Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Brexit, good and hard

So it’s official: Brexit is to be hard, with the UK leaving the Single Market and European Customs Union, as well as the EU itself.

As Donald Tusk, Chairman of the EU Council of Ministers, points out this position, espoused by Theresa May in her speech of 17 January, is “more realistic” than some of the aspirations that had been voiced before. Staying in the Single Market would mean virtually not leaving the EU, while giving up any say in the way it’s governed. Staying in the Customs Union would probably entail accepting the continued applications of certain regulations on Britain that most Brexit voters abhorred.

Theresa May announcing that Brexit will be hard
A hard Brexit certainly seems closer to the wishes of the majority who voted to leave the EU last June.

That reminds me of H. L. Mencken’s view that “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard”.

Just because hard Brexit comes closest to the popular view doesn’t mean that people will enjoy the outcome. It’s the old business of being careful what you wish for. The pain that Brexiters will have inflicted on themselves – and, sadly, on the rest of us too – will only become apparent over the next few years, but it will be no less painful for that.

Friends tell me that Britain is in a strong position in international trade negotiations because we import so much: no one would want to imperil such a lucrative market. My view is that imports principally enrich us. They mean we can buy the goods we want, cheaply. Cheap clothes? Fresh produce throughout the year? Foreign cars or household goods at competitive prices? It would hurt British people far more than those of the producing countries to have to give them up.

Again, I’m told that we can negotiate trade deals with anyone in the world. That’s true. But if anyone thinks it would be easy, they might do well to think again.

The EU has been negotiating with the US over the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership since 2006. Negotiations are now set to continue until 2019 or 2020 at least. One of the holdups has been that many in Europe regard TTIP as deeply slanted against Europe, or even against the common people of both Europe and the US, in favour of multinational corporations.

If that is a problem for the EU with its population of 550 million, why should we assume that Britain would find it any easier?

After all, in 2003 Britain signed a new extradition treaty with the US. A freedom of information request from 2012 revealed there have been no extraditions of US citizens to the UK for offences committed in the US, though there have been cases of extradition the other way around. It’s hard to believe the treaty’s even-handed.

No doubt Britain can obtain a trade deal with the US. But quickly? And one that is equitable? That seems unlikely.

In any case, the EU isn’t simply about trade or economics, just as the Euro isn’t simply about a currency or finance. At root, they are measures designed to move towards collaboration instead of the centuries-old conflict between European nations, always damaging even when it didn’t explode into outright war. Nations that profit from trade with each other, and even more nations that even trade in a common currency, are far less likely to fall out.

Brexit says that Britain wants no part of this. It fears the consequences of remaining in the EU more than it values the benefits of peace and a slowly, painfully emerging collaboration that it embodies.

Why does it fear the EU so much?

Again, May made the answer clear. Britain insists on having control of its borders back. It must be able to limit immigration across the borders, including immigration from the EU. And yet, is there any serious evidence that such immigration is causing us harm?

The answer is clearly no. Proportionately fewer immigrants than native-born residents draw on benefits or are imprisoned for offences. The vast majority work, allowing services to keep functioning, and pay taxes that more than outweigh what it costs Britain to have them here.

So what’s the problem?

We’re up against the essential issue of xenophobia. There is an inherent tendency to dislike outsiders. Their food is different and it smells different. They speak another language, which I can’t understand, on streets that I regarded as my own. Worst of all, since they are often highly motivated individuals, they may work harder and better than I do. So they take what I felt was my job, work I regarded myself as entitled to, by birthright.

It’s true that they may also work for a lower wage which depresses the earning power of the native born. But that’s easily fixed, as Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party has pointed out: we have to put regulation in place to ensure that unscrupulous employers can’t use foreign labour to undercut domestic.

That measure wouldn’t mean leaving the EU. But a majority of Britons want to leave. Like the EU or the Euro, it seems the motivation isn’t economic but political: a dislike of foreigners as foreigners, particularly if the foreigner may be rather better at what they do.

That’s a base motive. Base motives seldom lead to good outcomes. Now we know that the outcome is going to be hard Brexit.

The people have voted. Seems they’re going to get what they chose. Good and hard.


Anonymous said...

I can't think it was ever going to be anything else, Brexit means Brexit. For most who voted out it was about loss of Sovereignty and uncontrolled imogration, uncontrolled being the key word. I actually believe like all negotiation once they start the only successful conclusion is a win win situation, that is what always worked for me in business and so it will here. Half full glass not half empty.

David Beeson said...

I think you're in a for a shock. Trump wrote in his book, "The worst thing you can do in a deal is seem desperate to make it." We're very much the supplicants in this instance.

As for the EU, business will prevail. They won't work to punish us. But even business sense will drive them to take our finance services off us, and to attract the Japanese and American car manufacturers to move on to the Continent. Did you see that even Nissan are re-thinking after May's speech?

Anonymous said...

I have confidence, let's wait and see. Trump is correct the worst thing is indeed to appear desperate to do a deal. However the best way to conclude is win win, otherwise no one wins as there is no deal.

David Beeson said...

"From this day forward, it's only America First," says Trump.

Let's join together to wish May and Co lots of luck. Because they're going to need it.

Anonymous said...

I am sure many including May will say Britain first. It's a natural patriotic statement for any nation to make, self belief is everything without it you have a nation with no pride.

David Beeson said...

Sadly I think a lot of Brexiters rather hope that Trump will be doing us some favours. I suspect he'll see that we're negotiating from weakness and use that to make any eventual trade deal even more favourable to the US, even more slanted against Britain, than TTIP would be.

Anonymous said...

We will have a look at the results in 30 years when the deal is concluded, or do you think it will take a bit longer.

David Beeson said...

It'll take easily that long for the decline in Britain's standing in the world to be stopped. But it'll take less long to see the lousy deals we can make.