Author Topic: Various bits re Brexit and Economics  (Read 16700 times)


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Re: Various bits re Brexit and Economics
« Reply #165 on: October 18, 2019, 07:15:49 PM »
I expect Leo listening to Business, farmers "civic unionism" etc from the North knew how much of a minority view the DUPUDA were pushing.
Also no doubt is aware of the demographics which means Unionists should hardly be a majority in the future.
1 BIG CUP and 1 Cupeen so far....


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Re: Various bits re Brexit and Economics
« Reply #166 on: October 21, 2019, 10:35:49 AM »

Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal brings a united Ireland closer The Democratic Unionist party is right to be worried JONATHAN POWELL The obsession over the past few days with parliamentary manoeuvring has obscured the question of whether Boris Johnson’s Brexit agreement is a good deal or not and what its long-term consequences are. Mr Johnson claims he has delivered a “great new deal” that everyone else said he couldn’t. In fact, it is neither great nor new. Mr Johnson switched from the scorched-earth approach advocated by Dominic Cummings, his principal adviser, to abruptly surrendering on nearly every point in order to meet his October 31 deadline. He has in essence ended up with Theresa May’s deal with some substantive changes on Northern Ireland we may all live to regret. The prime minister says he has ditched the backstop. On the contrary he has accepted the substance of the original Northern Ireland-only backstop which Mrs May said, “no UK prime minister could ever accept”. Moreover, he has changed it from being a fallback into the definitive future arrangement for Northern Ireland.

He had to abandon his Heath Robinson-esque scheme of two borders, together with all the nonsense we have heard from Brexiters over the past three years about a magic technological answer to the border, and threw in for good measure Northern Ireland remaining in the EU for VAT purposes. Scarcely new, and hardly a triumph. On consent, Mr Johnson rightly abandoned his initial proposal of giving the Democratic Unionist party a veto. But in the process he has driven a coach and horses through the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement by allowing a simple majority to decide whether the province stays in the single market and customs union. The system of cross-community agreement for major issues was built on the principle of “sufficient consensus” that requires a majority of both communities — nationalists and unionists — for a measure to be agreed, while ensuring a small minority could not block progress. Once you exempt one major issue from this rule, you risk undermining the very notion of power sharing enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement. The DUP may seem outlandish to people in London, but they represent real concerns in Northern Ireland which should be taken seriously. Tony Blair’s first visit outside London when he became prime minister in 1997 was to the Balmoral agricultural show outside Belfast. In a speech there he ad-libbed that he did not expect to see a united Ireland in his lifetime.

The DUP worry that this is no longer true. If you introduce a hard border in the Irish Sea — a border that will grow wider over time as Great Britain diverges from the EU in terms of regulations and tariffs — then it will be harder for the unionists to maintain their Britishness. And we have removed the brake of cross-community agreement that would allow them to stop progress down that slippery slope. That is why we have heard worrying noises from loyalist groups like the Ulster Volunteer Force and why Arlene Foster has been meeting with the Ulster Defence Association. The DUP may well be right in their fears. The poll numbers have already begun to move towards greater acceptance of a united Ireland during the Brexit process as Catholic voters who traditionally supported remaining in the UK drift to remaining in the EU. It seems likely, for demographic and other reasons, those numbers will continue to grow. Paradoxically Mr Johnson and Brexit may have done more for a united Ireland than the IRA ever did. The fact that the Irish government and the EU have managed to prevent Mr Johnson’s proposed hard customs border in Northern Ireland, which would have posed a fundamental threat to the Good Friday Agreement, is welcome and enormously important.

 But the DUP have a strong case when they argue that he has instead undermined the other aspects of the agreement through his deal. That is the reason why they are supported by the more moderate Ulster Unionist party and even the cross-community Alliance party in this complaint. The deal we have ended up with means a soft Brexit for Northern Ireland and a hard Brexit for the rest of the UK. In these circumstances it would be understandable if Scotland demanded the same treatment as Northern Ireland, since it had a similar majority for Remain in the referendum. When that is rejected by the Conservative government, and it refuses a further referendum, the support for independence will continue to grow. This Trumpian “great new deal” will therefore not just take Britain out of the EU, but may also mark the end of the union, leaving a Little Englander government ruling a Little England. The writer was Tony Blair’s chief of staff from 1995-2007


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Re: Various bits re Brexit and Economics
« Reply #167 on: October 21, 2019, 04:09:07 PM »

DUP threaten to unite with Labour to back customs union amendment that would bring down Brexit deal

