A former diplomat writes… January 25, 2017Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
I’ve mentioned Tom McGurk’s remarkable contribution to the Brexit debate earlier this week. Also in the SBP is a similar enough piece by former Irish diplomat Ray Bassett. Bassett takes a similar line, but as with McGurk it is remarkable how disinterested he is in the reality that it is the UK that is leaving a body with – for all its flaws – fairly clear conceptual and actual underpinnings. So for him if the EU attempts in its relationships seek freedom of movement for labour that is the EU ‘punishing’ others rather than the UK attempting to impose its will on an EU it has left. He goes further and suggests ‘It is not good enough to stand for the status quo and announce that we will try to inflict damage on the British if they don’t measure up to our demands’. This is so far from the reality one has to wonder at why he would use such hyperbole. Who is suggesting any such thing, and who by the way are ‘we’? Ireland, the EU? Our, i.e. Ireland’s, ability to inflict damage is surely limited.
In the Observer a Spanish commentator is quoted as suggesting that the real dynamic in play in terms of ‘punishment’ and damage is rather different… that the UK wants ‘hard Brexit for the Europeans and soft for them’. And that means actual European citizens. When framed in that way, rather than simple ‘freedom of movement’, a phrase that is in its own way somewhat opaque it brings the reality of Brexit and its implications on people to the fore.
Or more broadly Andrew Rawnsley in the same paper writes that ‘it can never been in the EU’s interest to grant Britain a continuation of most of the advantages of being a member while releasing it from all obligations’. Rawnsley, and I’m not his greatest fan by the by, also notes that Theresa May ‘made the habitual mistake of British politicians when talking about Europe, which is to forget that other countries have interests to protect and other leaders have parliaments to face and voters to answer to’. That’s a mistake I think Bassett and his like also fall into in their curious rush to identify overmuch with British interests (not that he’d put it that way, but how else to explain his concentration on freedom of movement?).
Actually it’s fascinating how Bassett can say ‘freedom of movement was originally designed and accepted as a concept among a small group of like-minded countries in Western Europe. It may have passed its sell-by date and probably does not suit the present environment’. What does he mean by any of that – particularly the last? It would appear that he is perfectly happy on immigration control. Though note he avoids that particular term.
But what is striking is how quickly he moves from those arguments and points to a broader one. For while he initially frames his points in the context of the EU as is – very rapidly he moves to this:
The EU needs to reconnect with its people. Across Europe there is a rejection of a Brussels-centric approach and a desire to return to the older arrangement of a grouping of sovereign nations, bound together in a free association designed to further their economic and social development. This was the organisation we originally joined with Britain in 1973 as the EEC.
However there are huge vested interest which will fight tooth and nail against any infringement of the EU dogma on free movement and any reversal of the deepening integration model.
Now the contradictions between the first and second paragraph are enormous. Because he’s actually not supporting the status quo but implicitly, well actually quite explicitly, arguing that the position in 1973 was optimal.
That’s a position, but what I find troubling is that he doesn’t start there from the off, rather hedging and dodging before moving towards it. Worse again he can’t quite seem to stay with it. And let’s keep in mind that his line on freedom of movement, and other matters, is near enough indistinguishable from those of the far right parties lining up in various elections across Europe that he name-checks, France, Holland, Italy.
And as with McGurk he can’t quite seem to grasp what he is saying. On the one hand FDI is important and we have to protect ourselves, on the other the world is changing under Trump and FDI may be a thing of the past. How on earth are we to profit in the context of a UK that attempts to emulate our current role? He doesn’t say.
And there’s the problem. For all that he criticises the Irish government for perceived failings his proscriptions are utterly unconvincing given that there is no detail to them. We’re meant to take it as read that non-membership or ‘half-membership’ of the EU is superior in the context of Brexit to pretty much all else short of the UK clawing back free trade with the EU without freedom of movement.
Finally I find it hard to take much of this seriously. He knows that the government, as was put to me recently by a very clear sighted observer, hasn’t much leverage in all this (particularly after Apple etc), whether with the EU or the UK. Indeed close enough to none. He also knows that the leverage the UK has is actually remarkably limited. They’ve decided to leave, their ability to exert any pressure on the r27 is much much less than they seem to think. He knows that we’re unable to conduct bilateral negotiations – neither is the UK, and really, how can we persuade the UK to do what it does not want to? The experience of the relationship of this state with that across the years prior to 1973 don’t offer much optimism in that context. So what fundamentally is he suggesting ‘we’ do? Position ourselves away from a block of multiple nations in the hope we get a ‘better’ deal? There’s a basic truth here, this issue may be insoluble – that the nature of Brexit as pursued by this British government is such that all the options that might be open to them, EFTA/EEA, some sort of Switzerland deal, are off the table because of freedom of movement. That’s their choice. We, unfortunately, are stuck with the result. No options are great, all are bad to one degree or another.