May’s proposal is both soft and dishonest

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May’s proposal is both soft and dishonest

A soft Brexit is clearer now than ever before. Theresa May’s proposals have put at stake the public’s trust in democracy, says Bruce Newsome. 

This government has finally proven beyond doubt that it is soft on Brexit. For Remainers, the proposal that the Cabinet agreed on Friday is a relief, a victory, and a reflection of their dominance of the Cabinet and Parliament, despite their loss of the popular vote more than two years ago. Yet Remainers should still worry about the dishonesty with which the Prime Minister (Theresa May) is marketing her proposal, because dishonest promises always end in disappointment, and Britons are already disillusioned enough with spin and betrayal.

The Prime Minister’s letter to Conservative Members of Parliament listed 12 talking points on how the proposal “delivers on the referendum result with a Brexit deal for Britain,” but each is either dishonest or contradicted.

First, she claims, Britain will be “leaving the EU on 29th March 2019,” but nothing practical will change through an interim period of years, which the government keeps proposing to extend. Her new proposal’s period of alignment with the EU on goods and agriculture is indefinite.

Second, she claims that we’re “ending free movement and taking back control of our borders,” but goods and agricultural products account for almost all material trade, so open borders to them are open borders to almost everything, unless you instigate technologies and practices that can differentiate. Such technologies and practices were specified in the Brexiteer proposal that she has repeatedly rebuffed (known as “maximum facilitation”). Now the Cabinet has agreed a “facilitated customs arrangement that would remove the need for customs checks and controls”. While she has promised to control free movement she has made no provision. Indeed, in January she caved to France’s demands to take responsibility for migrants and border controls that are France’s responsibility under international law. The EU has made her cave on everything, so can expect her to cave on free movement too, although she will spin otherwise.

Third, May promises “no more sending vast sums of money each year to the EU,” but the EU will certainly demand an annual contribution in order to stay in a common market for goods and agriculture. Britain currently pays about £15 billion per year to the EU, even after rebate. Given May’s commitment to stay in various EU agencies and even to contribute to some agencies in which Britain will not stay (such as the agency for frontier control), Britain’s annual contribution will certainly be in the billions. In any case, in December she signed a commitment to transfer unknown billions just to get talks going (the mis-termed “divorce bill”), which civil servants estimated then at £39 billion – this estimate should be treated as a minimum; likely it will be closer to £50 billion.

Fourth is her promise of a “a new business friendly customs model with freedom to strike new deals around the world.” In practice, Britain can’t negotiate for itself while it is aligned with the EU on goods and agriculture, which the EU effectively protects with tariffs and non-tariff barriers (for instance, under the guise of environmentalism, we’re not allowed access to cheaper and more powerful American electrical products). The only way to imagine an external deal that would be compatible with proposal is a deal covering only services, and that wouldn’t be free trade. On the same day, the US Ambassador revealed that US President Donald Trump wants to offer a zero-tariff trade deal on his trip to Britain next week. May has already foregone that opportunity, although she will talk as if she’s open to it.

Fifth in the PM’s list is a promise that alignment in goods and agriculture “will be good for jobs.” In fact, she is keeping Britain tied with an economic area that is shrinking as a proportion of Britain’s trade. Brexiteers expected a growth of jobs once Britain has free-er trade with the rest of the world. Under May’s plan, only jobs dependent on EU trade or subsidies will grow, while other opportunities will be foregone. One sector where you will certainly see no growth in jobs will be fishing, since May had committed in March to allow the rest of the EU to take more fish from British waters than British fisherman can take. Even if you think your job will be protected by May’s plan, everybody will pay more for their goods and agriculture, because the EU protects against cheaper and better competitors.

Sixth is her “commitment to maintain high standards on consumer and employment rights and the environment.” This is just a sop to the opposition’s pretence that the EU protects things that Britain cannot protect for itself.

In fact, the EU is counter-productive on environmentalism: take its insistence that all member states should continue to plunder British fishing, or that Malta should have an exception from the ban on shooting migratory birds – in these cases, the EU puts wider membership above the environment.

Don’t forget the EU’s non-tariff barriers that pretend to be environmental protections: the EU protects European manufacturers of small, inefficient electrical products by pretending that smaller is environmentally conscious, but smaller washing machines are used more often, with less efficiency per use, for more aggregate consumption of resources, and they wear out quicker. So alignment is bad for the consumer as well as the environment.

Seventh, May wrote of a “Parliamentary lock on all new rules and regulations,” but the government’s own statement directly contradicts her letter: “the UK [is] making an upfront choice to commit by treaty to ongoing harmonisation with EU rules on goods”. Additionally, her prior commitment to full membership of certain agencies and areas is a commitment to their rules and regulations. The EU changes rules and regulations every day – Parliament cannot possibly vote on all of them.

Eighth, May claimed that Britain is leaving the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy, but this leaving will be partly nominal. As related above, in March she committed to allow the rest of the EU to fish in Britain’s waters, which amounts to all the disadvantages of the Common Fisheries Policy without the say-so. Similarly, British farmers who want to export will need to produce to EU agricultural standards, but will lose the subsidies.

Ninth, May committed to “restoring the supremacy of British courts by ending the jurisdiction of the ECJ.” In practice, every alignment and every membership within the EU is subject to the European Court of Justice.

Tenth is her triumph about “no hard border between NI and Ireland or between NI and GB.” Well, the flip side is that we will continue to have a border that is partly regulated by the EU. See talking point 2.

Eleventh, she promised “continued close cooperation on security to keep our people safe.” In fact, the EU laughed out her proposal to that effect during the EU summit just a week before; various EU officials and apologists accused her of blackmailing the EU’s security; they prefer to punish Brexit-Britain than to continue the reciprocity in intelligence and extradition from which the EU benefits most.

Twelfth, she promised “an independent foreign and defence policy working closely with the EU and other allies,” but in fact May has already, quietly, committed Britain to various parts of the the EU’s little known “common security and defence policy,” which was initiated in 2017 under the forgettable title of “Permanent Structured Cooperation” (PESCO).

When your political representative starts peddling the prime minister’s twelve talking points to you, please point out the dishonesty or contradiction in every one of them. Public trust in democracy is at stake.

 

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    Bruce Newsome
    Bruce Newsome, Ph.D. is a lecturer in International Relations at the University of California Berkeley
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