20 OCTOBER 2019 • 9:33PM
The DUP has threatened to unite with Labour to back a customs union this week as it warned it will unleash “guerilla warfare” to bring down Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal.
In a move that could torpedo the Prime Minister’s strategy for delivering Brexit by Oct 31, senior DUP figures have threatened to back proposals which could prevent the UK from pursuing its own trade policy.
Should MPs back an amendment for customs union this week, Mr Johnson could be forced to pull the legislation required to ensure the UK leaves the European Union on time.
On Sunday night a senior DUP figure told The Daily Telegraph there were “multiple scenarios with multiple options for us to resist Johnson’s anti-UK deal,” adding: "It will be parliamentary guerilla warfare."
The warning came after Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, invited the DUP to meet to discuss amendments to the withdrawal agreement bill, stating that the party’s “door is open”.
The shadow Brexit secretary also confirmed that Labour MPs would be ordered to back a customs union, which forms a key component of the party’s alternative Brexit plan.
Meanwhile, another DUP figure refused to rule out backing a customs union amendment when the withdrawal agreement bill is put to the House of Commons.
Whilst the party has previously opposed remaining in the EU’s customs orbit, the source admitted that it may now be the only way of ensuring that the UK leaves the bloc under the same arrangements.
P deputy leader Nigel Dodds responding to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's statement on his new Brexit deal in the House of Commons CREDIT: PA
They said of a customs union: “Clearly that would be one way we could look at addressing our concerns. There will be some very grown up conversations over the next 48 hours and we will be looking at all the options we have available.
“I would simply remind you of comment that Nigel Dodds [the DUP’s Westminster leader] made about the previous backstop: ‘If the choice is between a bad deal and remaining, then the Union comes first’.
“In all of this, we will judge whether any arrangement weakens the Union or not.”
The DUP has already vowed to vote down the deal when it is put to House of Commons due to concerns that it erects unacceptable trade barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
It also opposes the complex system of consent for Stormont’s assembly on whether to opt out of future customs arrangements and fears that the proposals make an Irish unification referendum more likely.
Urging the DUP to reconsider Sunday, Sir Bill Cash, the chairman of the Commons European scrutiny committee, said "if you vote for the customs union, you are effectively saying you would stay [in the EU].” CREDIT: REUTERS
Urging the DUP to reconsider Sunday, Sir Bill Cash, the chairman of the Commons European scrutiny committee, said "I have a great deal of sympathy with the DUP's concerns about their own position…[but] if you vote for the customs union, you are effectively saying you would stay [in the EU].”
The DUP’s warning is likely to trigger panic among officials in Downing Street, who are already braced for a series of knife-edge votes next week.
Whilst MPs have rejected a customs union five times this year during two rounds of so-called indicative votes, in April a plan put forward by Ken Clarke, the father of the House of Commons, came within three votes of passing.
On Sunday night Gloria de Piero, a Labour MP who had earlier indicated she could back the deal, said she would back the customs union amendment.
On Sunday night Gloria de Piero, a Labour MP who had earlier indicated she could back the deal, said she would back the customs union amendment.   CREDIT: HEATHCLIFFE O'MALLEY
She could be joined on Monday by several others, including Lucy Powell and Stephen Kinnock, who have previously backed similar proposals.  Mr Johnson also faces the prospect of seven independents and at least 12 former Tories, including Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd and David Gauke, voting for a customs union.
The trio previously abstained during the indicative votes process as they were in Cabinet, but are privately believed to be in favour of a closer relationship with the EU after Brexit.
Senior SNP and Liberal Democrat sources on Sunday night they had not decided which way to vote, although both parties are expected to discuss the issue on Monday.
It came as Sir Keir made a public appeal to the DUP on Saturday morning, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “I would openly invite the DUP to talk to us. If you want to work with us to improve the situation we’re in, our door is open to that discussion.  “We’ve been arguing for a very long time now for a customs union with the EU and for single market alignment.”
He also confirmed that Labour would back an amendment to try and force a second referendum, which would pit Mr Johnson’s deal against Remain.
“Whatever deal gets through, it should be subject to a referendum,” he continued.  “We have already voted, I think, three times as a party for a second referendum with a three-line whip behind it.
“The position we have adopted is whatever the outcome, whether it’s Boris Johnson’s bad deal or a better one which could be secured, it has got to go to a referendum up against remain.”


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Re: Various bits re Brexit and Economics
« Reply #168 on: October 21, 2019, 05:50:19 PM »
The Window for Brexit May Already Have Closed
Parliament is delaying Johnson’s plan—and generational replacement has undercut its support.

OCT 20, 2019

David Frum
Staff writer at The Atlantic

The British people have changed their mind about Brexit. Beginning in the summer of 2017, and accelerating in the summer of 2018 by an ever wider margin, British people have told pollsters that they voted wrong in the Brexit referendum of June 2016.

