Theresa May went to Salzburg this week….without watching the sound of music first (which is practically a crime in Salzburg, the hostel I stayed at showed the film every day!). She was hoping to get the EU to endorse her dead parrot chequers plan….that everyone in the UK (other than her) has already rejected. Inevitably it fell to Donald Tusk to point out to her that it was bleeding demised and was now a late plan, bereft of life that rests in peace. This threw May into a tizzy, claiming that the EU weren’t showing her respect (she’d been told many times before that the plan would be rejected, it could hardly come as a surprise) and if they don’t like it what’s the alternative.
Well the problem with this statement is it shows two years in and the UK still hasn’t got a clue what its doing. And that the PM, like so many brexiters, has a disturbing lack of knowledge about the EU and its institutions. The UK is the one who is leaving, it is up to the UK to come up with an acceptable plan. And the EU has hinted at options it considers acceptable (Norway model, Canada plus, Swiss model, reverse Greenland, etc.). In fact they’ve practically rubbed them in the UK’s face! You can lead a horse to water….but if its a brexiter its going to demand Bollinger champagne and caviar…..which it sees no need to pay for.
The EU commission has to stick to this policy because, contrary to what the Daily Mail will tell you, its not a political organisation. Its an executive body charged with implementing policy as opposed to setting policy (that’s up to the EU parliament and the 27 EU member states). Thus its treating the UK’s exit as a legal process, as outlined by article 50 (which its clear nobody in government bothered to actually read before triggering it). While there is some leeway and wriggle room, they can’t change the rules of the EU to accommodate the UK. Why? Because that would require all of the EU member states to agree to it. In other words all of the national governments and parliaments would have to approve such a change (whereas some fudge on the terms of article 50 only requires a qualified majority, 60% of them, to approve). Some countries would even have to have a referendum (including Ireland). And there’s no way all of that can get done in 6 months.
In short, Theresa May should have done her home work and decided on a brexit plan, before invoking article 50. Its a bit late now for tears and prima donna theatrics. As is so often the case, the Tories will use an incident like this to bury bad news. And while their boss was in meltdown mode, they were having a field day.
For example, some members of the Windrush are to be refused citizenship, as the Tories have clearly judged that the media storm over this has died down enough that they can go back to being racists. Oh and EU migrants will receive no particularly special treatment post-brexit, so expect history to repeat itself soon enough. At least until it causes enough chaos (i.e. enough crops rot in the field and enough old gits die on dirty hospital floors) for them to realise its unworkable. But I mean come on, when the British give their word, it clearly doesn’t count when it comes to foreigners or plebs (the 17th rule of acquisition).
Meanwhile, Liam Fox quietly revealed to parliament exactly what remainers had told him prior to the referendum – that all the BS about how easy it would be to trade under WTO rules was a big fat lie. Far from the UK winning concessions off other countries outside the EU, its likely to have to make concessions of its own as a condition for continued trade (under WTO rules, which will be much harsher than under the EU’s free trade agreements).
Under WTO rules if a country changes its trade rules this presents other WTO members with the option of triggering a trade dispute. And by leaving the EU and single market (oh and changing your immigration laws also counts), this means the UK is changing its trading rules for every country in the WTO. And needless to say, the sharks are starting to circle the UK.
Across town, Michael Gove of house Slytherin the environment secretary was also confirming for farmers what they were warned about prior to brexit is going to happen – that there will be no farm subsidies anymore. Yes, there will be a transition period of a few years and the government is promising some subsidies for environmentally beneficial activities but that’s it. However, these reforms do look kind of suspiciously like the ones the EU has previously proposed and guess who was the main objector to them? So again, why are we leaving the EU, just to plagiarise its policies that we are ourselves objected too?
Furthermore, EU’s CAP reform comes with a few key caveats. Notably they want to do away with so-called “slipper farmers” (city types who buy up land and pretend to be farmers just to collect subsidy money). The UK government’s proposals mention nothing about that. Which again, should hardly come as a surprise, hazard a guess who objected to the EU’s attempts to crack down on slipper farmers last time?
There also seems to be no support for small holdings, notably hill farmers or crofters. These are vital industries, not least because in order to manage the land you need to pay someone to live out in the middle of nowhere, half way up a mountain, surrounded by midges. The EU, as well as the Scottish and Welsh governments, have long recognised that pushing a bit of money their way to keep the wolf from the door makes more sense than hiring someone in to do the land management for them. But it appears the Tories plan a repeat of the highland clearances.
And of course we need to consider the impact of the supposed post-brexit trade deals the UK is proposing to sign. These will force UK farmers to compete against cheap foreign imports, which will often have been produced at a lower environmental standard. Plus there’s issues such as the risk of diseases prevalent in these countries spreading to UK farms (most notably foot and mouth disease).
This is why the EU is very selective about who it signs trades with and on what terms for which products. There is little point in them enforcing strict food safety and environmental standards on European producers, if we are just going to let every jackass in the world sell into the trading block without any standards at all. Furthermore, under WTO trade rules, farm subsidies could be seen as giving UK farmers an unfair advantage, hence they might be subject to a trade dispute post-brexit.
And to say the least I’m a little suspicious of this road to Damascus conversion of Gove and the Tories towards the environment. I suspect the real reason behind this announcement is party politics. If May gets ousted, the party will split into two factions, one behind Boris or the monocled mutineer Mogg, the other behind Hammond or Soubry. If either faction wins, the Tory party will probably split. So the odds are good in favour of a compromise candidate, such as Gove. So this announcement is probably more about him making peace with the moderate wing of the Tory party than anything.
Of course once the leadership contest is over and the incompatibility of such measures with the Tories post-brexit plans becomes obvious, even these subsidies will probably be jettisoned and the farmers will be hung out to dry.
The three blokes in a pub vloggers have recently been to Geneva and they’ve been told by WTO officials there that UK farming has two good years left post-brexit, then its lights out. I suspect that might be a bit off, there is (as noted) a transition period, it will take far longer for the brexiters to sign the trade deals than they think. But certainly yes, when the dust settles, UK farmers, like the fishermen, or the factory workers, are going to find they’ve been conned and betrayed. Much as they were warned would happen many years ago. They were just too caught up in the nationalistic xenophobic rhetoric of the brexiters to bother to listen.
As President Marcon rightly pointed out the brexiters sold the country brexit on a torrent of lies. Not the chickens are coming home to roost and those lies are being exposed. But, as the brexiters value their careers more than their country, they’d rather drive the nation off the cliff than admit to these lies.