Saturday, 7 July 2018

The Unending Politics of the Proposal Deal

What is it, a Combined Customs Territory? And we could have a Common Rule Book for goods and agriculture.

It's not going to work, is it, because goods and agriculture increasingly come with services, and services are excluded. Is this a plot against the City of London, to cut it down to size?

Britain was the prime country to push for a single market, at a time when the EU was more dirigiste (combination of markets and planning, and plenty of oversight manipulation). It needs free trade and free movement of people and capital. The people side of this proposal deal will also have some sort of agreement for people being able to move back and forth between the EU and the UK.

So these wheels will be reinvented as circles with square bits in them, and incomplete. The wheels on the bus will go round, hit inevitable potholes on the way, and, by construction, fall off.

In the single market you can have free movement of people, but they can be registered and after three months of no job they go home. Belgium does this. Belgium is in the Shengen area.

The immediate politics of this is that the Cabinet Ministers went to Chequers, lost their mobile phones, and around 7 pm while still inside, Mrs May was outside giving the 10 Downing Street interpretation. The taxi firm they could use had gone bust, and no ministerial cars were available for resigned Cabinet Ministers. Then Mrs may wrote to them all to say Cabinet Collective responsibility, freed up at the referendum, was now back in place - as if it had been suspended all this time!

The substantive content will be in the White Paper, out next Thursday. Who will control the White Paper: presumably the Department for Exiting the European Union, but, really, again, 10 Downing Street. But between now and then, some ministers could resign, or, if they misbehave, get sacked. Collective Cabinet responsibility is a two-way street, it only happens if the malcontents in public, who fail to promote the proposal agreement, get sacked. They might not go at the weekend, but they might from Thursday.

The wider politics is this: that the whole business started and has been all about Tory Party politics. The EU referendum was called because the Tory Party could not make up its mind and Cameron had his gamble. He lost. A referendum should only be used for confirmation of a government position on a major constitutional issue (as in Scotland, where the 'no' vote stopped independence and a 'yes' would have put paid to any more referenda).

Instead of being a considered question and advisory towards a very complex issue, the referendum result on a narrow binary majority to leave caused most politicians to give an almost sacred status to the referendum result. Nevertheless, in the Tories in particular, the division was not solved by the binary question, but it has just gone on, and every move Theresa May has made i the last two years has been based on the balance of powers, first in the Tory party and, since the General Election, increasingly in the House of Commons. She started off wishing to stay in, she then slipped into power and was transformed into a hard exiter (I never believed it: read back in these blogs), and she has since enjoyed the European Council meetings and rowed back to this point. This is where, she thinks, she can just about get away with it but for forty or so Tories. Should these Tories object she can soften further to the point where Labour MPs by and large won't object, to gain a majority a different way. She thinks. (It meets the Democratic Unionist Party test of UK wide consistency.)

We know that the Budgets have a habit of being a tremendous success and then unravelling within forty-eight hours. This could well be similar. Even if it gets past next Thursday, Tories will fidget and get exasperated. For many, this has been their life goal to get out, and get out completely, and it is slipping away. They could be very badly behaved.

Remember that Boris Johnson was never one of these: before the campaign he was umming and arring over which side to support: he took his decision partly to separate himself from David Cameron, to beat him, and he has been on this side ever since. But he may want to try and recover his falling reputation, not helped by his escape from the Heathrow expansion decision recently. I do not know yet whether fisheries fall into agriculture, but to have common standards is to also have a price system and supply control that is the Common policies for agriculture and fisheries. If so, Gove's triumphalism only this week on the British instead of the EU limiting fish catches and boats in our waters (seeking access to other waters, surely) will look hollow. Will he go? Gove is often considered one who thinks we can alter things later: but not when a treaty is signed. One detects he was behind the caveat that the Houses of Parliament can disagree on common tariffs and positions: not if there is a treaty, it cannot - the end point. This does all end in a treaty between the EU and the UK. Liam Fox will not be able to do trade deals; Canada's limited deal was because there are regulatory differences. We will be bound to EU rules in a Common Rule Book, and the EU guards its Customs Union and Single Market as single entities very jealously including the role for the European Court of Justice.

The bizarre thing is that this is unlikely to satisfy the Tory remainers anyway - simply because it is so complicated and a hotch-potch. It will take ages to set up, needing a longer transition period. The EU does not want to extend such a period either, so the hotch-potch becomes impractical - in advance.

None of this is the negotiation with the EU. This is before we even get there.

Once again, this is like Irish nationalism before partition (indeed after as well - it is the Irish Question that has derailed so much of May's fantasy sloganeering of 'Brexit means Brexit'). It would have surfaced and nobbled her even if she had achieved a majority to overcome both wings of her party. Why the comparison? Because the Irish issue kept coming back to governments this way and that, finally getting a partition compromise which, in the very long run of things, needs revisiting.

If we come out of the EU inadequately, we will have everlasting division, especially in the Tory party, between those who would go back in, and those who would come out more completely. And this would be reflected in the wider body politic. The EU issue will start to affect Labour.

And a word about the Liberal Democrats. Their policy is a referendum on the deal with an option to remain in. This is a manifesto policy for opposition. Do we really seriously believe that, say if the Tories collapsed and the Lib Dems took power, that a Liberal Democrat government would negotiate us out of the EU? Of course not. It's position to Monsieur Barnier would be so say, "Sorry for wasting your time, we wish to stay in, and we carry on as we are." General Elections trump referenda. The General Election of 2017, that no one won, changed the referendum impact: it made the softer exit more likely. A General Election can also make us stay in. Not quite sure how (beyond the political earthquake) - but some Tories and exit voters are saying that, in future, given what has happened so far, they will stop voting. Well, many others have turned eighteen, and there are people who now say we must have representation in EU-wide decisions. They say EU principles for sharing and peace are worth fighting to retain. So this tide could turn, and could do so fairly quickly. It is time for the politicians who want to stay in to step up to the plate, and point out that this 'deal' for a proposal is a dog's breakfast: if we are in, we join in with representation and decision taking.

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