Doomsayers, derided last year for heralding the collapse of Britain’s economy, the rise of ineffective and divisive politics, and the undermining of Britain’s global position, are returning from their spots safe from Twitter trolls. Their prophecies, which sounded so madcap a year ago, now beginning to be backed by the facts of being outvoted at the UN (with much of the EU abstaining), rising inflation, and the chaos of our government’s administration. Most important is the news coming from the Brussels negotiations. Britain’s negotiating position, touted as so strong during the referendum because of our trading links, has been shown to be as strong and stable as our Prime Minister.
The news has recently been full of tortuous decisions, most notably Britain’s exit from Euratom, the pan-European institution which oversees the use of nuclear technology and substances. It’s highly technical and important functions. These include covering the transport of nuclear fuel across the EU, important for the UK, which has no nuclear fuel source itself and relies on nuclear power for 21% of its power. It also organises the use and transport of nuclear isotopes from reactors on the continent to Britain, which relies on great speed, as these isotopes can decay rapidly. Without access to these fuels, many tests or cancer treatments cannot take place. It has also been noted that the UK doesn’t have the regulatory framework to oversee its nuclear power plants’ safety regulations, something that would have to be scrambled together over the next year. Whilst this may be a dry and relatively obscure topic – brought to light by good journalism – its complexity speaks volumes as to how much more difficult these negotiations are going to get. This paper from the Nuclear Institute is an instructive case in this regard. Our negotiating team’s brief needs to be longer than he allowed when he dropped by as negotiations began two weeks ago. And the reason for this whole kerfuffle? The government hasn’t made that clear (a surprise) but is most likely that it is under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, the EU’s top court. This maddening abhorrence of any ties to the EU, this sudden distrust of all our European partners, is crazy. The mutual trust and respect promised is being thrown out of the window so as to placate the most Europhobic Conservatives.
Whilst our incompetence has become legendary across Europe, we don’t need them telling us how bad we’re doing. It is plain to see from the way negotiations are going. With the issue of money now rolling around, most expect it to just roll right over Britain. Our own government’s confusion over Brexit extends so far as to blur into the horizon. Finding an edge, a hard negotiating position, is too difficult. Any attempt to find one leads on endlessly – the ‘definite’ in negotiations quickly becomes ‘under negotiation’, and finally ‘conceded’ in light of our terrible negotiating position. Looking at the facts objectively, if you voted for Leave because you believed that Britain could get a deal that propelled her to greater things outside the EU, then it might be coming clear that such a deal is illusory. Any deal negotiated will more likely be an albatross around our neck, marking us out as much a ‘grey-beard loon’ as the mariner, excluded from the party that is the EU, stuck accosting the guests with our tale of woe.
Our negotiating position, which I’ve mentioned is weak, is so for several reasons. We don’t have a coherent government. Our European counterparts can read the Times, Telegraph, or BBC well enough to hear the spats coming originating from our government. Most recently, the split between the chancellor Philip Hammond and international trade minister Liam Fox over the length of any interim deal has been a very public disagreement over Brexit. Our Prime minister is a lame duck, more useless than an American President in the last months of their office with their replacement already voted in. What’s more, she only survived because there is no one good enough to replace her in the Conservative party. This does not make for good leadership. Furthermore, her key advisors, which before the election had been touted as fresh and full of ideas, have quit. And the exodus continues. Our economy is, whilst not doing atrociously, is certainly not worth touting to the EU. Britain’s lack of credible alternatives constrains us further. Trump’s government has been unable to pass any major legislation, and even has trouble implementing its own executive orders. The odds of getting any deal is slim. And getting a good deal with a man who was elected on a platform of negotiating ‘fair’ trade deals for America is like trusting that the farmer, as a turkey at Christmas, won’t lead you to the slaughterhouse. And no Harvey Spectre-esque character can come along and save us in negotiations. The weight of the EU’s preparedness set against our own chaotic planning means that they have an overwhelming advantage. We’ve shot ourselves in the foot, and in our contest with the EU both of us can hear the bones grinding, blood lapping, and our own whimpering.
As a citizen of the UK, knowing the mirth Europeans are having at the stupidity of our country’s predicament is galling and understandable in equal measure. We Brits mock the likes of Trump enough. Indeed, humour is the only thing that will brighten our situation. For positive steps towards a sensible plan are not being taken by the government. Our best option would be to scrap the negotiations, cry ‘Mulligan!’, and act as if its all been a terrible misunderstanding. But I know as well as you that such a situation is unlikely to occur for the foreseeable future (although we still have almost two years of negotiations to fumble…). There are too many individual opt-outs for every minister to demand and receive the special treatment that their sector needs, too many inconsistencies with the government’s current negotiating platform. In reality, fresh personnel are needed. There is potential in every party. But the current stranglehold of the old guard – think Johnson, Davis, and May – is stifling.
Staying as close to the EU as possible must be a key tenet of any deal. We would be paying into an organisation in which we’d have no say. We’d still lose the EU’s regulatory bodies’ headquarters. We’d probably lose a good deal of the EU investment that has been so important in helping areas like Wales, Cornwall, or Northern Ireland. But those all point to the very oddity of our decision to leave. If we find leaving the EU’s markets and regulations to be silly, and complain about the benefits we’d lose leaving, it begs the question: why are we leaving? It’s well-known people were deceived during the EU referendum campaign. Making an informed decision was almost impossible. Both EU referendums, 2016 and 1975, have been criticised for failing to convince enough people to settle the debate either way. Well, if those campaigns didn’t, itemising each and every benefit the EU brings that we shall lose and every cost incurred in leaving should convince Britons of why we should stay.
The government will listen to calls such as these, should enough people make them. A weak government has to listen to calls such as these, as it has to listen to all manner of interest groups it doesn’t want to. Our MPs, backbench and frontbench, opposition and in power, all have the power to shape the deal that comes out at the end of 2 years. And most importantly they can push for whatever deal is made being voted on in another referendum; between the deal negotiated, and remaining in the EU. Once people see the shambolic deal laid down in front of them, few will want to take it. Two years is a long time. Enough time to shape Britain’s future for the next decade. Enough time to make that future successful, at the heart of Europe.