Whilst we are in the early new year, the Brexit process of Phase 2 has yet to get under way. Yet we see signs of a developing German resistance to a practical deal with Britain and perhaps now that Angela Merkel has just about got her ducks lined up to create a coalition government maybe we will see that position harden further. Across the border in The Netherlands, we have Guy Verhofstadt almost pleading (very unlike him, I must say) for Britain to maintain its defence and security inputs into Europe whatever the outcome of Brexit may be. In France, there is concern that Britain’s exit will be the prelude to a wider EU collapse and therefore advocates a tougher line with Brexit and generally there is much talk throughout Europe of Britain leaving the EU but possibly having a ‘pay-as-you-play’ arrangement where we dip in and out of certain EU regulated services and markets. All-in-all there is quite a flux of opinion being bandied about across the Continent.
In Britain, we continue to revel in confusion and chaos over Brexit with Remainers still trying their hardest to reverse Article 50 and Leavers pushing in the opposite direction. We even have the extraordinary position of Brexit’s architect, Nigel Farage, saying we should have a second referendum if for no other reason than to comprehensively thwart the attempts by Remainers to have their way. The government, of course, watch like frustrated parents on the touch line as their offspring get trounced in one direction or another, unable, unwilling, incapable and without solution to events before them. We should not be surprised by that position for the other crises that traditionally afflict us in the winter period - NHS, public transport, education, defence cuts, etc - are way beyond the abilities of this government to handle and reflect a collective lack of vision from the outset of their administration to plan for these almost predictable and foreseeable situations. And it is this weakness of government that the EU will exploit in Phase 2. We, naively believe that Phase 2 is going to get us around the trade negotiating table immediately. The last thing the EU will permit - and let’s make no mistake about which side is calling the shots here - is a trade discussion before it’s bled as much concession as possible from the UK - and that will last all year long and leave almost no time prior to exit to talk turkey on trade. The EU know that whilst the PM occasionally blusters about ‘no deal’ departure, the reality is that the British government have only paid lip-service to the concept of leaving the EU without a deal and have next to no plans in place to anticipate such an outcome. The EU are, therefore, confident that they hold the reins, the bridle, the carrot, have the spurs and sit in the saddle on these negotiations and our government have revealed their lack of fibre in making the concessions we already have.
2018 will be a tough year for the British government - across all issues that face them - and we may well see structural changes forced on them. Their only hope on surviving this is the belief that the country is just as much against a Labour administration as it is against a Tory gang. For us, the electorate, impotently observing these events, it will also be a year of angst, frustration and probably disbelief at how matters are handled. In the century since full enfranchisement commenced we look for the first time to be not in control of our country - even in 1940 we had a master leader who grabbed the reins when it was urgently necessary. I seriously doubt we have any such like soul in our political classes now.
El Trumpo continues to make the headlines - hardly surprisingly - but equally unsurprisingly carries on as though the storms he creates are perfectly normal and beneath him. The questions of issues like the Mexican Wall, his foreign policy (though ‘policy’ is probably too organised a word to describe the current US approach to foreign affairs), his cancellation of a trip to the UK all continue to smack of some comedic and juvenile knee-jerk reaction to anything that is interpreted as criticism. Britain’s only need for a relationship with America rests on a trade deal alone. There is no ‘special relationship’ - never has been, and we are naive in the extreme to keep on bleating about it as though we hold some elevated and privileged position in the minds of Americans. They have no such notions and only use the term for political politeness reasons. We need to get hard nosed on sorting trade out - Trump or no Trump.
I’m very glad to see that the newish Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, has blocked further defence slashing. Whilst the military were charged with coming up with plans to save a further £20 billion the outcome of that would have been to decimate our armed services to a point where it would be no more than a regional defence force - the ‘region’ being the UK. Part of me accepts that Britain is no longer a global power, but we do have a contribution to make to regional - in this case European - security and protection (as per Mr Verhofstadt’s passionate plea) and with Russia becoming increasingly belligerent there is a sound case for not only halting further cuts but actually expanding the capacities of our armed services. Will that happen ? Somehow, I think not this year at least...