Over that same period, however, Britain’s Conservative Party has become more and more committed to Brexit. Sixty-three percent of Conservative Party supporters would rather see Scotland secede from the United Kingdom than abandon the Brexit project. Sixty-one percent of Conservatives would accept significant damage to the British economy to achieve Brexit. Fifty-nine percent would let Northern Ireland go. Fifty-four percent would rather see the Conservative Party itself destroyed than yield on Brexit.

So there’s the dilemma for Prime Minister Boris Johnson. His party is demanding something that the country does not want. He cannot pass that “something” through Parliament. Johnson has lost his working majority in Parliament; he has not won a single vote on a single major issue there. But despite solid parliamentary opposition to his project, Johnson cannot give up. His party would tear him apart as it tore apart his predecessors Theresa May and David Cameron if he did. He must push, push, push, and suffer defeat after defeat after defeat. In any previous period of British history, the Johnson government would already have fallen. An election would have been called, and—given the unpopularity of the government’s one big idea—the Conservatives would almost certainly have lost.

This time, however, the historic British resolution for political crises is unavailable. New rules lock the Johnson government into office until 2022 unless two-thirds of Parliament approve an earlier election. Even if there were an election, Johnson might not lose, because the main opposition party—Labour—has chosen as its leader an extreme leftist who is widely regarded as pathetically inadequate. Jeremy Corbyn’s own parliamentary party has repeatedly tried to get rid of him, accusing him of anti-Semitism, misogyny, and general cluelessness. By a margin of 13 percentage points, British people would prefer even the most painful possible Brexit to a Corbyn-led government.

What is happening in the British Parliament now is an attempt to find an exit from this dilemma.

The great background fact to all the maneuvering is the deadline of October 31, 2019, the date Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union. (Brexit was originally scheduled for March 31, but the May government requested and received a six-month extension.)

Johnson’s hope is to get a withdrawal agreement in place before October 31, exit by that date, and only then force an election. With Brexit then irrevocable, British voters would confront the stark single-issue choice: Johnson or Corbyn? Johnson could expect to win a five-year mandate to repair the damage he himself inflicted by Brexit.

But this plan depends on exquisite timing. Dissident Conservatives led by the former front-bencher Oliver Letwin have joined with Liberal Democrats, Scottish Nationalists, and a moderate Labour group led by Hilary Benn to delay and disrupt Johnson’s strategy. Yesterday, Johnson was forced to request a second extension from the EU. If the EU grants the extension, there will be time for more politics before Brexit goes into effect—possibly including a second referendum.

Johnson could try to lead Britain out of the EU despite the extension. Some of his ministers say they are determined to drive forward regardless of public opinion. But Parliament has voted to require affirmative approval by Parliament of a British exit. Johnson would have to defy that vote and arguably break the law to achieve Brexit. The British courts have slapped him down once, when he tried to prorogue Parliament despite lacking a working majority in the House of Commons. If he bolts for Brexit despite the law, the courts will surely slap him down again. While Johnson is a risk-taking politician, he is no Donald Trump: He is not ultimately a lawbreaker.

Johnson’s cross-party parliamentary opponents have the votes to stop early exit. They have the votes to deny an early election. The big question is: Do they have the votes to force a second referendum? A second referendum would be even more bitter and divisive than the first. Anti-EU voters will feel cheated of a victory they have sought for decades—and that they felt they had at last won in 2016. Some pro-Brexit advocates—including the chairman of the Conservative Party!—predict (or threaten) civil unrest if they do not gain their prize.

How real is any of this militant talk? By a two-to-one majority, Britons want a second referendum on final exit from the EU. Polls suggest that this time, the Remain side would almost certainly win, and by a bigger margin than Leave won last time.

What is driving the change in the U.K. is generational replacement. Until very recently, Britain was marked by a uniquely weak attachment to a “European” identity. On the eve of the Brexit vote, only 15 percent of British people thought of themselves as “European,” by far the lowest level of identification for a big EU state. The most striking and surprising effect of the Brexit debate in the U.K. has been to incubate for the first time a European political identity among the young. You see EU-flag pins on backpacks on the subway, EU flags in windows around the University of London. Since June 2016, 2.5 million young people have entered the British electorate, and about 1.4 million older people have died out of it.

Brexit advocates often use the phrase now or never to convey the urgency they feel. This weekend, the British Parliament decided “not now.” Suddenly, and for the first time since June 2016, “never” looks plausibly like the ultimate outcome.


