If you haven’t heard by now, Jean-Claude Junker, the President of the European Commission, had dinner at Downing Street with May and her chief negotiators last week – and then leaked the details to the German press. Essentially, it’s a culmination of what we already largely knew: The UK is unwilling to pay any substantial ‘divorce settlement’ and the European Union does not want Brexit to be a success. Shocker!
Clearly, this was already obvious to anyone who understands the people involved and the interests they happen to represent. “Brexit cannot be a success,” as Junker himself said, because such an outcome is contradictory to the EU’s long-term goal of, well, continuing to exist. One shouldn’t require much explanation as to why the union simply cannot allow a member state to exit on terms which are even relatively equal to those that it enjoyed inside. Britain will either leave on a deal which involves considerable financial compensation to the block or without a deal at all. Moderate Brexiteers, those that delusionally hoped for both sides to come to a mutually beneficial agreement, will come out in droves to explain why that simply isn’t fair but, well, what on Earth did you expect? The only outcome which benefits the European Union is the one in which the European Union doesn’t suffer an existential crisis, and where Britain gets hammered as a warning to other potential defectors. Tad mean? Sure. Kind of resembles a Mafiosi protection racket? Uh huh. Welcome to the real world sunshine.
Now, if Britain happened to be lead by individuals willing to compromise, then a deal could still potentially be struck. A bad deal, sure, but still better than no deal at all. Still better than us crashing out of the European Union and the Single Market with no transitional period and then having to conduct business with our single largest trading partner on WTO terms. Unfortunately, I’m quite sure that’s exactly the direction we’re heading in because Theresa May has decided to fill her top team with hardcore Brexiteers to whom the prospect of Britain completely severing ties with the EU isn’t even all that frightening. A “Clean” or a “Hard” Brexit is precisely what David Davis (The Secretary of State for Leaving The European Union) and Liam Fox (The Secretary of State for International Trade) have campaigned on for years. Their children are unlikely to be affected by cuts to state schools or rising food prices, and their taxpayer-funded second homes in SW1 will ensure that the ever rising cost of rent will similarly be an issue that only the plebs will have to concern themselves with.
So no, I don’t think there will be much resembling a deal at the end of the, absurdly short, two-year negotiation period, or at least the chances of us reaching one are more or less whatever odds you assign to Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minster on the 9th of June.
I wouldn’t expect Theresa May and the Conservatives to suffer too much politically from such an outcome, or at least not for a long while. A narrative is already being set by the right-wing tabloid press which continues to exert an ungodly influence over British politics. If, or when, the negotiations fail, two camps will be entirely at blame. One will be the unreasonable men in Brussels, of course, who refused to ignore their own political interests in order to ensure that Britain is punished. The second recipient of blame will be far more frightening. It will be the “Saboteurs,” the “Remoaner” fifth column which did nothing but “talk Britain down,” and the foreigners who keep stealing all the jobs that nobody else wants. And a considerable part of the population will continue to drink the kool-aid because they couldn’t possibly have been wrong and because confirmation bias continues to be a powerful force. After a while, as the economic consequences begin to hit home and the opposition gets its house in order, opinion will shift, but only then.
Okay, so as I was in the middle of writing this, Theresa May decided to step outside of number 10 and give a rather extraordinary speech. Not only, she said, had “The European Commission’s negotiating stance hardened” but that “Threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials.” Furthermore, she claimed that “All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election that will take place on 8 June.”
There are two things to be said about that statement. Firstly, it’s brilliant electioneering. May has practically implied that a vote for any party other than the Conservatives is a vote for Brussels and Jean-Claude Junker. A vote for the Conservatives, therefore, is a vote to tell that sleazeball and his cronies where to shove it. A vote against continental meddling in our affairs.
Secondly, however, the claim that European politicians and officials are actively seeking to influence the result of June’s election is both absurd and simultaneously dangerous. To make such dramatic accusations against the very people on who’s ‘goodwill’ Britain’s long-term future depends is an outright act of national self-harm. Theresa May will get her majority all right. It will probably be very big. However, as did Cameron when he called the Referendum in the first place, she is trashing her nation’s future for the relatively short term benefit of the Conservative Party. Whoever wrote that speech should be given a bloody medal; before being sent straight down to hell.