‘The EU wants our coat too’
Greg Lance – Watkins
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The EU wants our coat too
I have been finding contemporary politics dull and uninspiring. It is above all for this reason that I’ve been struggling to write about recent events. We know that at some point there will be another election struggle between a rather daft, but reinvigorated Labour Party and a worn out Tory Party in desperate need of new ideas and a new leader, but it won’t be yet and may not be for years. The SNP have the most support in Scotland, but that support is not enough for the one thing that they want. While a year or so ago Nicola Sturgeon didn’t go a day without threatening this or that, she appears to have calmed down, or perhaps it is merely that in Edinburgh there
sits our sulky, sullen dame,
Gathering her brows like gathering storm,
Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.
But whatever she is doing, it is probably not worth provoking her or her “running dogs of Scottish nationalism”. It can be good fun to remind the Nats that it looks awfully as if there moment has passed, but why remind when they already know. Better by far just to ignore them as much as possible. Let them sleep, let them lie. What was that about Brexit guaranteeing Scottish independence? Whether that was a pie or a sleeping dog it wasn’t the greatest prediction in the history of Scottish politics.
Who would have thought that the process of leaving the EU would take longer and appear more difficult that winning the First World War? But then at least we were more or less united between 1914 and 1918 and few indeed were the Brits who thought it was a good idea to hope that we lost and our opponent won. We nearly did lose in the days following March 21st 1918, but strangely while we have “remembrance” we have no memory at all and no knowledge whatsoever of the most important events that challenge the clichés of mud, trenches and static warfare.
Like some other impatient Brexiteers I would have simply announced to the EU in 2016 that we had already left. I would have unilaterally lowered all tariffs to zero and invited everyone around the world to treat our goods in the same way. I would then have lowered business taxes so that they were the lowest in Europe and repealed each and every bit of EU bureaucracy that hindered business. I would have told the EU that we would not be paying one penny more in order to trade with them “freely”, on the grounds that paying for free trade is a contradiction because it’s precisely thereby not free. I would have used the billions saved to compensate, in a roundabout way if necessary, our businesses for any losses incurred by leaving the EU and whatever was left over I would have spent on a fleet of destroyers to patrol our territorial waters. I would have reminded our European friends that they would remain friends if and only if they treated us in a friendly fashion. Otherwise they need not expect us to share any intelligence nor if they were invaded from the East need they expect any help. We fought two World Wars when we didn’t have to, as in neither instance were we directly threatened. We spent a vast amount of money and lives liberating continental Europe and got precious little in return, not even thanks.
If we had done this we would at least have avoided the deadly dull and rather humiliating spectacle of these tortuous negotiations just so that we can continue to trade more or less freely with people who at times appear to want to punish us. We may have fallen far since 1918, but surely we haven’t fallen quite that far.
But Theresa May didn’t have the numbers for my swashbuckling Brexiteer fantasy in 2016. Her party was divided, not merely between Leavers and Remainers, but more importantly far too few of her MPs were even really free marketeers who believe in cutting public spending, lowering taxes and living within our means. There just aren’t enough Conservatives in the Conservative Party to force through the radical sort of change that might have happened if we had had the guts to do it.
The election of 2017 made the UK safe from Scottish nationalism. The dangerous moment was if the SNP could have achieved independence before the UK left the EU. If the EU had cooperated and bent their own rules, an independent Scotland could have joined the EU in the transition period from leaving the UK. But thankfully this moment has now passed. Once the UK has left the EU, then SNP Remainers have to become Rejoiners. This would mean giving up whatever powers the Scottish Parliament gains from Brexit, it would mean giving up control over our territorial waters and it would mean joining Schengen and the Euro. The EU membership fee would also be rather higher given that we would no longer get back Mrs Thatcher’s rebate. None of this looks terribly attractive, not least because if Scotland were in Schengen while England was not it’s very hard to see how a hard border could be avoided. The Republic of Ireland is not in Schengen. Moreover if the UK is out of the EU while Scotland was in it, the nightmare scenario of being in a different trading bloc to your greatest trading partner becomes very real. The UK’s internal single market is much more important to Scotland than the EU’s single market. You can’t after all be part of an internal market if the relationship between England and Scotland becomes a relationship between independent nation states rather than parts of a single nation state. The clue is in the word “internal”.