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Re: Various bits re Brexit and Economics
« Reply #169 on: October 22, 2019, 04:52:21 PM »

Brexit raises the spectre of the UK’s break-up Pressures build over the futures of Northern Ireland and Scotland Tony Barber

 A damaged political system, torn social fabric, weakened economy and reduced international status are four consequences of the UK’s long, agonising struggle over Brexit. It is no exaggeration to say that a fifth consequence may be the disintegration of the UK itself. The Brexit deal that Boris Johnson’s Conservative government agreed last week with the EU entails a hybrid form of governance for Northern Ireland. It increases the chances that the British-ruled province will unite one day with the Irish Republic. Likewise, the essentially English-driven nature of the Brexit project raises the prospect of a second referendum on Scottish independence which, unlike the 2014 vote, may produce a majority for secession from the UK. The Irish and Scottish cases are distinct from each other. Unlike Catalonia’s radical separatists, the Scottish National party is careful to pursue independence strictly within the law. The SNP will most likely bide its time and aim for a strong mandate for another referendum by winning Scotland’s next legislative elections, due in 2021. By contrast, traumatic memories of 20th-century political violence scar Northern Ireland. Yet profound demographic changes and economic underperformance are pushing the province towards eventual unification with the Republic. Northern Ireland’s 2011 census revealed a “measurable trend towards a Catholic majority”, described by Professor Duncan Morrow of Ulster University in his authoritative study, Sectarianism in Northern Ireland: A Review. The pro-British, Protestant ascendancy is declining, to the advantage of those who support unification. One opinion poll last month showed a small majority in favour of a united Ireland. After the British government’s partition of Ireland in 1920-21, the areas in and around Belfast in the north produced about 80 per cent of the whole island’s industrial output. Now the Republic’s output is 10 times greater than Northern Ireland’s. Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal establishes special arrangements between Northern Ireland and the EU that will draw the province more deeply into the economic orbit of Dublin and Brussels.  For this reason, unionists recall with bitterness the hero’s welcome that Mr Johnson received last November at a conference of the Democratic Unionists, the pro-British party aligned with the Conservative government since 2017. Mr Johnson swore never to accept a Brexit deal that would leave Northern Ireland “an economic semi-colony of the EU”, separated by regulatory controls and customs checks from mainland Britain. Now many unionists feel more abandoned than at any time since the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, which first gave the Republic a formal advisory role in Northern Ireland’s affairs. “The DUP’s fear that this deal will over time weaken the union is not unreasonable,” Eilis O’Hanlon writes in the Belfast Evening Telegraph. The DUP can have Brexit, or it can have the union with Britain, but can it have both? Maybe not, she concludes. The Conservative party was once so fervently pro-unionist that its leaders incited illegal resistance to Irish self-government on the eve of the first world war. In the Brexit era, it has evolved into a party of English nationalism that feels scant emotional or political solidarity with Northern Irish Protestantism. According to a YouGov poll in June, a majority of Conservative party members are prepared to let Northern Ireland and Scotland leave the UK, just to make sure that England leaves the EU. No wonder that Jonathan Powell, former premier Tony Blair’s chief of staff, writes that “paradoxically Mr Johnson and Brexit may have done more for a united Ireland than the IRA ever did”. Further reading Parliament must back the Brexit deal or bring down Boris Johnson “With the extension now requested, there is no case for more delay. MPs need to back the agreement or bring down the government and try to persuade voters to endorse a new path. This is the constitutionally correct choice. No good can come of further stasis.” (Robert Shrimsley, FT) Hard numbers


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Re: Various bits re Brexit and Economics
« Reply #170 on: October 24, 2019, 10:57:55 AM »

We need a general election now to clear out this Parliament of wreckers
Follow  Allister Heath23 OCTOBER 2019 • 9:30PM
Bob cartoon

There are no perfect solutions, no easy answers, no guarantees that Armageddon will be avoided. But for Boris Johnson, and for all Brexiteers, an election in the run-up to Christmas is now the least risky way forward.

It would represent yet another roll of the dice, of course, but the odds of ultimate triumph would be greater than for any other course of action. And the most likely mechanism to achieve this timetable, paradoxically, is if the EU agrees to extend the Brexit deadline all the way to 31 January.

Hold on a second. Why would any Brexiteer want Johnson to be forced into breaking his “do or die”, leave by October 31 promise? The answer, simply, is that this has now become the least bad option given this broken Parliament’s intransigence.

A lengthy delay was the point of the destructive, anti-constitutional Benn Act, but it could well end up finishing off the Remainers who supported it, in a beautiful twist of fate. It’s not just that they will be blamed for failing to vote Boris’ deal through – a three month extension is also the only way to bulldoze them out of the way.

