A transition period lasting at least two years after March 2019 when the UK will have to abide by EU laws including new ones; a massive “divorce bill” currently slated to be around £39 billion and probably much more ; the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to have a role in the UK justice system not only during the transition period but perhaps for years after the UK has supposedly left the EU; the cut off point for EU citizens gaining rights of residence to be at least March 2019 (and probably substantially longer) ; EU citizens with rights of residence in the UK to have the right to bring in their relatives, spouses and even their partners to the UK and the UK and the EU to be in alignment on standards and procedures when it comes to trade because of the “hard border” problem between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. All that and more tells the story of Theresa May’s rapid betrayal of Brexit.
What has motivated the woman to dishonour the Brexit vote so obviously and emphatically? It can only be attributed to one of two things or a combination of both, viz:
- May is simply out of her depth and acted out of fear.
- May is an unrepentant remainer at heart who is quite happy to see circumstances arise which allow Brexit to be effectively nullified.
It is unreasonable to expect May to be wholeheartedly working to achieve a true Brexit because someone fundamentally opposed to a course of action will be unable to support it with enthusiasm. Indeed, it is more than likely that a person in such a situation will be secretly pleased if the attempted course of action fails. At worst the person will use their involvement in the course of action to sabotage its desired end.
It is also worth remembering that May is the worst type of remainer, namely, a cowardly one as she showed with her near invisibility during the referendum campaign. That was the behaviour of an opportunist not a person acting out of principle and opportunists can never be relied on to do anything other than follow their own interest. May well have decided that her own interest in this situation is to actively sabotage Brexit or at least to drag things out in the hope that, Micawber-like, something will turn up to destroy Brexit. .
May’s capitulation to the EU should surprise no one who has followed her ministerial career. As Home Secretary May was constantly making encouraging statements about reducing immigration but never doing anything to make reality match her words. This habit of talking tough and then not seeing a stated policy through to fruition extended to much of what she did. This is also how she has behaved over Brexit, espousing tough slogans such as Brexit means Brexit and then collapsing in a heap when faced with a hostile EU.
Here is what May said in her campaign to be Tory leader and PM:
“There will be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it by the back door, and no second referendum.
“The country voted to leave the European Union, and as prime minister I will make sure that we leave the European Union.”
And here she is on 11 December 2017 about her “offer” (in reality a modern Danegeld) of £39 billion to allow the negotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU post Brexit to begin:
““It [the£39 bn) depends upon a broader agreement being reached – as I have said, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed – so if there is no agreement then our offer also falls away.”
Based on her past behaviour can anyone rationally believe May will be willing to walk away with no deal? Moreover, even if a hallway decent deal is done on trade the UK would still be left with all the concessions May has already made and some of those in themselves make a true Brexit impossible, for example, the alignment of the whole of the UK with EU trading standards and procedures .
Remainer domination of the positions of power and influence
It is true that May is in a stickier position now than a year she was a year ago because of the result of the General Election which she called that resulted in the loss of her Commons majority. But that is no excuse for her weakness when dealing with the EU for the Election did not fundamentally alter the Commons arithmetic . It is marginally easier now for the remainers to amend or vote down legislation or pass motions hindering Brexit but that is all. Even if May had not called an election her Government would still have been vulnerable to remainer attempts to destroy Brexit for we have a Remainer dominated cabinet, a Remainer dominated Tory Parliamentary Party, a Remainer dominated House of Commons and a Remainer dominated House of Lords.
Nor is it just the those with a formal political position who have been grinding the remainer axe incessantly. Tony Blair has made no bones about wanting to stop Brexit at any cost and Nick Clegg has come down in favour of a second referendum and advocated the votes of the under 30s count double.
Outside of ex-politicians there have also been attempts to delay and complicate Brexit by wealthy people such as Gina Miller who forced a judicial review which resulted in the Supreme Court forcing the Government to legislate before activating Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
It is true that remainer political and social dominance gives them great opportunity to delay and chip away at the idea of a true Brexit with practices such as amending Brexit Bills to death. But that does not mean May has to cave in to the EU. Rather it should be a signal to her to press ahead as hard and as fast as possible to thwart remainer efforts to delay the leaving date and to obfuscate the nature of the referendum result by making bogus claims that the British had not voted for a hard Brexit (this is the remainers post-referendum BIG LIE) when in fact what the British voted for was to leave the EU, no ifs, no buts.
