We are where we are – not the most intellectually stimulating of clichés but true nevertheless. We are no longer a member of the European Union. To leave was emphatically the wrong thing to do but we been and gone and done it. What now?
Rejoining the Union is not a goal in itself for now. It may be a solution to problems at some point in the future but certainly for the next year or two or more it is not. That is because the post EU world has to be tested. This does not require any of us to surrender our positions. I’m as in favour of membership of the EU as I was a week ago when (effectively) we still were. But the battleground has shifted.
The scope of the post EU world, the bombastic rhetoric aside, has only just begun to be seen. Ask a businessman what they expect for their business in the new world and the chances are they will say they don’t know. Ask a merchant banker if they will shift from London to Paris or Frankfurt and they’ll say the same. It’s a journey into the unknown.
The effect of Brexit will be felt across all aspects of our life. Our commercial life. Our financial life. Our cultural life. Our family life, and more. What was straightforward following thirty year old precedents and within the context of detailed treaties no longer is. One very likely route forward we have already started to see. Every time Liz Truss declares that there is a trade agreement with a non EU country it’s the same agreement that we already have, though slightly less advantageous to Britain. It’s rollover time.
If the trade rollovers are pragmatic and sensible in other areas surely the same will apply? Take employment. European citizens make hugely valuable contributions to Britain’s economy, not least in the National Health Service. The strict application of the post Freedom of Movement rules would stop that. So it won’t happen. Common sense will surely prevail. Gradually, even stealthily, those nominally closed borders will begin to reopen. Here the illogicality of a swift return to employment freedoms cannot be one way. If Spanish doctors return to the NHS then British doctors will have to be allowed to take the opposite route. Freedom of Movement is a two way thing.
What I’m arguing here, and these are only a few examples among many, is that pragmatism will defeat ideology. Abandoning Erasmus was deranged ideology. As was not participating in Europe-wide vaccine procurement schemes. It reminds me of the fall of Apartheid in Southern Africa. What happened first was the abandonment of petty apartheid. The silly laws and rules that defied logic and were solely a consequence of hard racist ideology. Surely if something doesn’t make sense, like the withdrawal from Erasmus, we won’t do it.
The trade deal with the EU showed that a measure of common sense can prevail even at a time of faux-patriotic triumphalism. Soon, very soon is my guess, we will realise that the trade deal without participation in the single market and the customs union is sub optimum. So, probably quite stealthily, we will negotiate deals which have benefits that are indistinguishable from the current single market and the customs union. A few on the fringes might claim that this means it’s Brexit in Name Only (Brino) but most of us won’t care about that if it makes life easier and makes imports cheaper.
We don’t have to fly the EU flag to participate to mutual benefit in pan-European collaboration. The Swiss and the Norwegians don’t. Why should we? As bridges are rebuilt (or in many cases never demolished) gradually we will realise that to an extent we can have our cake and eat it. The key consideration is “mutual benefit”. There is no doubt that to participate in the single market is beneficial to both the EU27 countries and to Britain. If only ideology and phoney arguments about Sovereignty stands in the way of this happening then surely logic will prevail. Those screaming “Brino” will be seen for the dinosaurs they are.
My scenario is optimistic and based on the premise that though as a nation we do very silly things at times we are not deep down foolish. That premise has certainly been tested to destruction over the past decade and maybe I’m wrong and we will continue along the path of lonely decline. But my guess and fervent hope is not.
One thought on “Britain in Europe – lonely decline or pragmatic partnership is the choice”
I admire your optimism Paddy. However, early signs are not good. Reports of UK Spanish residents being refused entry to Spain because of incorrect paperwork are not encouraging. The jobsworths were wrong of course but the anxiety it creates filters through and becomes an urban legend.
Pragmatism may be in the mind of the likes of Johnson especially as is likely Biden twists his arm. Sadly France is in no mood to move closer to Britain. Macron is attempting to dominate the European agenda, as Merkle the undisputed leader departs the stage. An anti-British sentiment plays well in France and Macon seeks re-election against a tide of failure.
That said I believe Ursula van der Leyden is a pragmatist. I agree there is some cause for hope. Even the Tories cannot stay in government forever. Political opinion in Britain has already shifted against Johnson due to his inept handling of the Covid crisis. The Red wall is returning to their Labour roots encouraged by some excellent talent such as Andy Burnham.
I believe as British people begin to realise the agendas of Farage and Johnson were misleading, shallow untruth, opinion towards the EU will shift. Especially if the EU has the sense to respond and understand playing a hard line towards Britain will never achieve anything constructive.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest.
The soul, uneasy, and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.” (Alexander Pope (1688 -1744)