Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Brexiters don't understand the EU and they never did.

The fundamental error in the estimations of Brexiters is that the current impasse is part of ongoing negotiations. There is a presumption that the EU is so desperate to avoid a no deal Brexit that all we need do is hold out until we are teetering over the edge and the the EU will cave into the UK,drop the backstop and adopt the non-proposals of the Alternative Arrangements Commission.

As ever the logic behind this is that the EU exports more to us than us to them and German car makers and French farmers will race to the rescue in pressuring heads of state to change their stance.

That’s really where we are. Three years of intense public debate and the collective level of understanding in the leave camp has not advanced even an inch. Nearly all of the technical and trade debate has passed them by entirely. To them this is just one giant game of chicken. All we need do to persuade Brussels to create a gaping hole in its customs frontier and its decades old legal order is elect a more macho PM who will fly to Brussels and slap his dick on the table.

There is some irony herein that the very reason no deal is not leverage is the ultimate reason why we must leave the EU. Brexiters should instinctively understand this. The EU will always put its own dogma and it own legal order first and foremost with the interests of member states being a distant second. Brexiters are assuming that EU heads of state will put their own national interests ahead of EU unity. Our own experience with successive governments indicates otherwise and in the case of a departing member, the opportunity to cannibalise UK market share has greater potential gains than bending to BMW’s lobbyists.

There have been occasions when the rules have been bent for expedience but this is a far greater test of the EU’s values and its resolve. As much as it cannot make concessions it would not even grant to members, the EU is not likely to give way to the posturing of a man like Boris Johnson who is deeply loathed in the EU. The UK’s petulance and posturing cannot be seen to be rewarded.

The chief reason that the EU cannot yield is entirely a matter of image. Brexiters hoped that the UK’s departure would start a domino effect. This was largely wishful thinking on the part of extremists who not only want to leave the EU, but also to destroy it. The EU cannot give of any vibe that Brexit leaves it mortally wounded and is keen to progress with other business. It has made a huge show of its most recent advances in trade, proving itself to be a virile operator and to rub the UK’s nose in it since Brexiters have made a big show of their “free trade” credentials. As much as the agenda cannot be seen to be dominated by Brexit, the EU itself wants to move on with life sans UK. It won’t let Britain derail its ambition to move beyond Brexit. 

Then, as outlined at length, the EU knows quite a lot about what’s going to happen in the event of no deal. They know what any realist knows. Firstly they know that those quickie “bumper deals” spoken of by the likes of Boris Johnson and Richard Tice aren’t coming any time soon. They also know that the UK losing most of its authorisations to operate in the single market will touch just about every corner of UK commerce, piling on compliance costs and logistics overheads. They also know that the immediate imposition of tariffs will see UK prices skyrocket across the board and that for all the witless bluster of ERG MPs, the UK is nowhere near prepared for the wave of complications thrown up by a no deal Brexit, many of which are still at this point unknowable.

They know that it won’t take long at all for the job losses to mount and for the public mood to turn sour. They also know that British politics is currently unstable and we will see a general election within the next twelve months. Unless one is called before the bad news starts to snowball then the Tories are likely out on their ear - by which point the UK will be screaming for a deal and the EU will be negotiating with an even less competent UK government. The balance of leverage will be entirely in their favour and and will be able to set take it or leave it terms, which most certainly will include something close to what we now call the backstop.

As much as anything, we really don’t need to game the EU’s response to Boris Johnson. We have already been here. Parliament has refused to ratify the withdrawal agreement, Number Ten has asked the EU for something other than the backstop and the EU response has been much the same each time. There are fundamental principles any alternate arrangements must satisfy and nothing as yet presented by the UK indicates that the issues have been adequately understood. A change of prime minister does not change this. The EU position does not change simply because Boris Johnson (allegedly) believes in Brexit.

This has all been detailed previously by this blog along with Ivan Rogers whose intimate knowledge of the EU is not in question by anyone remotely serious, but Brexiters still buy into the mythology that the EU is economically vulnerable, on the brink of collapse and likely to suffer more from no deal than the UK. This is an unshakable article of faith with which there is no reasoning. And believe me I have tried. This debate has long since moved beyond the rational.

Were one to be charitable to the Brexiteers, they are looking at this in much the same way the UK has always viewed the EU - through the commercial lens, believing that the EU can’t afford not to have a trade deal with us. To a point that is true in the longer term but the EU knows that at some point there will be a deal because Britain simply cannot operate without formal trade relations with its superpower neighbour. But this misunderstands the nature of the beast.

The EU never has been a mere trade bloc and doesn’t think in solely terms of trade or immediate economic concerns. You can only see rationality in the EU’s behaviour if you see it for what it is, which is more akin with a religious cult than a trade bloc. The idea behind the project always takes precedence. When you observe the EU through that lens all this talk of gambits and standoffs as though we were haggling for a carpet looks all the sillier. It will endure whatever it has to endure to prove the greater ideal has longevity - which is all the more reason why it can’t make fundamental concessions. The UK never has understood this and to date still doesn’t. It is perhaps that, most of all, that demonstrates better than anything why we do not belong in the EU.

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