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The Shafting of the UK

by Frank Schnittger Fri Dec 16th, 2016 at 03:00:19 AM EST


Irish TV news showed a clip of EU leaders gathering for their last summit of 2016 yesterday.  All were busily chatting to one another - except one:  Teresa May stood there awkwardly, looking for someone to talk to, but everyone had their backs turned to her.

I very much doubt that the move was choreographed.  EU leaders wouldn't be so petty, would they?  But the scene encapsulated a feeling that I have had for some time: The Brexit negotiations are going to be bloody, and more likely than not will lead to no substantial agreement at all.


British politicians never tire of saying that a "good Brexit agreement" is in the interests of all, and there is no doubt that a failure to reach some kind of agreement will damage the economy of the whole of the EU, even if it effects the UK (and Ireland) most severely.

But what British politicians and commentators appear to be missing is the depth of anger which Brexit has engendered within the EU, and particularly within the EU elite. What if the EU elite feel their project is in existential danger, and that almost any agreement which allows the UK to retain substantial benefits from the EU  outside of the EU is seen as a mortal threat to the stability of the EU project as a whole?

With Italian opposition parties all supporting an exit from the Euro and Catalan separatism growing apace, it is not difficult to see why they would feel anxious.  But it is the growth of hard right nationalist movements in most EU member states which is threatening the hegemony of centre right and left parties in Europe.  Anything which gives aid and comfort to those forces must be resisted at all costs.

The United Kingdom never really saw the EU as anything other than a "Common Market" and resisted all moves towards further integration. It joined the EU for economic advantage, not to contribute to the project as a whole.  However the EU project always saw economic integration as merely a means to an end - not an end in itself - and the ultimate objective; the maintenance of peace and stability in Europe - has never seemed more fragile.

Donald Trump is threatening the whole architecture of the post World War II world order - threatening to defund Nato and build much closer relationships with Putin's Russia. His "America first" policies threaten to relegate former allies to bit part players at best. Ironically, the UK, which has always seen itself as having a "special relationship" with Washington, could be the major casualty. Trump saw fit to meet Nigel Farage in Trump tower before he had met with any other foreign leader following his election.  His suggestion that Farage would make an excellent UK ambassador to the US showed scant respect for the prerogatives of May's government in London.

And that may be part of a more general problem for May and her Government: no one seems to take them and their concerns very seriously.  May's own pronouncements since gaining the Prime Ministership - whilst perhaps necessary to placate the triumphant Leave campaigners in Tory ranks - have been spectacularly tone deaf from a European perspective. The whole European project has been denigrated as a bureaucratic nightmare holding back the inherently dynamic qualities of the British economy. Making Brexit as difficult as possible is one way of demonstrating the falseness of that claim.

In any war there are casualties - and the Northern Irish peace process, the Irish economy more generally, and the German car industry may be the most obvious and visible.  But when faced with the possibility of the EU disintegrating will EU leaders in general really give a damn? Possibly some side deals will be done to mitigate the worst problems but is a new trade deal with the UK, which would require the unanimous agreement of all EU members really feasible, especially in an era when Trump threatens to tear up even existing trade deals?

And what will happen if no substantive Brexit deal is agreed and without the transitional measures the UK now appears to be seeking?  The general assumption is that WTO rules would apply, but is this necessarily the case?  The UK would have to apply for WTO membership and this could be vetoed by existing members. If the UK were to gain massive competitive advantage by devaluing Sterling even further would there not be pressure on the EU to impose tariffs on UK imports to protect their own industries?  If the UK retaliated with tariffs of its own, would a trade war not be the inevitable result?

There can be only one winner in that scenario, and it is not the UK. The EU, by performing relatively better would be seen as the winner even if its performance relative to the rest world continued to be perceived as anaemic.  It would be a supreme irony if the UK, which did so much to build the post war architecture of the world order, were to become the first casualty of a breakdown in that world order. But perhaps that world order was only possible whilst extreme nationalism could be held in check, and perhaps this time it was the UK which failed to hold the line.