Consider the following: Labour, the SNP and possibly other opposition parties might be able to say that they’ve succeeded in ruling out no deal for now, and would thus vote for a general election. Johnson would campaign on a series of simple messages: he delivered a genuine Brexit deal against the odds and yet was shot down by Labour and the Lib Dems; he represents the people versus Parliament and the establishment; “Get Brexit finished with Boris or spend 2020 on referendums on Brexit and Scotland with Corbyn”.

And what of the alternative? Those Brexiteers who would like a shorter extension in order to pass the deal are probably miscalculating. Whatever Macron might threaten, would a 15-day extension genuinely be a credible final offer from the EU? I doubt it. Would the UK be able to leave without a deal if Parliament fails to back Boris’s agreement during that period? I doubt it again. John Bercow would sabotage the Brexiteers, perhaps as his final act; and MPs would wreck Boris’s deal.

Yes, amendments to the Government’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill (as opposed to the Treaty, which is now closed) would only be meaningful in UK law, and could all be reversed by a future Tory government. But they would ruin Johnson’s narrative, lead to massive rifts within the Conservatives and make it harder for him to appeal to Brexit Party supporters. Better, on balance, to go for an election now, with the original Johnson deal at the centre of his manifesto.

The reality is that for all the psychological importance of the PM’s Tuesday night victory at second reading, it didn’t mean much. The only reason why so many Labour and pro-Remain MPs temporarily lent Boris’s agreement their support is that it gave them a perfect opportunity to virtue-signal. It was, as far as they were concerned, a free hit: they could pretend to be pro-Brexit while still doing everything in their power to thwart a meaningful departure.

Barely a few minutes later, they effectively cancelled their earlier vote by rejecting the PM’s all-important timing device, giving themselves the power to amend everything into oblivion. Just five Labour MPs backed Johnson’s programme motion: they were the only serious democrats on Jeremy Corbyn’s benches. As matters stand, there is no actual, workable majority for pushing through Johnson’s deal intact. This Parliament has come to the end of its useful life.

How could the logjam be smashed? A two-thirds majority of MPs is required to trigger a general election. The first big question is whether Labour will go for this, or stall again. If the latter, the Tories might be able to find a majority of one to override the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act itself. The SNP wants an election before Alex Salmond’s trial early next year.

The problem is that, apart from taking more time, this route requires legislation which could be amended. There probably isn’t a majority of MPs in favour of a second referendum. Extending the franchise to 16 year-olds isn’t much of an issue either: time would be too short for them to register.

The real crisis would arise if they succeeded in granting European citizens the vote at general elections for the first time: they are entitled to take part in local and European elections so large numbers are already registered. It would be a scandalous attempt at gerrymandering: countries rarely allow non-citizens to vote in general elections, and such a change ought to require extensive debate. The Tories could lose several seats.

If it doesn’t believe that this is a risk worth taking, the Government would have to gang up with the SNP to engineer a motion of no confidence in itself, and try and push through an election in that way. Given that this scenario would take place in the face of a deal having being struck and our departure delayed, it is unlikely that an alternative parliamentary majority would suddenly coalesce around Jeremy Corbyn or some senior Remainer such as Ken Clarke. It would be game-on after 14 days.

But even if they manage to engineer an election without severe collateral damage, the Tories face another danger. Voters – or, more precisely, Leave voters – might blame Johnson for the delay to Brexit. I suspect – and the early polling evidence confirms this – that this won’t happen: they will pin the blame squarely on Remainer MPs, and will be encouraged to do so by clever social media campaigning from CCHQ.

The Brexit Party, meanwhile, is continuing to slowly lose support, and some of its MEPs back Johnson’s deal; the Tories hope that a robust election campaign would further substantially squeeze its support, playing on fears that splitting the Eurosceptic side might let in the Remainers. Some psephologists believe there is a group worth 7-8 per cent of the electorate that currently backs Nigel Farage’s party but who would never vote Tory. A Brexit Party vote of 15 per cent would destroy Johnson; but at half that level it would actually help him by keeping down the Labour share.

This is no time for cowardice. The Tories could lose the election, of course, but they are deluding themselves if they think they can win without one.

