In their seminal anthem, Busted reported back from the year 3000 that not much had changed (but we live underwater). I don’t propose to look that far into the future but let’s borrow a souped-up De Lorean and head for 2030. By then the current crop of politicians will have written their memoirs or be editing newspapers. Given geological timescales, we can expect the island of Britain still to be sitting off the mainland of Europe. With current rates of technological advances the movement to living underwater will probably not yet have taken off by that date.
So much can be relied upon. Mystic Meeks is less sure of the political developments but right now it seems like a reasonably good bet that Britain will be outside the EU while the EU is still rolling along in its usual fractious, bureaucratic but tolerably effective way.
That leads on to a very simple question which pretty much no one is asking: what kind of relationship do we want in place between post-Brexit Britain and the EU once all the current brouhaha has settled down? The answer to that question has a direct bearing on the type of Brexit deal that everyone should be seeking to negotiate. Let’s take each group in turn.
Large numbers of Remainers are very unhappy about the decision to Leave. Opinion polls consistently show that the nation is just as divided on the question as it was in June 2016, with no sign of Leave persuading Remainers of the rightness of their cause. Some Remainers feel very strongly about this indeed and want to relitigate the referendum.
As a Remainer myself, I can’t say I’m happy about the decision. I think it’s a national disaster. But those Remainers wishing to upend the decision need to think about the long term relationship that they want Britain to have with the EU. For if Britain were now to do a handbrake turn back into the EU, it would look fickle and unreliable. Almost certainly a large minority of the population would continue to be pressing to leave the EU, now with an added sense of grievance that democracy had in some way been thwarted.
Britain remaining in the EU now would be a recipe for at least another decade of constant strife between Britain and Brussels. If you think the political atmosphere is sulphurous now, just imagine what it would be like then.
The EU might very well conclude that it wasn’t worth the candle. Whether or not it did, it would almost certainly be wiser for Remainers to let Brexit run its course before seeking to take over the steering wheel again. A majority of Remainers have already reached this conclusion, if opinion polls are to be believed. For the rest, time to accept that it’s over: O.V.A.H.
What should Remainers therefore be doing? The vote was won on immigration, and so Remainers must concede that restrictions on freedom of movement must be introduced, with all the consquences that entails. But otherwise they are under no obligation to get behind the parochial vision that the government is pushing. They can continue to advocate the benefit of close constructive links with the EU, identify areas where Britain and the EU should continue to work together closely and press the government to strike a consistent tone of cooperation and integration with the EU. After all, Remainers will want a solid base to build on if they want Britain in future to be working closely together with the other countries of Europe.
Leavers actually have a strikingly similar problem to Remainers. Plenty of them want to see the Brussels bureaucracy destroyed like Carthage, with no two stones left standing one on top of the other. Some of them would then wish to imitate the Mannequin Pis on top of the rubble. But this is not an aspiration that is within their means to achieve and in truth it is unlikely to happen. So what kind of long term relationship do they actually want with the EU, the organisation which all their near neighbours look likely to belong to for the foreseeable future?
This is a question to which Leavers seem to give astonishingly little thought. Certainly they don’t talk about it. Even those Leavers who, like Tim Montgomerie, recognise that Britain will need a constructive relationship with the EU have been later unable to resist railing against what they see as its dysfunctional nature. Not exactly a good way to win friends and influence people.
So, Brexiters, do you want a friendly relationship with the EU? How close do you want to cooperate with the EU and on what subjects? If so, how do you propose to get it? Because right now, your charm school skills suck.
I expect that quite a few Leavers will claim that any bad blood has been caused by the EU. Quite apart from the fact that comes from the “he started it” strand of playground complaints, the negotiations would go much better if the UK worked backwards from its proposed longterm relationship to its policy positions. Right now the UK’s policy positions seem to be derived from what can be got through the newspapers.
This isn’t just a British failing. Some of the EU glitterati are behaving with all the decorum of a teenager who has recently been dumped. They need to get over themselves. Instead of seeking vengeance on an ungrateful ex-partner, they need to be thinking about how Britain will fit into their plans in the future. Seeking to screw every last penny out of Britain is frankly undignified (the sums are small in the context of the EU’s overall budget and it’s only a short term fix anyway). Trying to push extraterritorial CJEU jurisdiction on Britain is shortsighted: the EU will not prosper by having created a resentful satrapy on its doorstep even if it is successful in its aims. It should not be seeking to cru
Britain into the dust.
Again, the EU should be forming a 2030 strategy. Admittedly this is psychologically difficult when your negotiating partners are routinely trumpeting their loathing for you, but the Eurocrats are supposed to be grown-ups. They will want close cooperation on defence with Britain, on foreign affairs wherever possible and, when the more delusional demands from London have subsided, a pragmatic trading relationship.
In any negotiation, particularly one that is designed to produce a longterm relationship, it’s always a good idea to leave something on the table. A measure of generosity is likely to pay for itself in the goodwill generated. Goodwill is in short supply at present in the Article 50 negotiations. Imaginative negotiators on both sides of the table would do well to consider how they can improve stocks of that for what is going to be an indispensable relationship for both of them for the foreseeable future.