The UK cabinet has finally, after two long gruelling years of fighting, back-stabbing, briefing against one another, and flying off to Afghanistan in order to avoid the war zone that is the parliamentary Conservative party, agreed to agree with one another about a Brexit proposal that it can put to Brussels. That’s how bad things have got within the British cabinet. Boris Johnson would rather go and face the Taliban than face his colleagues. But a deal has been agreed now. Well, I say “agreed”, what that really means is that they have agreed that they are in a meeting to reach an agreement and no one is going to resign over it, at least not this weekend.
Outside the cabinet, Jacob Rees Mogg isn’t happy about it, but he’s never been happy with anything that isn’t written in Ancient Greek or which doesn’t involve sending children up chimneys, so like, meh. Who cares. He’ll be all over your TV talking about betrayal in five, four, three … The Brexit saga has been the biggest load of crap ever on the telly, with the possible exception of Love Island, although both involve narcissists who don’t have a clue how they appear to other people.
Meanwhile over at the Herald, the newspaper that really has its finger on the pulse of what counts in Scottish politics and how this deal affects us, they’re going to run a story about how an SNP MSP once bought some Edinburgh rock for a group of eight year olds on a school trip to Holyrood.
The entire British cabinet has been sequestered in Chequers in order to reach this breakthrough. Usually when a group of middle class people are stuck in a country mansion for the weekend and their phones are confiscated and they are cut off from the outside world, at least one of them gets murdered. We know this because we’ve all seen Midsomer Murders. But the only thing that has been killed off this time are the hopes and dreams of an entire generation, so that’s OK then.
Theresa’s deal is being widely hailed in the British press as the greatest breakthrough in the Brexit negotiations since the EU referendum, or at least in the only part of the Brexit negotiations with which the British Conservative party has concerned itself, which would be negotiating with other British Conservatives and coming up with a solution that can avoid another general election and the risk that Jeremy Corbyn might get elected. Hating Jeremy Corbyn is the only thing that they can really agree on. Well that and jeering at any suggestion from the SNP that Scotland’s needs ought to be taken into account. The important thing is that a deal has been struck. It’s just a pity that Brussels has already ruled the deal out as a non-starter.
According to one senior Tory, if this was the plan that Theresa May had come up with when she’d first become Prime Minister, she’d have been gone within two weeks. Time is running out, and faced with an impending doom that not even Gordie Broon would dare forecast, the cabinet has been forced to sign up to a proposal that the hard line Brexiteers in the party are going to loathe. The only reason that the hard line Brexiteers in the cabinet have accepted it, or at least aren’t openly opposing it for the time being, is because they have precisely the square root of hee-haw to offer in its place. They have no plan. They have no vision. All they have is an atavistic hatred of all things EU. They dream of a magical land of favourable trade deals, at the very time that their idol Donald Trump is sparking off a global trade war.
The problem however is that this deal, with its plan to end free movement but at the same time for the UK to continue to enjoy access to the single market is precisely the kind of cherry picking that the EU has always said it will not accept. From the very beginning the EU has said that the four freedoms, freedom of movement of capital, services, goods, and labour cannot and will not be divided. If you want one, you must accept the other three. It’s taken the shower of malign incompetents in the cabinet two years to come up with this. If you want free trade, you must accept free movement of people. That’s the bitter pill for the Tories that no amount of fudge can sweeten.
What’s likely to happen now is that the UK’s position will soften even further after more negotiations with the EU. That’s why the Brexiteers are beelin. The EU has seen the door open to a soft Brexit, and it’s going to push. The EU has been very clear since the beginning. On day one after the Brexit vote the EU told the UK what options the UK had, and on day 750 after the Brexit vote the EU is still telling the UK that the options remain the same.
The UK’s new position leaves open the possibility that freedom of movement will remain and signals that there will be further concessions from Downing Street. We all know who has the weak hand in this game of poker, and it’s not the EU. The press release published by Number 10 speaks of the possibility of a “mobility framework so that UK and EU citizens can continue to travel to each other’s countries to study and work”. It looks as though the British government is preparing to retain freedom of movement but simply to rename it and pretend that it’s something entirely different and new. Theresa’s red lines are already a pale pink, and getting paler.
For us in Scotland Theresa May’s panicking realisation that a soft Brexit is the only realistic option means that it’s going to be easier for the Scottish independence movement to kill off the current argument most favoured by opponents of independence. That would be the argument that most of Scotland’s trade is with the rest of the UK and not with the EU, the so-called UK single market argument.
Since May is now seeking frictionless borders with the EU then an independent Scotland that is a member of the customs union and the EU single market will also enjoy frictionless borders with the rest of the UK. There will be a single market for goods, services, agriculture, and no perceptible border between Gretna and Berwick. The last great anti-independence argument has just bitten the dust, killed off by the Tories who’ve touted it. Theresa’s fudge means that the case for independence just got sweeter.
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