Read Allister Heath's latest column on every Wednesday night from 9.30pm 


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Re: Various bits re Brexit and Economics
« Reply #171 on: November 01, 2019, 01:45:25 PM »

The point of departure: Lionel Barber on Brexit and beyond

The FT editor on the forces pulling Britain and Europe apart — and why the wrangling may have just begun

 In the Brexit saga, where many untruths have been told, nothing speaks more clearly than the official photograph marking the second day of negotiations between the British and EU delegations in Brussels. On the right is an all-male trio: David Davis, the former SAS reservist and longtime Eurosceptic bruiser elevated to the cabinet as Brexit secretary after the 2016 referendum. Davis is grinning broadly alongside Olly Robbins, his chief civil servant, and Sir Tim Barrow, permanent representative to the EU. (Robbins later took charge of the talks, only to be vilified by hardline Tories for selling out his country. He will shortly join Goldman Sachs.) On the EU side are two women and one man, Michel Barnier, the Gaullist from the Savoy Alps, a former French foreign minister and EU commissioner. Pen poised, the silver-haired Frenchman is flanked by his deputy Sabine Weyand and strategy chief Stephanie Riso, each with bulging dossiers conspicuously absent on the British side. Barnier combines detail with stamina. He reminds visitors that he spent 10 years of his life preparing to deliver the 1992 Winter Olympics. Two and a half years on, and many recriminations later, the impression of bluffers outmatched by hardened Eurocrats is hard to dispel. Whatever the final verdict on Boris Johnson’s withdrawal deal, Brexit has been a sobering experience for British statecraft. Heady talk about splitting the Europeans and isolating the Irish has come to nothing. Now Johnson has fired the starting gun on a general election on December 12, in effect a referendum on leaving the EU, the biggest shift in economic and foreign policy in half a century. Delegations led by the EU’s Michel Barnier, centre left, and the UK’s David Davis, centre right, mark the beginning of Brexit negotiations in July 2017

 Brexit has dominated the national conversation, dividing families, generations and regions. We’ve had our moments at the FT, especially on the merits of a second referendum. Too often the trivial has intruded: the precise date of the UK’s departure, the interminable extensions and, lately, the pyrotechnic posturing from Downing Street. Above all, Brexit has been about the past, about sins real and imagined in Britain’s tortured relationship with Europe. About the future, next to nothing constructive has been said. Brexit has been up close and personal for me. I spent six years as the FT’s Brussels bureau chief between 1992 and 1998. It was a life-changing experience, a chance to document Europe’s transformation after the end of the cold war: the launch of economic and monetary union and the prospective enlargement of the EU to former communist countries to the east. This month, I paid a last pre-Brexit visit to Brussels. My host is Jean-Claude Piris, an old friend who served for 22 years as the EU’s top lawyer. A permanent presence at dozens of European summits, he has seen everyone — Thatcher, Kohl, Mitterrand, Blair, Chirac, Merkel — in action. He also knows every nook and cranny in every EU treaty, from Maastricht to Lisbon via Amsterdam. We agree on the essentials. Britain’s departure from the EU is an act of self-harm, a strategic mistake that will leave the UK marginalised and the EU sorely diminished. Yet there is scant desire in European capitals to reverse course, still less to back a second referendum. Mentally, people have moved on. Britain was the useful troublemaker, never afraid of speaking truth to the French and Germans Even so, Piris observes, the world has changed since the 2016 referendum. America under Donald Trump is overtly hostile to the EU.

Transactional diplomacy has supplanted alliances. Europe finds itself squeezed between the US and China, with a menacing Russia on its eastern flank. Where does the UK sit? The UK once exerted serious influence in Brussels. From Margaret Thatcher on, the UK defended budget discipline and free trade; it championed enlargement to the east. “When was the UK recently outvoted?” says Piris. “Once, on bankers’ bonuses!” From my perch in Brussels, I witnessed ministers such as the clubbable Ken Clarke and John Gummer playing deft hands, supported by Sir John Kerr, Britain’s chain-smoking ambassador. In the Maastricht treaty negotiations, Kerr helped to secure opt-outs on monetary union, workers’ rights and justice and home affairs. To borrow a phrase, the British ended up having their cake and eating it. A Leave demonstrator talks to a Remain supporter outside Parliament © Andrew Testa/Panos Pictures Britain was the useful troublemaker, never afraid of speaking truth to the French and Germans, the big boys in the club. If diplomacy is about “manipulating the antagonisms”, the British were honest (and at times less than honest) power brokers. So how did it all go so badly wrong? A starting point is Hugo Young’s book This Blessed Plot, a magisterial account of postwar British ambivalence toward European integration. “Britain struggled to reconcile the past she could not forget with the future she could not avoid,” he wrote. But there is another side to the story: the rewriting of contemporary history, chiefly a Eurosceptic narrative whereby Britain is the victim of French-led plots or German ambitions for hegemony on the continent. This was true of the Thatcher era, and the Tony Blair-Gordon Brown years, from 1997 to 2010, when spin-doctors fed tabloids their pound of flesh. But the roots go deeper. Johnson cannot claim to be the founding father of Euroscepticism. That title probably goes to Enoch Powell, followed by the Tory backwoodsman Sir William Cash.

