Reaping the whirlwind

I was going to write a post on some of the strange things that have happened elsewhere in the world over the past year, but having started with the EU, it might be better to stay on the subject.

The obvious question is what relationship the UK should seek, or expect, to have with the EU.

For me, the starting point is to look at the options that were presented as being available before the referendum last June. Although these options weren't on any ballot paper, the media and the Leave campaign presented us with about four or five alternative options if we chose not to remain in the EU. For example here and here.

I don't want to go into the merits of the different options, but only want to make this point. 51.9% of the vote was to leave and 48.1% to remain. For me, it is impossible to imagine less than 2% of that 51.9% would have wanted us to have a similar relationship to the EU as the ones that Norway and Switzerland have, i.e. to remain an integral part of the single market, paying a fair fee to be part of it and accepting its four freedoms. In other words, I'm quite sure that a majority of those who voted in the referendum would have been in favour of the UK remaining in the EU single market.

In my opinion, what should have happened after the referendum was for David Cameron to have remained as Prime Minister and negotiate for that sort of model. The UK's model wouldn't have needed to be exactly the same as that of either Norway or Switerland, but either would have been a good starting point. But he didn't, even though he could easily have claimed a mandate for doing so on the basis I've just outlined. Instead, he chickened out, leaving the hard-liners in the Tory party who wanted a more extreme form of Brexit to fill the vacuum he left.

Sadly, Labour did not argue for that alternative either. So we got to a position where there was no effective opposition to a hard Brexit, even though there could easily have been one if the Labour, SNP and Tory MPs who wanted us to remain in the single market had come together to vote for it as a pre-condition for triggering Article 50.

Under a scenario where Cameron had not resigned, he would have been in a fairly similar position to that of the Norwegian government following their similarly narrow vote to stay out of the EU in 1994 (they, like him, wanted to their country to a be a full member of the EU). I am sure that the other EU member state goverments would have looked favourably on such an approach and granted the UK that sort of arrangement.

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But we now have to accept that this isn't going to happen. The UK government has chosen to confront the other 27, rather than co-operate. And there are no prizes for predicting the outcome: whether you look at it as 27 states against 1, or 450 million people against 65 million, the EU will get its way because it is in a much stronger position. Anyone who thinks "they need us more than we need them" is deluded.

The UK government (aided by the lack of any concerted opposition in Westminster) has led the people of the UK into a hopeless position where there is no chance of getting a deal with the EU that is anywhere near as good as the one we have now. To be honest, I think the Tories realize this, and that they've called the general election on 8 June as a smokescreen to mask a different agenda. For even if, as they hope, they get an increased majority, it is not going to make the slightest bit of difference to the other members of the EU. Their negotiating position will, obviously, be based on their interests.

So what, then, is the real reason behind calling this general election? I believe that it is to give Theresa May a mandate for creating a radically different type of UK. In order to survive economically outside the EU, the UK is going to have to be much more aggressive in the way it seeks to trade with other countries. As they hinted at before, it means reducing workers' wages and workers' rights in order to make UK goods cheaper, so that companies can still sell them after tariffs have been applied. It also means getting rid of environmental protections because, in the same way, it's cheaper for companies not to bother about polution and greenhouse gas emissions.

The EU is based on the European values and standards that a vast majority of European countries share, including at least one (if not more) of the countries that currently make up the UK. Trying to undercut these values in the hope of giving your country a competitive edge is a cheap, tawdry thing to do, and the pursuit of this sort of UK will inevitably result in the disintegration of the UK.

If you reap the wind, you sow the whirlwind.

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

A cynic might say the UK becoming the Cayman Islands without the sun was the real goal of the EU referendum, whipping up hysteria about immigration using UKIP as the front for it was the obvious vehicle needed to get ordinary people to vote for their own demise.

Scotland and Northern Ireland were smart enough to vote for their own interests and have a way off the crazy train, I fear Wales fete is already sealed as a region of the new reactionary inward looking England because nothing ive seem since the referendum has convinced me otherwise.

ps good to have you back blogging.

Michael Haggett said...

Yes, some people will always have preferred, and will always prefer, the UK being a low-wage-for-most, high-profit-for-a-few, economy. But I'm not sure that was a prime motive for all that many in the leave campaign.

I think it would be better to say that most of those who wanted us to leave thought that we would just carry on trading with the EU as we had before, because "they need us more than we need them". But when UK ministers floated that idea in Brussels and the other capitals of Europe, they were told in no uncertain terms that it would be impossible unless the UK continued to accept the basic rules of the single market ... and it was only then that ministers hit upon the idea that the UK would prosper by "undercutting" the EU.

As for Wales, things will be bleak if we remain in the UK, but we will never be trapped in the UK. Nobody is going to take our right of self-determination away from us. If a majority of us want Wales to be independent, then no-one can stop us becoming independent. It is therefore a question of persuading our fellow countrymen and women that independence is in our best interests. An independent Scotland and reunited Ireland will show us that the sky won't fall on our heads ... but I'd prefer us to work that out for ourselves now rather than waiting to see what happens elsewhere.

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