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The double-strike of post-truth politics, Brexit and Trump. Fundamentally dishonest campaigns that never really expected to win, foisted upon the world thanks to anger at the establishment, racism, and the deliberate destruction of democracy by the vast right-wing conspiracy.
by Zwackus on Fri Dec 16th, 2016 at 06:13:15 AM EST
Liberal elites played their part in this. They posed as the new head of the Democratic Party, which they were, but the changed what that party stood for in ways that were fundamentally destructive to its long term viability. This was done in the interest of short term elect-ability and careerism. They succeeded mightily under Bill Clinton, but that was before the fruits of their labor ripened. Obama revived what the Clintons had done and added a few touches of his own. But he did not challenge the fundamental betrayal of the working class people upon which the Clinton bargain had been made.

The Democratic elites sowed the wind and Trump is the Whirlwind they have reaped. They thought they had it made as the Republican candidate was so much more repugnant than their candidate. Confronted by a choice between a clownish buffoon from the Republican and well past the sell date incumbent insider who had a long association with the process of ignoring needs of the vast majority of the working class- the bottom 60% of income earners - the electorate said: "If that is what the choice is we will take the clown!"  

The Clinton Campaign didn't even try to appeal to a signficant portion of the electorate, un- and under-employed white workers who had borne the brunt of 'globalization', thinking they could just write them off. Even Bill Clinton was concerned. So here we are. The Democrats played their clever fucking games one too many times, instead of picking a candidate that had genuine appeal to the distressed and to the the young, while embodying all of the ideals of universality and inclusiveness.  

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Dec 16th, 2016 at 07:21:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Both Blairism's third way, and Bill Clinton's triangulation might have had some short term tactical advantages, but ultimately succeeded only in compromising what were progressive forces to the degree that they became assimilated by the establishment.  Once "liberals" became tainted by association with the Iraq war, there was only one way for them to go.

Turns out that some principles in politics are important after all...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Dec 16th, 2016 at 09:48:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That story is certainly true for Tory Bliar, but I think the class, ethnic, and secterian divisions in the US complicate the analysis on that side of the Pond.

It took the Republicans an enormous amount of cheating to steal this election, they only managed to do it by the narrowest of margins, and their voters were on average older, wealthier, and more middle class. So it's really not a clear-cut case of working class revolt against a con man pulling the same con once too often, as was the case with Tory Bliar.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Dec 16th, 2016 at 10:20:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So it's really not a clear-cut case of working class revolt against a con man pulling the same con once too often

While the US case may be more complex, still, it was the massive repudiation of Clinton by white voters that made Trump's victory possible. And that is on Hillary and her campaign much more than it is on the rest of the Democratic Party. I will likely never be convinced that Sanders would not have won. So many of he people who deserted Clinton were fervent for Sanders and she never aroused any fervency. And Sanders never approached either Trump or Clinton in negatives.

In the end, though, Blair was no Trump. With control of the entire apparatus of government, saving the deep state, the electorate gave control to a badly damaged, narcissistic clown who has a tenuous connection with hard realities. The only bright spot I can see is that this might be the time the USA is finally forced to abandon ambitions of world domination. The end of the US Empire.

Empires have risen and fallen many times in world history. Some have said History doesn't repeat itself but it does rhyme. Marx observed: "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce." The farcical aspects were never more appropriate than now. We are a tragic farce.  

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Dec 16th, 2016 at 04:52:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Should be: "With control of the entire apparatus of government, saving the deep state, in the balance the electorate gave control to a badly damaged, narcissistic clown..."

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Dec 16th, 2016 at 04:57:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wasn't the Iraq invasion already post-truth politics?
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Fri Dec 16th, 2016 at 08:15:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Best comment I have seen recently on 'post-truth' is that the Brexiteers are likely to find out when Brexit comes that what they had was 'pre-truth'.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Dec 22nd, 2016 at 05:03:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hey, look, May is like Rajoy. Only Rajoy's excuse is that he doesn't speak English...


A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Dec 16th, 2016 at 10:05:42 AM EST
Rajoy's difficulty in forming a Government is an uncomfortable reminder for centre right European leaders of the difficulties they will face after their next elections...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Dec 16th, 2016 at 11:01:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Switzerland makes U-turn over EU worker quotas to keep single market access
Switzerland has rejected imposing quotas on EU workers in a bid to preserve its close economic ties with the bloc, opting instead to try to curb immigration by giving residents priority in new job vacancies.

