In the first of a two part series, Alanbrooke looks at our relationship with the EU.
As the Brexit debate rolls on the recent ruling by the ECJ Advocate General that the UK can unilaterally revoke article 50 brings a new angle to proceedings. Suddenly it is a lot easier to stay in.
The uncertainty around how to stay in the EU and under which terms looks a lot clearer and in some ways simpler. So set aside the mechanics of how, what would remaining actually be like ? This is a two part post – the first looks at the changes in Europe since the leave vote and the second looks at how remaining will impact Remainers and leavers.
There is a certain irony to the UK remaining, in that events in the EU are largely being ignored, Europe is little more than a bit player in the UK debate. Really only Ireland has had much coverage in the UK’s internal wrangle and that as a convenient pool of mud to fling at the other side.
So first let’s refresh ourselves on the Europe we voted to leave. At the beginning of 2016 the advocates of international liberalism were in firm control of the West. David Cameron had just been re-elected; Mutti Merkel presided over a successful Germany and a recovering EU led by her placeman Jean Claude Juncker. In the USA Obama looked ready to hand over to America’s first female president while a twitter happy property developer showed just how out of touch the opposition were.
That world has all gone.
And by gone it’s not just the personalities, but the assumptions and policies which backed them. 2016 is in some ways as significant a year as 1989, a year when the mould broke. And break it did, first with Brexit and Cameron’s departure and next with Trump; worse in the following year Frau Merkel became a casualty as her electorate tired of her. Suddenly all the old certainties were gone and the peasants were revolting across the Western World.
And that revolt was triggered by much the same factors in all countries. Stagnation in standards of living for ordinary people, the impact of globalisation on jobs and on job security ; then add in immigration and a political class which had lost touch with voters. In essence a system which worked well for those at the top of society was not working at all for those at the bottom and they made their discontent known.
The reaction to the referendum result in the UK was shock. Remain didn’t expect to lose nor Leave to win. Then all hell broke loose, the PM resigned, a snap election, a messy result : the body politic turned on itself and the UK settled down to two years of trench warfare with neither side conceding much bar introspective wrangling over Brexit minutiae to the exclusion of everything else. And that’s the weakness of the UK’s position. A world has changed around us and we are not giving it much thought
The lie of the land in Brussels today is of both the familiar and the new. A UK staying with the EU will face several key factors
The will of the commission and the ”core” is for ever closer union
There still remains at the heart of the EU project the will to make a union with all the infrastructure of a state – currency, parliament, army, taxes – controlled by a central body. British politicians howl at this prospect and ridicule it, but the trend of the EU has only ever been in one direction, few powers are ever handed back. This will remain a constant feature of staying in the EU a steady creep of centralisation pushed by core countries.
Long Term the Euro is unsustainable in its present form
This might sound like a side issue to a country outside the Euro but the Euro is probably one of the largest risks in staying in the EU. The severe imbalances within the currency are creating the conditions for the Union to fall apart. Previously within the ERM there was an adjustment mechanism which allowed imbalances to be corrected. Now values are fixed which gives a huge advantage to the Germanic countries while impoverishing the Latin south. Something must give or the Union wort work and if it breaks the UK will be dragged in to the maelstrom.
Staying in, leaves the UK in a slightly awkward position. A large and important member but one which can never quite be trusted. If things were a little terse before the vote they will be even more so when staying in. All talk of influence and soft power should be forgotten as someone once said can you imagine an EU with a British President?
The old problems are still there
The cocktail of issues which in the UK led to Brexit are still present in the EU and if anything greater. Immigration, the impact of globalisation, political alienation are all core issues across Europe. The UK debate ignores that these are also the conditions in Europe and this will lead to a very different political climate in the next decade. What if post the EU Parliament election in 2019 we are not returning to a government of Macron Merkel and Juncker but of Le Pen, Farage and Salvini ? Whatever way you look at it, it is hard to see how the next EU parliament will not be a very different creature. We have given this very little thought,
These are the realities of the EU today. One side of the EU is desperately seeking to hold together a model it has pushed for years while the other is seeking a completely new model. In between there is a struggle for what Europe is about. But the hard fact remains we can’t go back in time and even a child could tell us it is too late to put Humpty back together.