It has been an interesting few days since Mrs. May’s speech in Florence. Mrs. Merkel has hung on by the skin of her teeth in the German elections despite recording her worst General Election result ever and the German far right AfD will now be represented in the German Parliament for the first time in 60 years. You cannot escape the naked racism of this Party but the German electorate has made a very strong statement of its discontent with the open border policy of Mrs. Merkel and she has been punished for the million immigrants allowed into the country in 2015. Whilst in no way as extreme, the Referendum vote here in 2016 made strong comment on immigration and it raises the question, yet again, as to how to handle this problem of mass exodus from dysfunctional states. The Barcelona Agreement of 1995 in which the EU states agreed to very liberal immigration policies, particularly from Islamic countries, is now being shown to be misconceived and dangerous to the stability of the West. It seems to be a social phenomenon that one country can off load its problems onto others without any kind of redress. That question is probably for another day and penned by someone more knowledgeable than I on the subject.
And so to Mrs. May’s speech and the immediate aftermath. The press and broadcast media have been seen to misunderstand it and some commentators who should know better have made some irresponsible comments. Richard Tice of Leave Means Leave headlined in a piece that her speech gave no incentive to the EU to cooperate and a similar view by Owen Patterson of the same group was similarly ill conceived. Nigel Farage, needless to say, leapt on the bandwagon of May critics opining that the speech was far too conciliatory and that we must be much tougher with the EU Commissioners. This is straight from the Farage school of charm and diplomacy along the lines of many of his outbursts in the European Parliament such as describing van Rompuy as a badly dressed accountant. You can’t beat Farage for winning friends and influencing people can you?
I think Richard Tice has got this completely wrong and totally misunderstands the underlying cleverness of the speech as supported in that view by the usually erudite John Redwood writing in the Sunday Express. Not an organ of political opinion I would automatically turn to but when John Redwood writes, I tend to read and learn.
The speech very much puts the ball firmly in the court of the EU to grasp the nettle of a positive vision for the future of the relationship between the UK and the EU and to understand how much the EU27 states have to lose by being obtuse with us over trade. Note the speech was almost entirely aimed at the Heads of State and not the Commission as it is those Heads of State who will have to explain to their electorates if the talks founder and the UK walks away to trade on WTO.
If the Commission continues to be intransigent then it is it that will be seen as derailing the talks, not the UK.
Mrs. May’s speech has now given us a measure of control and disabused the Commission of any thinking that we are supplicants at the table of the great EU. The table is now totally round and does not, therefore have a head or tail to it.
The EU now might understand a little of who they are dealing with in Mrs. May’s government.
Mrs. May did not offer money as such but simply said that we would stand by the budgetary obligations that we had agreed to in the EU’s 7 year budget cycle. She also said that we would not do anything to make the less well off EU countries be out of pocket. Talk in some papers such as The Times of Mrs. May ‘agreeing to £40b’ are just totally untrue and The Times should be ashamed of themselves for that kind of reporting. The speech has put the EU on the back foot. One can already witness Barnier accepting that there were positives in it, and the speech has reestablished our role in the talks as not in some kind of Master/Slave relationship but as a partnership of equals. This had not been the case throughout the summer with the endless posturing from Barnier, Junker and Verhofstadt about what the EU would or would not accept.
You only have to look at the nonsensical position of the EU on EU citizens rights living in this country to understand EU intransigence almost for the sake of it. According to the EU, these people who have homes here, work here, pay taxes here, enjoy all the state benefits of living here including NHS care and our schooling should somehow only adhere to EU law as opposed to being governed in every aspect of their lives by British law as the rest of us are, is frankly laughable. You are arrested in France but insist on your case being subject to British law as opposed to French law. Really?
Social media has been agog with statements of betrayal and acerbic criticism of Mrs. May. Not helped by many who don’t seem to understand the nature of diplomacy or of negotiation to be honest. Agreements are only reached when both parties have an adult understanding of each other’s position and what is or is not on offer. For the EU to continue to make the talks about process and money will only waste valuable time and bring March 29th 2019 rushing to their door at an alarming rate.
I believe Mrs. May’s Government understands that and has very cleverly positioned itself to deliver our departure in March 2019. Not the complete and immediate withdrawal that Leavers want as that is technically not possible. It is unrealistic to think that we can go from 11 pm on March 29th 2019 as members of the EU to one minute past midnight on the 30th not being members. Yes, EU rules and diktats will no longer apply, yes, the ECJ will no longer have legal jurisdiction over the UK Parliament (just writing that makes me wonder how anyone can still believe we should Remain in the EU) and yes we will then start to control our borders and sign up to free trade deals around the world and yes, we will care for and support EU people living in this country who contribute so much to it and yes, we will require EU nationals to register with our authorities as we do now if we go to live and work in mainland Europe (one of your first tasks as an immigrant worker into Germany, say, is to register with the local police and there is nothing wrong with that). However, it is unrealistic to imagine that all the systems and methodologies required for it all to work immediately will be in place. Do you remember the years it took to plan for and implement the Year 2000 IT change over? Likewise, the same applies to IT systems for businesses and Customs and Excise and a host of other requirements to make our businesses move on without too much disruption.
I firmly believe that we are in good shape and more so since Florence. The newspapers want to make mischief out of ‘Cabinet splits’ and similar nonsense but that is what sells papers. People love a good gossip but it doesn’t contribute much to the debate or the way forward. Posturing and sound biting is all the EU has done throughout the Summer but now, thanks to Mrs. May, they probably understand that it is time for some grown-up conversation.