Parliament voted to pass a compromise immigration law, marking a significant climbdown which the country hopes will allow it continued enhanced access to the EU's single market following a 2014 referendum vote to cap EU immigration.

In a standoff with close parallels to Britain's situation after the Brexit vote, Brussels had refused to budge from its stance that any attempt to restrict free movement by caps or quotas would automatically exclude Switzerland from the single market.

by Bernard on Fri Dec 16th, 2016 at 07:15:21 PM EST
Order is stable until it isn't anymore. This postwar period of stability has been unusually long (70 years). It's been said the longest such period since the peace of Westphalia.

The UK membership has probably been a misunderstanding since the very beginning. Now even more confusion has to be muddled through until an understanding of the whole enterprise will be gained [on the British side]. When that happens the UK will be out. It will be a painful understanding as it will be for the EU.

Schengen is toast!

by epochepoque on Fri Dec 16th, 2016 at 11:12:53 PM EST
Candid continentals confound Britain's artful ironists - Janan Ganesh - FT
There is cultural refusal to believe EU leaders mean what they say about exit terms ...

The story of Britain in Europe is a story of naked intent mistaken for something more sophisticated, of ironists confounded by continental literalism.

It is happening again, even as the relationship ends. ... as though the content of the eventual exit deal is largely a matter of what the prime minister asks for.

... if only we could switch off our Wildean irony radar and accept words at face value. When Donald Tusk says the "only real alternative to a hard Brexit is no Brexit", there is nothing in history to suggest the European Council president is giving us his smoking lounge repartee. When Angela Merkel, German chancellor, talks up the indivisibility of the four freedoms, a good time-saving exercise is to believe her. When in the summer EU leaders rejected informal talks with Britain in advance of Article 50 being tabled, ministers in London smiled at the charade and waited for the European line to waver. They still wait.

... When Ms Merkel said favourable terms for Britain would create a Europe in which everyone does "what they want", Eurosceptics flinched ..., as though she had let the cynical truth slip in an unguarded moment. But when did she claim otherwise? When did anyone?



Schengen is toast!
by epochepoque on Fri Dec 16th, 2016 at 11:22:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem for the Conservatives is that they know that hard brexit will destroy the UK economy, so they maintain the fantasy that something more benign can be concocted from thin air and good intent.

It's absurd, but the more people point out that it is absurd, the more we find ourselves being lectured on smooth or crispy brexit, a red white and blue brexit,  a low cholesterol and high fibre brexit. Word salad, but no reality

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Dec 19th, 2016 at 08:38:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But, and this is as likely, suppose we go over the cliff. What will the right say to all those who lose their jobs and businesses? You can already guess it will blame the Germans and the French. We could have had a good deal, it will maintain as it pretends the world owes us a living, but wicked foreigners connived against us. The xenophobic fury will be cranked up so loud it will drown out an obvious question, which must haunt the Leavers even now: does not responsibility for a disaster lie with the men and women who have led us to disaster?
Leavers are angry, for their lies will return to haunt them

Schengen is toast!
by epochepoque on Mon Dec 19th, 2016 at 11:13:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Tory party has had a good run. But at this point no single institution - not the press, not the unions, not the EU, not immigrants, not terrorists of all colours - has done more to destroy British culture, prosperity, and hope.

The right have won elections, at the cost of nuking everything that made the UK worth living in as a country. They've almost succeeded in taking the country back to their bizarre 19th century feudal fantasy of imperial greatness where important people live in huge houses and indulge in a spot of grouse shooting while discussing matters of state, while the rest of the population starves in conditions of Dickensian horror.

