Monday, 29 July 2019

No special favours for Johnson

You don't get very far in any political analysis unless you try to see it from the other side of the argument. It's easy to see where this is going when you understand the EU's point of view.

The Tories think this is all one big game of chicken, believing the EU will blink first. They've convinced themselves that a bit of tough talk will scare the EU because the EU needs a deal as much as we do. This, though, is to misread the EU. The EU primarily is a rules based system that only functions by way of unity of purpose. It has put great stock in standing by Ireland. A member state.

Consequently, even consenting to reopen the withdrawal agreement for further negotiating, rishing the whole thing unravelling, is too much of a political risk. They'd be favouring a departing member over an existing member. This it will not do. This is not a commercial question. For the EU this borders on the existential.

As much as Brexit is an issue for the EU, the EU is attacked on all sides by populists and demagogues and they especially view Boris Johnson as one of them. They will make no concession for him, lest they embolden such ultimatums from others.

But then on the technical side of this argument, the backstop really is the most efficient, cost effective way of doing things. The UK has never been able to propose and alternative that is compatible with its own legal order or one that would not place onerous burdens on Irish business thus interrupting normal daily life.

But then there's the ultimate truth of the matter. Brexiters don't really care about the backstop. They don't really care if Ireland unifies. The backstop whinge is really just the convenient whipping boy. If it didn't exist they would find something else to complain about. The ERG have already stated that they won't vote for the deal even without the backstop.

There are also other agendas at work here. The ERG knows what the rest of us know. The only way to avoid the backstop kicking in is to forge a future relationship based on a high level of regulatory integration which upsets their deregulation agenda and very much interferes with the commercial agenda of their Washington sponsors. US interests have invested serious money in Brexit propaganda via the IEA etc to secure their preferred outcomes. This explains why the ERG is so insistent on skipping a withdrawal agreement and instead going straight to talks toward a CETA style comprehensive FTA.

Being that this was never an option, despite their claims to the contrary, they believe the best way to circumvent a withdrawal agreement and skip ahead to FTA talks is to leave without a deal. This is a miscalculation in that most of the EU diplomatic corps believes that the price to reopen trade negotiations will be a backstop style agreement as a starter for ten.

At the more extreme end of the extreme end there is the belief that they need them more than we need them and we can tick over on WTO terms until the EU drops its unreasonable demands which they see as an annexation of Northern Ireland. Paranoia, fury and loathing drives the hard right Brexiters and they can never be placated. The Brexit blob has done everything possible to nurture that ignorance.

Put simply, there is zero incentive for the EU to budge from their position even slightly. The binding political declaration commits both sides to phasing out the backstop should it ever be activated and if the Tories are so confident that there are alternate solutions then they shouldn't have any problem committing to that process. The EU doesn't see how they can be more accommodating, and when the backstop gripe itself is a strategic decoy, they gain nothing by playing into it. 

Both Barnier and Tusk remind us that no deal is not the EU's choice. They would prefer a deal and a deal is on the table. It's really up to the British government to decide whether we have a managed departure or the self-defeating mess of no deal. If it's the latter then the EU has taken all the necessary steps to insulate itself from our decision and anything on top of that is more our problem than theirs. It's only a matter of time before the UK comes crawling back for a deal. At that point, the EU can make any demand it fancies.

The rest of the game really all depends on sequencing. If Johnson waits til the bad news starts rolling in before calling an election, it could be Corbyn crawling to Brussels. But then if Johnson wins we're in for years more bickering with the EU while we're up to our necks in disputes and court cases, and then it won't take long for the Tories to tank in the polls. It'll be the next administration doing the deals with Brussels. And Brexiters are not going to like that at all

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