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Brexit: Boris heads for high noon with nobody coming to the rescue


Lord Peter Hain is a former British Cabinet Minister and anti-apartheid campaigner whose memoir, ‘A Pretoria Boy: South Africa’s ‘Public Enemy Number One’, is published by Jonathan Ball.

EU leaders will never concede a deal that is more favourable to the UK than its remaining 27 members. And for one very good reason: Each one will start to unpick it in its own interest whereupon the biggest, richest and most successful single market in the world would collapse.

The “extra-extra-time” London-Brussels Brexit histrionics were only to be expected, because Boris Johnson and his right-wing Brexiteers have told British voters for years they would get something impossible: all the benefits we’ve enjoyed for decades within the EU with none of the obligations. 

Most of the detailed legal text for a deal has been signed off, leaving the major sticking points, but plenty of confusion in Brussels at what Britain really wants. 

The EU offer to the UK was a deal to continue to get full and “unfettered access” for trade if there is continued alignment with the standards of the Single Market Britain has been party to negotiating and respecting for decades. 

However if in future, Britain diverges, Brussels will limit access or impose tariffs. At one point last week when Boris Johnson was talking up a No Deal, he was choosing to have no access and full tariffs, understandably leaving Europe’s leaders mystified.

The well-informed commentator Alex Andreou reported on Twitter:

“This has led people to split into two camps. There is one school of thought that Johnson really is utterly clueless. His behaviour at the Thursday Ursula von der Leyen [EU Commission President] dinner (a car crash, apparently), has fed that impression. This makes people not want to do business with this government. The second school of thought is that Johnson negotiated in bad faith throughout. That his aim was always No Deal and he simply strung 27 countries along, at the expense of a huge amount of work, effort and expense. This makes them not want to do business with this government. Note that the conclusion is precisely the same under either theory — that whether idiot or fraudster, Johnson is best kept at arm’s length. Polling in most EU27 shows that being tough with the UK yields a big favourability boost. So, I’m afraid, nobody is riding to our rescue.”

Things changed afterwards when Johnson pulled back and expressed a willingness to keep talking which has since been happening. But even then, he and his Ministers trumpet that the EU has more to lose than the UK. Palpable nonsense since 50% of our trade is with Europe and just 10% of theirs is with us.

EU negotiators find their UK counterparts badly prepared and without any clear strategy except an obsession with not offending Tory Brexit zealots. And they genuinely don’t want a deal because that would mean retaining EU ties and making concessions that offend their illusory dogma about “breaking free” and the UK returning to some sort of Imperial grandeur lost over a century ago.

The other Brexiteer myth is that the EU Single Market rules can be bent to fit the UK’s needs at the expense of its remaining members. Which is simply not negotiable. EU leaders will never concede a deal that is more favourable to the UK than its remaining 27 members. And for one very good reason: each one will start to unpick it in its own interest whereupon the biggest, richest and most successful single market in the world would collapse.

Meanwhile, a senior German politician confided to a colleague of mine that Chancellor Merkel thought it best not to speak to Johnson last week “for fear of damaging British-German relations. It’s like how she managed Trump, by not speaking to him”. Both Merkel and Macron refused last week to take Johnson’s calls. The ultimate Brexit humiliation – for now.

The talks have resumed after near-collapse last week with more positive smoke signals as I write. If they succeed, Boris Johnson will have a high-noon confrontation with the zealots who elected him Conservative leader. But the country will breathe a sigh of relief. That, all along, has been the problem. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Andrew Johnson says:

    Retire Hain, you had your 15 minutes of fame in the 70s, blocking the Springbok Tour.

  • Peter Doble says:

    The usual weak socialist rhetoric from My Lord Hain who would have his adopted country stitched up by a wasteful Soviet style bloc forever cow towing to the Germans and French in their superclub with its draconian rules.

  • Chris Wilkins says:

    Well said Peter Hain.

  • Sergio CPT says:

    I agree with Peter Hain – the Brexit move is ill-considered, ill-advised and detrimental to the UK. It will hurt the UK more as stated by the above i.e. 50% versus 10%. Boris Johnson and his Tory Brexit zealots have always wanted a No Deal. Sure, the EU is not perfect and can be quite cumbersome, but if one weighs it all up, the pros are far more than the cons. The whole referendum was an emotional exercise in futility as facts and insights were few.

    • Nick Cursi says:

      Actually our trade with the EU is currently 37% not 50% it used to be 50% but it has been falling for the last 10 yrs, funnily enough countries that have no trade deal with the EU have seen their trade increase… much for being in a great trading block. Peter Hain does not seem to include the fact that the EU has a massive trading surplus with the UK and would definitely lose more with no deal, most of our trade with the EU is in services which are not going to be covered by this deal….. the UK is the largest importer of german cars for instance, we also have a 5billion euro surplus with France, lets see how gungho Macron is when those jobs are being lost. I’m afraid Peter Hain like most career politicians are not interested in the opinions of the majority they are more interested in their grand political projects that make the poor poorer and multinational companies richer.

  • Caroline White says:

    Brilliantly clear exposition of the shocking behaviour of Boris Johnson and his treatment of the EU negotiators and leaders as though they are idiots when the idiot is actually BJ himself….

    • Nick Cursi says:

      shocking behaviour of the EU I’m afraid Caroline, “you can only have a Canadian trade deal” said Barnier, “OK said Boris, we’ll take it”….”oh sorry we didn’t mean that, we actually want to punish you for leaving rather than protect jobs in our member countries.” The EU is trying to build an empire and we all know where that ends.

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    Everyone seems to blame the hapless fop BoJo the clown for the bungled Brexit negotiations, but then overlook the role of the neo-imperialist Nigel Farage and his fascist UKIP drones.

    Where is Farage now? Well, he’s just finished rallying with Donald Trump and wants to put together a Reform Party in the UK to fight lockdowns, vaccines and make sure the UK gets a “proper Brexit”. And, in perverted irony, he only has 6 years to survive until he draws his EU pension – estimated to be around EUR 360k p.a.

    So while his country men suffer the consequences of Brexit, he will be living in the lap of EU luxury.

  • Alan Cargill says:

    Yet another great summary of the tories and their mad plight. Unfortunately, as it all unfolds and the lunacy of Brexit becomes more and more apparent, the zealots still have their fingers in their ears shouting la la la….

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