a deal with a British government which appears not to understand what’s going on and having to negotiate with a British Prime Minister who didn’t seem to be properly briefed on what is at stake and who has unrealistic expectations of what she can achieve. There’s zero chance that Theresa May is going to come out of the other end of this with a Brexit that’s good for Britain, although to be fair zero chance is pretty strong and stable. What was once unthinkable has now become the most likely outcome, a UK that leave the EU with no deal, and having to rely on World Trade Organisation rules while its economy is hampered by tariffs and queues build up at ports.
What is not at all surprising is that Theresa May reportedly told Juncker that she wanted the discussions between the EU and the UK to be kept secret, despite the fact that the EU needs to keep the European Parliament fully informed of the progress of the negotiations. An obsession with control and secrecy is typical of our authoritarian Prime Minister, an obsession which will only get worse if she is returned to power with a hugely increased majority. Theresa doesn’t do accountability. She wants to keep the talks secret so she can control their presentation of selected pieces of information to the public and tell us only the things she wants us to hear. You can make any disaster seem like a success if you don’t tell people the bad news.
A prime minister with an obsession with secrecy is a prime minister who doesn’t trust the people whom she’s asking to trust her. That’s a woman who doesn’t deserve to be elected. The future for the UK under Theresa May is frightening place. It just reinforces the message that Scotland needs to escape this nightmare as soon as we possibly can. The only way for Scotland to return to planet Earth is with independence.
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