Instead of acting decisively May failed to activate Article 50 until March 2017. Had she done this immediately she became Prime Minister the UK’s leaving date even under would have been July 2018. But not only was Article 50 triggered much too late it has become embarrassingly apparent since the negotiation with the EU began that there had been a complete failure by the Government to prepare for Brexit either before or since the referendum. That is unforgiveable as both as a matter of administrative incompetence and indicative of the remainer belief that the referendum would result in a vote to remain in the EU and, when that did not happen, that it would be possible to subvert the Brexit vote somehow, whether through a second referendum or by simply making a such a mess of the negotiation that the UK would be left as a de facto member of the EU.
The dismal reality of the negotiation to date
The fact that Brexit exists because a referendum instructed the Government to leave the EU means that the UK side of the negotiation should have the most crimson and indelible of red lines. The Government and Parliament contracted out the decision on whether the UK should remain in the EU by having a referendum. Consequently, the idea that this was just like a business negotiation where both sides hide their bottom line until the last moment is simple nonsense.
The question on the referendum ballot paper was crystal clear, namely, Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union? This meant no membership of the customs union, no membership of the single market, no payments to the EU, no jurisdiction of the ECJ over UK affairs, recovery of UK sovereignty over her borders and fishing grounds and the reestablishment of full sovereignty to the Westminster Parliament. Those should all be absolute lines in the sand as mandated by the British people in the referendum.
May has completely ignored this mandate. To date the negotiation has consisted of the EU saying they want this and they must have that and May caving in. She has not been willing or able to make any meaningful stand against what the EU have demanded. She has also allowed herself to be insulted by both the EUI bureaucracy and EU politicians In allowing herself to be insulted she has allowed the UK to be insulted.
May’s first mistake was to accept the EU’s demand that they set the agenda for the negotiations with the UK. This meant agreeing to pay a huge amount of money to the EU, a settlement of the Irish question and the position of EU nationals in the UK and British nationals in other EU countries before moving on to trade. This insistence by the EU contradicted their own guidelines for Article 50 negotiations. These state : “2. Negotiations under Article 50 TEU will be conducted in transparency and as a single package. In accordance with the principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, individual items cannot be settled separately. “ May should have called them out on this but failed to do so. The fact that she did not do so means that the UK is already committed to much which is to the UK’s disadvantage.
May began the detailed process of capitulation in September 2017 when she offered £20 billion as a “divorce settlement” if a satisfactory agreement between the UK and the EU could be made. She also made it clear that the UK would meet all its obligations which would include the UK’s share of all spending commitments the EU had made up to 2020 and the funding of EU pensions to politicians and bureaucrats which could go on for many decades. By December 2017 the UK appears to have accepted that the Bill could be £39 billion with again probably more to come for EU spending stretching into the future and other longer term commitments such as EU pensions.
The striking thing about all these promises is that no detailed computation has been made public to show why the UK owes such sums or is obligated either legally or morally to make such financial provision . This is unsurprising because there is a strong argument to say that there is no legal basis for any “divorce” settlement. The House of Lords European Union committee reported in March 2017 that “We conclude that if agreement is not reached, all EU law — including provisions concerning ongoing financial contributions . . . will cease to apply and the UK would be subject to no enforceable obligation to make any financial contribution at all.”
The remainers are very fond on analogies in their” explanations” as to why the UK has to cough up huge amounts of money to the EU both before and after we supposedly leave. Their favourite analogies involve members of clubs and their taking on obligations which they have to honour if they leave the club.
Here is an example of what happens in the real world when a club member ends his or her membership. Suppose a club has a membership fee of £500 a year. Its executive board decides to raise the fee to £750 pa to pay for a new and bigger clubhouse. This is put to the members who vote to go ahead with the plan. Members who do not wish to pay a higher membership fee leave the club. No one expects them to keep on paying towards the new clubhouse. Nor, if the club has paid employees with a pension scheme run by the club would members who left be expected to pay towards these pensions. That is essentially the position of the UK in relation to the EU. We owe them nothing.
The negotiation – the strong cards in the UK’s hands which have not been played
If May was sincerely behind Brexit and possessed of a modicum or courage and nous she would have realised that she had a very strong hand to play because she was holding these bargaining cards:
1) The shortfall in the funding for the EU caused by the UK’s withdrawal.