May is riding high in the polls, but her success can't last. There will be backlash within the next ten years, and the Tories will be shocked and blindsided by its unexpected passion and ferocity.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Dec 20th, 2016 at 01:45:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Harold Wilson famously said "A week is a long time in politics": 10 years is an eternity, and something for somebody else to worry about.  Theresa May's priority is to win the next news cycle, and after that, the next election especially if it is called early on the Brexit terms.  After that she can sail into history secure in the knowledge that she "restored Britain's pride and Sovereignty".  And if someone mentions the downsides to Brexit she can always say that she campaigned against it but was bound by the "will of the people". Democracy is great especially when it can absolve "leaders" of all responsibility to lead. Anyway, it was all Boris' idea...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Dec 20th, 2016 at 02:29:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Downton Abbey-world...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Dec 20th, 2016 at 02:50:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually no.  The fictional Downton Abbey world is all about class bound but decent people behaving decently towards one another and providing for the really needy. Brexit Britain is about keeping immigrants out, even when they are hard working, tax contributing immigrants.

Both are about class divisions, but in one they are largely accepted as natural and normal; in the other they are the demarcation for seething resentments and angry denunciations. The Downton's saw fascists as traitors...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Dec 20th, 2016 at 06:25:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Train-crash Brexit
So which is it to be: "hard" or "soft" Brexit? Maybe neither. There is a third possibility that is little discussed but increasingly likely: "train-crash Brexit". In this version of events, the UK and the EU fail to agree a negotiated divorce. Instead, Britain simply crashes out of the EU - with chaotic consequences for trade and diplomatic relations.


Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Dec 20th, 2016 at 06:30:47 PM EST
Could it be? A fourth possibility: party splits and a grand coalition because of Brexit convulsions. But now I'm just hallucinating.

Schengen is toast!
by epochepoque on Wed Dec 21st, 2016 at 01:44:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Initially I thought Labour would have the common sense to represent the 48% who voted remain, instead of trying to forlornly compete with the Tories and UKIP for the Leave vote - which they are never going to win anyway.  But instead they have decided to commit hara-kiri on the altar of Majoritarian rule.  Apparently the 48% have no rights, and no one is allowed to have second thoughts.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Dec 21st, 2016 at 12:40:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, it's strange how 52% is an overwhelming majority and 48% is an insignificant minority.
by Gag Halfrunt on Wed Dec 21st, 2016 at 09:21:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Mandate for a landslide in US elections. Hell, you can get 3 million more votes and stand by helplessly as the village idiot pillages the country

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Dec 21st, 2016 at 09:27:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Labour were split anyway. Perhaps not as much as the Tories, but there was a solid rump of leavers. nd Corbyn himself was ambivalent. I genuinely believe he ended up thinking that staying was better than leaving, but couldn't bring himself to the unequivocal endorsement many expected of him. Personally, I thought that it was an honest position that resonated with voters, but we are in the days of absolutism. Nuance is too hard.  

But Corbyn is a committed democrat and so is temperamentally incapable of challenging the referendum result.

Equally, it's very hard to critique the Thersa May approach when it remains so vague. Although vacuous wouold probably be more accurate. I suspect that may be May's strategy. But sometime in the next 3 months, she is committed to destroying the UK's economy and we'd better start knowing more soon

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Dec 21st, 2016 at 09:26:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Didn't Labour end up with adopting Smith's position of negotiating exit package and then have another referendum?

It looks doubtful that this will be possible, but when ut comes to straddling the divide from an opposition position, it looks reaonable.

by fjallstrom on Tue Jan 10th, 2017 at 09:43:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why shouldn't this be possible? It was possible for the Greeks to have a referendum on what the EU was telling them to do, so why can't the British have one as well?
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Tue Jan 10th, 2017 at 10:30:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Because absent talks about talks to hash this out, whether you can withdraw an article 50 triggering is in limbo and depends on political will and/or the interpretation of the Court. And interpretation from the Court can easily take to long, leading to an attempt to stay in by refusing the negotiated exit-package instead becoming a hard exit. Unless there is political will, which the current climate minimises the chances of.

Perhaps I should have put it that we don't know if it would work now, and is unlikely to work down the road once this lose-lose logic of negotiation has played out.

But as an opposition platform it works, because you can argue along the way that the government is doing a crap job of negotiating, so you want a referendum on the result. This appeals to both Remainers and those that want to see referendum results taken seriously. And you get to take shots at government incompetence in the Tories.

by fjallstrom on Tue Jan 10th, 2017 at 12:20:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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