But Johnson deserves a special place in history, irrespective of what he may achieve in future. As Brussels correspondent of the Daily Telegraph (we overlapped), Johnson gave Euroscepticism a saucy, popular appeal. He wrote tall stories about new regulations banning bendy bananas. His banter about Jacques Delors, the stiff philosopher king and longtime president of the European Commission, was better than most. He was also highly competitive, once upbraiding me for having the impertinence to scoop him ahead of a summit, forcing him to follow up on a story which had the advantage of being true! The most surreal aspect [of Brexit] is that your political class has gone rogue One veteran Brussels official Johnson was never a Europhobe nor did he, to my knowledge, ever talk about Britain leaving Europe. But his message — repeated this month in his post-Brexit deal address to the House of Commons — has remained the same. “I don’t think I’ve heard a single member [of parliament] call for an ever closer union or ever deeper integration or a federal destiny — mon pays Europe”, Johnson told MPs. “And there is a whole side of that debate that you hear regularly in other European capitals that is simply absent from our national conversation and I don’t think that has changed much in the past 30 years.” Johnson’s conclusion: the UK has always comprised of “half-hearted Europeans”, despite its love and respect for European culture and civilisation, its sense of “shared destiny” and its continuing commitment to be a guarantor of peace and democracy on the continent. I have no problem with this portrait of national ambivalence to Europe. Britain did not suffer the trauma of defeat and occupation in the second world war. As an imperial power, it stood apart from postwar political and economic reconstruction in Europe. Britain enjoyed the Commonwealth and, until Suez, special status with America. My issue — as a wholehearted European — is how Johnson and others have exaggerated the federalist gremlin, ensuring it has loomed ever larger in the British psyche, defying political reality. The EU remains a hybrid, a mix of national sovereignty in defence, foreign policy and taxation, balanced against supranational powers in competition policy and monetary policy for the 19 members of the eurozone.

Maastricht, subsequently dismissed as an abomination, embodied this compromise which still holds good today. Minus the UK, the 27 members of the EU are simply too numerous and too diverse to form a “United States of Europe”. Yet the Tory party under successive prime ministers from Thatcher to Cameron has wilfully ignored the facts. Its constant mistake has been to misread the Germans, especially Chancellor Angela Merkel, and their enthusiasm for “political union”. Boris Johnson with European leaders at a Brussels summit in October © Reuters Time and again, the British have either assumed she was prepared to take a great leap ahead on integration or that she was willing to help the British out of a tight spot of their own making. Even at the height of her powers (and they are waning as she enters her own twilight zone), Merkel’s default position has been to keep her options open and defend the German national interest. Several Eurocrats interviewed for this article agreed that the Brussels summit in December 2011 marked a turning point for British diplomacy. France and Germany were battling to secure agreement on a “fiscal compact” to buttress the eurozone after the global financial crisis. In the early hours of the morning, Cameron, without forewarning, produced demands to protect the City of London and threatened a veto if he was rebuffed. European leaders, including Merkel, were outraged. They saw this as a domestic gambit to appease Eurosceptics on a matter of singular importance to eurozone members. So they simply ignored Cameron and secured an agreement among themselves, outside the EU treaties. The UK’s bluff had been called. The following Saturday, I bumped into Cameron at the 75th birthday party of a mutual friend in the grounds of Windsor castle. “Don’t be too hard on me,” said the prime minister, visibly shattered. From there, it has been downhill fast. A Conservative party in thrall to Nigel Farage. Cameron’s botched Brexit referendum. The dismal premiership of Theresa May, humiliated at home and in Europe. A Tory civil war without mercy. British influence has evaporated at a speed that has shocked the most hardened Eurocrats.

