Monday, 16 July 2018

Reaching the EU Negotiation Dead End

It's mid-July and the final week of the House of Commons before the summer break is going to be eventful.

Consider this: even if Theresa May had achieved her majority to overcome the two wings of her party, she would still have been nobbled by the Irish question. The Irish question and subsequent partition has derailed British politics ever since. The 'no border' in Ireland or across the Irish Sea would have had the same result. The European Union, designed to bring countries together, underpinned the evolution of Irish unity and British unity too. We cannot leave. It is as simple as that.

The new effort will have to be improving the democratic machinery of the European Union: elect its President, give the European Parliament more powers, and retain important vetoes in the Council.

Why? Let's look at the final week of the full parliamentary season...

If the 16th July Daily Telegraph authored article is anything to go by, Boris Johnson's expected House of Commons speech will be platitudinous and hardly a call to a strategy. Who knows: perhaps he has a clue. Boris Johnson was never a card-carrying anti-European; he adopted this persona only in the light of David Cameron's gamble.

Had David Cameron lost the Scottish Independence referendum that followed Scottish National victory and policy in Scotland, he would never have done his own gamble with an EU in or out referendum. From then, until now, this was only ever an attempt to close down Tory Party division.

That referendum would never have decided it. Indeed what has followed has not and will not decide it. This will go on, even if we do leave, because how we leave will not then satisfy the divided land created from the Tory Party dispute source. The outers will want it cleaner as out, the inners will want to develop closer contact for a return back into the fold.

The Prime Minister's choreography at Chequers was no substitute for actual agreement. Once people are let out, normal behaviour resumes. Officials and ministers continue to resign, and two cabinet members are on resign-watch. The proposal, with its White Paper, is not good enough among remainers for business and co-operation (we leave political institutions but carry on economically) and far too compromising for the exiters. The proposal is a classic middle of the road option, that if you stand in the middle of the road among divided traffic lanes, you get run over.

Such a proposal, then, grinds into the ground rapidly. It lacks support, and the party three-line-whip system isn't strong enough to have Tory members support it sufficiently, when no one else will bale out this half-baked attempt to retain limited contact with the European Union.

By at last coming to a position, the government has found that there is no position. It turned over its cards, and lost.

So what happens now? This White Paper is a non-runner. The government might try to nip and tuck, but which way? If it tries to satisfy one side, it will lose the other. Because it cannot go either way, it may push this scheme into negotiations. But it will not survive a vote of the House of Commons or House of Lords.

We assume the exiter Tories are going to push amendments this week that will find their own 80 or so MPs maximum (let's see) vote for them, but no one else will. They will contribute to destroying the Tory Party as it presently stands, but they won't contribute to a solution.

There are remain amendments too, that have more cross-party support, but the Tory remainers welcomed the government White Paper in order to isolate the exiters. For the time being, then, they may once again prove to be unreliable for business in goods and services and vote with the government. Time after time the remain Tories have shown an absence of will, and have caved in to assurances soon withdrawn, and they may well do so again. If so this means that they won't vote for the European Economic Area option that would put the UK into the European Free Trade Area. Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway are in EFTA; the EEA unites these with the EU by following basic rules to enable goods, services, capital, and persons to move freely about the EEA. We could move from the EU to EFTA with minimal disruption, but Tory remainers might faff around with the government's half-baked proposal.

Meanwhile the Labour Party has a fantasy that it can have a customs union outside EFTA because we will then go to EU meetings to influence EU policy regarding the Customs Union proper. That's not how it works: there is full membership, the EU, and associated membership, the EFTA. EFTA members already have their needs considered with the jealously guarded EU Single Market and Customs Union. Many Labour MPs also think Labour's policy is a fantasy, and simply say go for staying within the EEA.

The exiters think that, because there is Article 50 and the ticking clock, and the Leaving the EU law now in place, that enough disruption will lead to the crash-out: leaving altogether at the end of March 2019: no transition, no nothing. The disruption this will cause will be like hitting a great depression: business processes will simply cease to function.

The Prime Minister has hinted that if her approach does not go forward, due to lack of support, then we may not leave the EU at all. How does that work?

Would the government do this? It means telling the EU to stop the clock, and means emergency legislation to overcome the law as it now is, that we leave the EU in March 2019. But if the government is suffering resignations now, it will have a torrent of them if the government goes ahead to stay in the EU. The EU no doubt will faciliate this, but not if it means carrying on with endless and pointless negotiations because the UK is incapable of making up its mind. If we stay, we stay.

One possibility is a referendum on the deal. But what if there is no deal? The government cannot make a deal alone without likely legislative back-up. Here I disagree with Liberal Democrat policy and the clamour for a second referendum: a second referendum is no more likely to heal divisions and provide legitimacy than the first one. A three-way referendum - deal, leave, stay - will simply cause confusion. Don't we learn any lessons?

If the government cannot function to put the brake on, the House of Commons through significant figures within it can. The Dominic Grieve's of this place will have to negotiate rapid votes cross-party to ram on the brakes, even as the government disintegrates towards a likely General Election, one unlikely to solve anything because of one split party competing against another split party, unless the Liberal Democrats were to rise like a pheonix (not likely).

If I call myself a remainer, it is a term I do not like. I never regarded the referendum as legitimate, because it didn't attempt to confirm a government changing the constitutional position. The Scots said, 'We are going independent, please confirm the action.' The people did not. Here there was no decision, only a ridiculous negotiation that achieved nothing pre-vote. So my approach has always been about staying in the European Union. MPs are representatives in the House of Commons and this is where sovereignty is demonstrated: as an MP I'd have been voting consistently to stay in the European Union.

The logic was always this. Come out, and we lose economic and cultural sharing thrugh institutions: such is how things are but also they are good - they bind peoples together and make us one. However, come out to EFTA and we are rule takers and have no formal representation, and therefore we may as well stay in. Being in the Council of Ministers, the Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice, makes sense. It makes more sense than sitting outside of these just taking the latest decisions others make.

Should we stay in the EU then many will cry foul. There will be a lesson here about facts on the ground. The Conservative Party will be shattered and lose a lot of support, and the Labour Party will hardly shine in comparative glory. One outcome may well be the division of the UK into four countries by a collapse of legitimacy. We will become our own confederate EU-like kingdom.

Cameron took his gamble and did not realise how bound we were to the EU, and how fragile is the UK union. His stupidity has likely destroyed his own party and the UK it once represented.

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