Brexit clarified minds in Scotland and those who could think through the issues rapidly came to the conclusion that Scottish independence was no longer attractive or even tenable. Scots are not stupid and for this reason support for the SNP fell and will continue to fall.
So the election in 2017 was worth it. We will look in time on the years 2016 and 2017 as the years that saw Scottish nationalism reach its peak and then go into decline. But the price we paid for this was that Theresa May lost her majority. This meant that Brexiteers had to take a long view.
Theresa May’s weakness and the fact that Parliament and her own party are divided has been exploited relentlessly and ruthlessly by our opponents in the EU. Their task has been to give Britain the worst possible deal. The consequences of this are that Brexit will cost us a lot more than it needed to and we will have to make more concessions to the EU than was necessary. All of these things will be damaging to the UK’s national interest. The money we give to the EU in the coming years might have been spent on defence or the health service or in cutting the deficit. Instead we will continue to spend billions in order to trade “freely” with the EU. This is the consequence of the Remain rear-guard. Instead of being united we were divided and the EU exploited this to give us worst deal they could. It’s thanks to Tony Blair, John Major and everyone who ever banged on about a second referendum that our fishermen won’t yet get control of our waters.
What do you call someone who acts so as to damage the UK national interest? Do you call them a friend? It’s not a game. The lives of British citizens, e.g. fishermen, will be worse, because the deal we are getting at least in the short term is not as good as it could be. The people responsible for this, whether in the EU or in the UK, have not been treating the UK in a friendly fashion. Many of them want our position after Brexit to be financially as bad as possible. Some of them want to advance their own long term aims at the expense of ours. The whole way in which certain EU countries have negotiated has been hostile. France wants to take UK jobs. Spain wants to make life difficult for Gibraltar in order it hopes to force Gibraltar to become a part of Spain. The Republic of Ireland wants to use Brexit to weaken the bonds between the UK and Northern Ireland, because it too hopes that UK territory will eventually become part of its own territory.
We have been remarkably patient in the face of this hostility and irredentism. The impatient, like me, would have walked away long ago, but that no doubt would have been a mistake. Let us focus instead on the prize ahead.
With luck we are going to achieve what we set out to achieve. We are going to be able to trade more or less freely with the EU and eventually we are not going to have to pay the price, whether that price was in terms of money or in terms of political union. What people thought was impossible, we will achieve, i.e. truly free trade, with no subscription fee. We will get to this stage moreover without going through the shock of radically changing economic direction. Let us achieve the free-marketeer, low tax, low regulation dream gradually. We will in time get control of our waters. Moreover despite provocation from those who hate us, we have stayed friendly. This in the end has proved worth it. Surprisingly enough the EU is beginning to value the UK’s contribution to security and intelligence. We have achieved a more united response to Mr Putin than he probably thought we would. It looks like Mrs May’s Brexit strategy has been worth it.
So it is better by far if we just ignore the latest manifestation of Irish nationalism. It attempted to damage our national interest in the years between 1939 and 1945 even if that meant the sinking of ships which in part were bringing the food necessary to fill Irish stomachs. It tried to bomb us into submitting to its will, while its diplomats who had the same aim pretended that the bombing had nothing whatsoever to do with their aim. Now it wants to use our desire to maintain an open border between our two independent sovereign nation states to bring its goal that little bit closer. I’m sorry, but no matter what it costs us we will always defend the people of Northern Ireland and their choice to be British.
But as always the cloak of British security extends over Ireland and will continue to do so. I doubt Mr Putin is much interested in neutrality. We protect the rights of small nations like Belgium and extent the hand of friendship even when they bite it. For some people after all a cloak isn’t enough. They want your coat too. Well we will even give them that.
Let us promise then that we will keep the international border between Northern Ireland and the Republic open. We will make no checks whatsoever either on people or on goods. The whole of the UK including Northern Ireland will neither be in the EU Customs Union nor the Single Market. We are united and we will let no-one try to divide us. But if this leads to any sort of tariff or charge, we will choose not to collect it. Let Irish trade be free, it will benefit all of us. But if the Republic of Ireland is forced by its membership of the EU to charge tariffs or to regulate the movement of people, let them erect a hard border on their side of the line, not ours. But in that case don’t blame us. We are independent sovereign nation states. We must respect our equal right to act independently. The trouble with nationalists whether Irish or Scottish is that they never wish to face up to the consequences of independence.
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