 “The most surreal aspect [of Brexit] is that your political class has gone rogue,” says a veteran Brussels official, citing the breakdown of co-operation between ministers and civil servants, once Britain’s greatest strength. “There is a complete disconnect with the politicians who don’t want to hear things any more. You now have the worst possible opposition (Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party) and a terrible government. Imagine if that happened to Germany.” The UK government has given up in Brussels, say EU diplomats. Ministers either pursue an empty chair policy or are “empty suits” contributing nothing to debate. Dominic Raab, the macho foreign secretary, made no friends when he rushed into a recent informal weekend meeting of EU foreign ministers, made a cursory intervention on Hong Kong and rushed out again. “Needlessly offensive,” says an official who was present. When Johnson finally achieved his lifetime ambition of high office, many a Eurocrat caught their breath. They remember his xenophobic wisecracks, especially the one comparing then French president François Hollande to a Colditz guard dealing out “punishment beatings” in retaliation for Brexit. The mot du jour for the new prime minister is “malin” — cunning or sly. But although they don’t trust him, many seem to like him. His charm is an asset, a relief from President Emmanuel Macron’s imperious style. There is grudging respect, too, for the premier’s strategy, squeezing Tory Remainers and Eurosceptic “Spartans” into supporting the withdrawal agreement. His ditching of the Democratic Unionist party displayed a killer instinct. After May, Johnson looks a more serious proposition. Several interviewed said they admired Johnson’s performance at the G7 summit in Biarritz in August. He backed Europe on Iran, defended the World Trade Organization and sought to bridge differences with Trump’s America First trade policy. After his Brexit deal, he spoke passionately to EU leaders about his schoolboy days in Brussels and his daughter singing to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, the European anthem. “It was a beautiful moment,” says one mildly seduced Eurocrat. Yet all this counts for nothing if Johnson is unable to get his deal through the House of Commons. It matters even less if he fails to forge a new relationship with the EU that protects the UK economy, given 44 per cent of total UK trade is with the continent. The dilemma is how to reconcile the European imperative with Johnson’s vision of a new “global Britain” outside the EU’s single market and customs union. The dozen or so top diplomats and officials I saw in Brussels were united on one point: there is an inescapable trade-off between access to the single market and divergence from its rules and standards. “There can be no cherry-picking,” said one. “No access to our market without access to your waters,” said another, referring to the vexed question of fisheries. In short, the level playing field in Europe’s single market must be preserved without exception. Johnson has boasted that he can achieve the most ambitious trade deal ever in record time, that is before the end of 2020 when the transition of current arrangements between the UK and the EU comes to an end. This is pie in the sky, say EU officials. In their estimation, the best Johnson can hope for is a “bare bones” free trade agreement with zero tariffs and zero quotas — but with regulatory checks at borders, which in turn negates the friction-free trade UK-based business desperately wants to preserve. The omens are not good. Even Anglophile countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden have been unnerved by talk of creating a “Singapore on the Thames”, watering down Euro-regulations and unleashing competitive animal spirits. “The UK is too big and too close to the continent,” says one Brexit negotiator, “it could be too successful.”

A Remain supporter packs away his EU flag at the end of a day protesting outside Parliament Such sentiment reinforces suspicions among the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg, the pinstriped Tory revolutionary who has harrumphed about Britain’s “vassal” status in the EU single market and customs union. But hardened negotiators such as Barnier — who will be back at the table next year — are adamant that Europe will not be taken for suckers. “Zero tariffs, zero quotas, zero dumping,” he has told colleagues. Ideology is about to meet political reality. The UK will have to make hard choices. Singapore-style dereg¬ulation may appeal to one wing of the Brexit-voting coalition in the Tory shires, less so to the economically vulnerable areas. Ideology is about to meet political reality. The UK will have to make hard choices So will the UK choose a Norway-style position in cleaving close to Europe, following EU regulations and standards at the expense of an independent trade policy? Or will it choose to be a junior partner to the US, hoping for a more reliable White House successor to Trump? At home, Brexit continues to redefine domestic politics. Johnson’s deal creates a border in the Irish Sea, bringing unification between north and south of Ireland closer. Scotland, under Nicola Sturgeon, is pushing for a second independence referendum. Brexit has uncorked a new strain of English nationalism. No less than the unity of the UK is at stake. On the day of this month’s Brexit agreement, late in the afternoon, my cell phone rang. It was Boris Johnson. He was studiously courteous, inquiring if I had a few seconds to discuss his deal. Well, prime minister, it’s going to take a bit longer than that, I said. Johnson was well on top of his brief. After 10 minutes of back and forth, it was time to turn to the world after Brexit. To govern is to choose. Which way would he jump? “The choice is not a binary one,” he replied. In his mind, everything is sui generis. The UK could back Europe on foreign policy issues such as Iran, take a Singapore option on boosting the pharma sector and carve out bespoke trade deals with America and Europe. We agree to disagree. The “pick and mix” policy will not pass muster, not when it comes down to the detail. Brexit is arguably the most complex divorce in history. Negotiating a fresh relationship with Europe will require more than bluff. That snapshot of team UK and team Barnier should act as a reminder. The UK desperately needs a new narrative, one that reunites the country and sets a course for whole- and half-hearted Europeans alike. Johnson’s snap election is a high-risk breakout strategy, which could produce further fragmentation rather than give him a clear mandate. Whatever the outcome, hard choices are unavoidable. And we have only reached the point of departure.