Weak as water

29 June 2017

Fair do’s: Brussels has played something of a blinder. It has fastened the principle of extraterritorial powers to the emotional topic of citizen’s rights and it has succeeded in placing the issue at the outset of talks. This has weakened HMG, as providing the powder and shot for nominally principled domestic opposition from those claiming the Government is “playing political games with people’s lives”. May’s team seems to be too demoralised to point out that Brussels kicked the game off with its ludicrous demand for ECJ jurisdiction. I guess we have to put this down to the self-inflicted damage of the grisly electoral outcome.

HMG’s offer of five years’ residence is no concession, as this is already the standard period to qualify for naturalisation. It’s perfectly understandable if the offer cheesed off the Europeans as it is transparently lowball. What’s more HMG’s fifty-nine paragraph response fell further than necessary into the EU’s trap of painstaking detail. It would have done better to offer “all legacy rights save for…” In addition, conceding “…commitments in the Withdrawal Agreement [with] the status of international law” (para 58) feels very much like the thin edge of the wedge.

There’s going to be a lot of this stuff. Europe is deft at dressing up the unreasonable in self-serving guff about rights, the rule of law and much else by way of high-minded twaddle. There is an avid appetite for this in our own country from the soft-hearted, the soft-headed and those who are neither but are willing to whip up support from the useful idiots of our day. These intriguers comprise the usual suspects, (Heseltine, Major and so on) reinvigorated by the sniff of blood in the water, plus a Labour party willing to say and do almost anything to effect one last push.

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The initial foray seems to confirm fears that HMG has lost its nerve. If so, May will fall, for failing to fight the UK’s corner. Her team is certainly showing little public enthusiasm for the position it set out in the February White Paper and threatens to allow the incoherence of the “soft Brexit” lobby to win the battle for public opinion by default.

The customs union and single market are at risk of becoming shibboleths of sweet reason. It is reasonable enough to prize stability in our commercial arrangements, but not at the price of forgoing the central benefit of Brexit, trade sovereignty, indeed sovereignty in general.

Immigration continues to throw up paradoxes all round. Business is disingenuous in pressing for the maintenance of its cheap labour business model, as re-skilling and capital substitution pave the way for the universally-sought benefit of a high-productivity economy.

The common sense of “no deal is better than a bad deal” has become close to outright toxic. Hammond in particular is playing a risky game. Once again, it is reasonable enough to act as a standard-bearer for business, but plain dangerous to give the impression of lining up with Starmer’s “exact same deal”. This is an impossibly high bar and undermines the government at the negotiating table by denying the possibility of walking away.

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To conclude, Leadsom’s clumsy request for “patriotic” Brexit coverage by the BBC is the usual thrashing around by those who fear they are losing the argument. In any event, it is destined to founder upon the rocks of impartiality, unless someone goes to sufficient trouble to quantify the nuisance. The difficulty is that past such complaints have ended up looking petty and have achieved nothing. Better to get in front of the cameras and make the case. But this government is all about surviving from day to day. It has won the Queen’s speech, but in most other respects “weak as water” covers the ground. There is a palpable sense of “roll on the summer recess”. Hard to argue.