Instead of simply throwing this card away by adopting the favourite internationalist ploy of “setting an example” by offering £20 billion (a ploy guaranteed to make the opposing side pocket the offer without giving anything in return and then ask for more ), May should have not made any offer and instead have insisted that the EU provide a detailed computation of the net amount they were claiming the UK owed and most importantly give the legal basis for their claim.
2) There many more EU migrants living in the UK than British citizens living in other EU countries.
Estimates vary but UK citizens living in other EU states may be as low as 900,00 and as high as 1.2 million. The number of EU migrants in the UK could be as high as 3.7 million. Migration Watch UK puts the figure at 3.3 million. The question of how many have the right to permanent residence is complex because of interplay of EU law with British law but it is a reasonable bet that the large majority will qualify for permanent residence status under current rules. Moreover, based on the UK’s performance when it comes to deporting illegal immigrants it is stretching credulity to believe any UK government would be willing or able to deport huge numbers of EU state citizens.
The fact that there are three times the number of EU citizens in the UK than there are Britons in the EU means that the UK has to bear a vastly heavier burden than any other EU country both in terms of direct state funding for the support of foreign EU nationals – education, healthcare, in and out of work benefits and so on – and the indirect costs such as depressed wages for many native Britons and much higher housing costs. This is not simply because there are three times as many EU nationals in the UK as there are Britons in the EU. The UK has to bear the entire burden of the EU nationals in the UK while the remaining EU states have only to take a fraction of the one million Britons living in other EU states.
Then there is the question of children. The children of EU migrants with the right to residence in the UK will themselves have the right to residence in the UK. Consequently, the gross difference between the numbers of EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU means that EU nationals resident in the UK are likely to produce many more children than UK citizens in EU states. This effect will be amplified by the differences in the age profiles of EU migrants living in the UK and British citizens living in other EU countries. The age profile of EU migrants in the UK is younger than that of UK citizens living in other EU states. Consequently, they are likely to have more children pro rata than UK citizens living in EU countries. As things stand these children will have the right to British residency regardless of where they are born.
In a sane world the date at which EU immigrants should no longer be able to claim residency in the UK should be the day after the referendum, namely, 23 June 2016. Sadly, sanity is the last thing to expect of the EU so the ongoing stream of immigrants from the EU into the UK since the referendum will have rights of residence. That immigrationhas continued to rack up some impressive numbers. Even if the UK leaves in March 2019 that will mean thirty three months have passed since the referendum in June 2016. At the level of EU immigration since the referendum the net figure for new EU immigrants arriving in the UK before March 2019 will be around 300,00. Moreover, if there is a transitional period when the UK remains a full member of the EU it could be much higher for there is no set period for the transition as yet and it is quite conceivable that any transitional period will be extended and extended. It is also a reasonable assumption that if it looks as though Brexit is to be emasculated or overthrown completely the volume of EU migrants will rise. As for the future status of EU migrants in the UK, the EU are seeking what seems to be open ended ECJ involvement in decisions on how EU migrants in the UK will be treated.
Even if UK citizens in the EU are granted reciprocal rights those will only extend to providing the same standard and range of state support which is granted to nationals in the country of residence of any British citizen who resides in the EU. This will be much less extensive and generous than that which would have to be provided by the UK to EU nationals in the UK.
It is also unclear that Britons in other EU countries will be able to reside in any EU state after Brexit or only in the EU state in which they have resided while the UK has been part of the EU. The joint agreement between the UK and the EU states: “Union citizens who in accordance with Union law legally reside in the UK, and UK nationals who in accordance with Union law legally reside in an EU27 Member State by the specified date, as well as their family members as defined by Directive 2004/38/EC who are legally resident in the host State by the specified date, fall within the scope of the Withdrawal Agreement.”
That could be interpreted as meaning that Britons who reside un an EU country will only have the right to reside in that EU country after Brexit.
Putting all these facts in the balance it is clearly not in the UK’s interest to simply agree a reciprocal deal with the EU over British citizens in other EU countries and EU migrants in the UK. There needs to be a proper costing of the respective costs of migrants to on the one hand the UK and on the other the EU. The cost of the EU migrants in the UK would be vastly greater than the cost of British citizens to other EU countries. Far from accepting that the UK owes the EU anything May’s Government should push for payments from the EU to defray the much greater costs of supporting more than three times the number of EU citizens in the UK compared with British citizens living in EU countries.
