After the sort of relief that was evident on Friday after the PM’s hasty return visit to Brussels the emotion has somewhat quickly turned into something of an anti-climax - according to those pundits who are ‘in the know’.
The big breakthrough hasn’t, apparently, led us to the trade talks negotiation at all - it has, as far as I can gather from the plethora of opinions in the media, only opened the door to Phase 2 of the negotiations within which, at some pretty distant point from where we are now, ie, after March, 2019, there will be permission to commence talks about our trading relationship with the EU. The EU, seemingly are insisting that Britain clarifies its position on exactly what it wants from any such trade agreement.
Now much is being said about how the EU have manipulated the whole Brexit process thus far to their advantage and I’m pretty sure that has been the case in much of the negotiation - Britain has had to concede position on money, borders, legal jurisdiction, British nationals living in the EU, the single market and customs union and probably a host of other things as well. Whilst Mrs May might have thought she had reached a point where the ‘right’ to continue across this snakes and ladders game had been seemingly achieved, what now appears to be the case as the details slowly trickle out is that she has pledged a good deal of Britain’s capital to make what in real terms is quite a minor step forward. It’s made somewhat more unpalatable when you listen to the smarmy praise of people like Michael Gove who everyone knows covets the PM role. It ranks close to comparing with Julius Caesar’s eventually fatal encounter with the Roman Senate - sooner or later the knives will come out.
Nobody can miss the fact that negotiations like these are both difficult and imbued with an essence of duplicity and bad faith. The bureaucratic monolith that is represented by the EU was never going to be a straightforward partner with whom to talk - as Ted Heath, Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron have previously discovered to their and our cost. That we entered these negotiations with the team we did and with the Rules of English Cricket tucked under their arms was a bit like watching Daniel walking into the lion’s den. The EU were never going to play by those rules - they wanted to ensure that they ate up the two year period after Article 50 was triggered with delay, obfuscation, obtuseness, stubbornness and other mischiefs to ensure Britain did not take a leading position in the negotiations. And, let’s face it, they have succeeded mightily well in that aim so far. And for Phase 2 the prospects for Britain don’t look much better. The EU will fill that period of time ‘seeking clarity’ from Britain on all and everything to the point where we may reach the trade talks table so cap in hand that, again, the EU will call the shots. I don’t want to be a doomsayer here because I genuinely want something better and more powerfully delivered for Britain but there is nothing now emerging from Whitehall that contradicts an almost accepted position of weakness and subservience. I’m not going to repeat my views on the negotiating teams make up or political allegiance but it is palpably true that our weakness at negotiating with an informed knowledge of European bureaucracy, clearly, strongly and with passion and belief has failed us to this point where the EU are probably having a really good laugh behind our backs. Quite apart from the economics and politics of that it is more than a little irritating to be dangled on a string by European bureaucrats.
Phase 2 talks commence in January. Between now and then there is an opportunity to review who we put across the table from M’sieur Barnier and friends. Stronger, more world wise and tenacious battle fighters will be needed if any future trade talks are going to be beneficial to Britain and as far as I can see neither the Tory party nor its entrenched civil service establishment appear to have any experienced frontline troops capable of this. But no such change will occur - for that would be prejudicial to political expediency and, as far as Mrs May is concerned, political survival. And we all know that politics transcends the public good.
Radical system change will always be difficult to bring about by passive means and the alternative of making the process aggressive has equally little long-term benefit. Yet Britain is at a political crossroads and has some important decisions to make, not just exclusively to do with Brexit but also about how our governance should be shaped and set-up to deal with the 21st and possibly 22nd centuries. At the moment we are clinging to an arcane and antiquated system that favours minority numbers of our population and there has been much evidence of resistance to change from those with vested interests to protect and who are already in power. Absolute revolutions seldom work to the advantage of the oppressed and whilst it’s an exaggeration to say that the British population is oppressed there is a growing need to review, consider and change key aspects of our governance to ensure that it doesn’t become oppression. A wise government would undertake such a review and rank it highly. Could anyone see the present Conservative administration or any future Labour administration taking that leap of faith ? I’ll leave the question open....