I was born and grew up in London. I used to love it. I still love London’s theatres but many other aspects are no longer what they used to be – at least for me.
The beginning of the end
I think the decline started long ago, when both schools and parents stopped teaching children any values and focused instead on mechanical learning and testing. It accelerated when David Cameron decided to call a referendum on EU membership purely to try to settle a split within the Conservative party. More recently, Theresa May’s strong and stable promise to leave both the Single Market and the Custom’s Union with the sole objective of reducing immigration seems set to make the UK an even less pleasant place to live or even visit, let alone do business with.
UK Government – consistently clueless
All we know about the UK position comes from:
- Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech (17 January 2017), setting out the UK’s negotiating objectives;
- The UK Government’s White Paper (2 February 2017) on its “vision” for a new partnership with the EU; and
- Theresa May’s letter to European Council President Donald Tusk (29 March 2017) triggering the start of negotiations under Article 50 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
The two-line European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 does not say much, supposedly to avoid tying Theresa May’s hands in the Brexit negotiations. Apart from this, we had heard for six months that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and lately that she wants to “make a success of Brexit”. The wishful thinking of the Leave campaign that a UK outside the EU would be able to have its cake and eat it was continued by David Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox as Ministers. Personally, I found this extremely amateurish and clueless.
All this waffle has already caused a lot of uncertainty for anyone or any business based in the UK and for UK citizens based elsewhere in the EU. The pound is still worth 10% less against the euro than it was on the day of the Referendum. That is before any Brexit negotiations have even started.
The EU27 negotiating position
Unlike Theresa May, the EU27 (ie, the group of European Union Member States other than the UK) and the European Commission have decided to be completely transparent about the Brexit negotiations. Perhaps ironically, the UK Referendum result and the election of Donald Trump in the US have led to greater unity between the other EU Member States (as German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted yesterday).
Apart from the timeline, here is what we know so far about the EU27 negotiating position:
- European Council guidelines (29 April 2017)
- European Council negotiating directives for the first phase of the negotiations with the UK (22 May 2017)
- European Commission negotiating documents
The clear line is that “sufficient progress” needs to have been made on agreeing these principles with the UK before discussions on other areas would begin.
The future of the UK?
The Leave campaigners claimed that the UK would be better off trading with countries other than the EU. In case you had forgotten what they told us, here is the leaflet put out by our local Conservative MP at the time of the UK Referendum last year.
The Leave campaigners conveniently failed to mention how long it might take or that the UK could not negotiate trade agreements with countries outside the EU until after the UK has left the EU. They also forgot to say that the UK would not be the 5th largest economy in the world without its EU trade. The UK already fell behind India soon after the Referendum because of the 10% drop in the value of the pound.
Another thing the Leave campaigners didn’t mention is that the UK would need to recruit a lot more civil servants to carry out the tasks currently carried out by the “unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels”.
Could the General Election on 8 June change this?
From these UK and EU27 negotiating positions, you can already see where the areas of disagreement are likely to be if Theresa May wins the predicted landslide majority on 8 June. Given Labour’s plan to control immigration, the destiny of the UK probably would not be very different if they win either.
The Government had already predicted the economic consequences of a Leave vote in its pre-Referendum leaflet. It had not predicted the dramatic rise in hate crime fuelled by the anti-immigration rhetoric of populist politicians or the collapse of the NHS when its tens of thousands of non-British staff decide to leave the UK to work somewhere they feel welcome. If most people really vote for either Conservatives or Labour, as the opinion polls are predicting, all this seems likely to become the reality.
With this perspective, I don’t really see that the UK will have much of a future – or at least one that I would still want to be part of.
Of course, there are the consistently anti-Brexit political parties like the Lib Dems, Greens and SNP. For them to do well, a lot of people in the UK would need to vote as recommended by the ‘Best for Britain’ tactical voting campaign led by Gina Miller. I really hope they do. Otherwise, the UK will become a country where, as Tagore observed in his Nationalism in the West speech in 1917:
“… the people are hospitable but the nation has proved itself to be otherwise, making an Eastern guest feel humiliated to stand before you as a member of the humanity of his own motherland.”