3) The UK/EU balance of trade being much in favour of the rest of the EU. In 2016 other EU member states exported £82 billion more to the UK than the UK exported to the rest of the UK. Perhaps even more significant the deficit in exports of goods was larger being £96 billion for it is jobs attached to the supply of goods rather than the provision of services which often get the most media and political attention because these are the businesses which have large numbers of employees in one place, for example, car manufacturers.
4) Ireland. The position of the Republic of Ireland (ROI) could have been the trump card in the negotiations. The ROI should have been told either you leave the EU when the UK leaves or there will be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic which would include an end to the Common Travel area between the Republic and the UK.
If tariffs were imposed by the EU and reciprocal ones imposed by the UK this would cripple the Republic whose economy is very heavily dependent on trade with the UK.
Northern Ireland could be compensated for any loss of trade by the UK taxpayer until their economy has rebalanced. This rebalancing could happen by, for example, exporting much more of their farm produce to the British mainland.
5) The nervousness of the EU. There are very public signs that the rest of the EU are distinctly nervous about the UK leaving without a deal. Once May had capitulated over the shape of the negotiation she was shown on friendly terms with the EU negotiators and was reported to have been applauded at a dinner with other EU leaders. This is best interpreted as the EU political and bureaucratic elites considering May to be their creature whom they were determined to keep in office for fear that if her government falls the chances of the UK walking away from a deal would increase or a new government prove to be less pliant to the EU will than that of May.
If the negotiations continue as they have to date with May conceding ground time and time again the UK will probably be in a Hotel California situation of booking out but never being able to leave. Politics is a fluid business and the longer the Brexit process continues the greater the opportunities for remainers to sabotage it. Labour might win the next election with a promise to hold a second referendum to keep the UK in the EU or even stand on a platform which promises the cancellation of Brexit. There may be some threat unrelated to Brexit such as another recession which might frighten enough of the electorate into backing such a Labour promise and, in the case of a second referendum, voting to remain.
It might be thought that the Labour Party is in such ideological disarray on Brexit – with present or previous Shadow Cabinet members embracing everything from a true Brexit to cancelling Brexit – that electors would not take them seriously . But Labour are not the Government and it is a truism that governments are more often evicted because of what they are doing or not doing than because an opposing Party has more attractive policies or more impressive personnel.
What should the UK do? The only sane thing to do is to acknowledge what is obvious, namely, that the leading politicians and bureaucrats of EU have absolutely no intention of behaving reasonably and Theresa May is either incapable of withstanding the EU’s unreasonable demands or is secretly colluding with the EU to sabotage Brexit. Having done that the way out is obvious, simply announce that the UK is walking away. Can the UK do that legally under international law? Indeed they can for no treaty is unbreakable if one or more of the signatories to a treaty is seen to be failing to meet their obligations under the treaty. These obligations include acting in good faith when Article 50 is invoked. No such good faith on the EU side has been forthcoming. Instead the EU representatives have not only made unreasonable demands such as those over the jurisdiction of the ECJ in UK affairs after Brexit and claims for huge amounts of money (some as much as 100 billion Euros ), they have also regularly been humiliating May until they thought they had disciplined her to their way of thinking and then made a public show of applauding her after that was accomplished.
Remainers rail against their description as traitors and Quislings. Those remainers who have sincerely accepted the result and have ceased to attempt to prevent Brexit certainly do not deserve such names, but what else can those remainers who will never accept Brexit and do everything they can to overturn the referendum result by stealth or frontal assault be reasonably called? They do everything they can to thwart Brexit by a mixture of interminable delay, calls for second referendums and wilfully perverse interpretations of the word leave such as claims that the UK could remain in the Single Market and the Customs Union and still achieve Brexit. That is a clear denial of democracy and what greater treason in a democracy is there than overthrowing a democratic vote? And when the overthrowing is done with the purpose of ensuring their country remains in the political grip of a supranational power, is that not the act of a Quisling?
There is a question remainers should ponder long and hard. It is this, if they manage to sabotage Brexit either by emasculating the process so that it is Brexit only in name or by simply reversing the result of the referendum, perhaps by standing on a general election platform that one or more parties would annul the Article 50 activation or by calling another referendum when the electorate are exhausted by the process of leaving (the favourite EU ploy to overthrow referenda which have the “wrong” result) where does that leave the democracy? If the results of referenda, the purest form of democracy, are to be ignored or manipulated out of all recognition, what peaceful method of resolving political disputes is there where the politicians of any party with a reasonable chance of forming a government are largely of one opinion and a majority of the electorate are of another?