Friday, 21 July 2017
Brexit Means Talking Britain Up
Earlier this week the Prime Minister accused Chauncey of talking the country down. This was fair enough, although this is hardly new in the career of Chauncey. Indeed he has long regarded it as his principled duty to do so. But perhaps she should have said the same of some of the scribblers who have been writing about the Brexit negotiations this week.
Take the now infamous picture above. A lot has been said and written about it as though it is somehow symbolic. Yet all it really symbolises is the classic British inferiority complex. It was a photo opportunity. British officials and David Davis their boss saw no reason to take documents with them to a photo opportunity, indeed given the antics of photographers in Downing Street they were probably wise. The talks didn't really get underway until much later after David Davis had headed home. But this didn't stop anyone finding symbolism and claiming that this proved that Britain is woefully unprepared for the marathon talks ahead.
In fact, as is often the case, we are extremely well prepared and the Commission is wary of us. They are even worried, probably justifiably, that we are spying on them. The British have taken a high powered team to Brussels and are very well briefed. The Commission has made all of the early running on sounding unreasonable, unbending, intransigent and arrogant. We have been polite by comparison, with the possible exception of Boris.
It's still early days of course but there is much to be optimistic about. For a start the Brits are steadfastly refusing to bend on the issue of money and of setting out what we think we should pay. If it is a bill with which we are being presented it seems to be a stretch to ask the payer to set out what it should pay and its reasons for doing so. There is no legal basis to demand any cash at all from us. If Europe thinks otherwise it should justify its demands of us not expect us to make our case. The fact that we may in the past have agreed to pay for various projects and infrastructure - an argument made by the BBC last night - rather misses the point that we made such an agreement as part of the EU. Then we decided to leave instead. Thus any agreements are null and void unless good legal arguments can be made to prove otherwise. If Europe still refuses to budge on this by the end of the summer then perhaps we should walk out in a huff. It's not very British, but it might convey to them we will not be making any compromises on this.
Or on the ECJ. This continues to be something that the EU seems to be sticking to for now at least. Yet what they are demanding is once again wholly unreasonable. Britain is leaving the EU. The EU's argument, such as it is, is that EU citizens who came here to work, did so expecting to be protected by EU law and thus the ECJ should have the final say. This is patent nonsense. EU citizens have been offered the assurance that they will be allowed to stay here. As such they will be protected by British laws. If they really consider that the EU offers such overwhelmingly greater protections for them then they have the right to seek employment opportunities elsewhere. But Britain's legal system is a byword for fairness. There is no need whatever for EU citizens to be fearful should they decide to stay in a country they have made their homes, indeed it is unlikely that many have such fears. This is just EU grandstanding around a non issue.
And that is the greater symbolism of this week, much more than that picture of an empty table in front of British officials. The EU side had their props - they were after all on home turf - but it nicely symbolised their whole stance. It really shouldn't be hard to do a deal with Britain if they genuinely want to do a deal, after all most of what needs to be done is already in place if true goodwill exists. Britain already trades freely with Europe it's just we have exercised our democratic right to leave a club whose goals we do not share. If on the other hand they want to make the process seem as difficult and unwieldy as possible to dissuade any others from taking the same leap then what they are doing makes sense. Ultimately though that is a political choice that will, as usual, have little to do with the best interests of the peoples of Europe and a great deal more to do with the petty concerns of the EU elite and their dreams of ever closer union. They daren't make life too easy for the British for fear of encouraging others to follow our lead. The fact that they are at risk of behaving like the worst kind of autocrats, like China vis a vis Taiwan, is presumably lost on them.
But we will get our deal because standard EU divisions will in time reassert themselves and we will make a success of Brexit because we will be able to govern ourselves again and be more responsive democratic and flexible. Britain was always semi-detached from Europe. Now we are just making that official. In time our leaving will be seen as the right decision for all concerned and cooperation, even if it cannot be agreed initially, will slowly evolve as time goes on. In the meantime stand by for many more months of threats and bombast and depictions of doom and gloom. There will be many more stories about how the French and Germans are intent on destroying the City of London and poaching away our best companies, stories that ignore the fact that the French and Germans were trying to do this before we voted to leave too.