Trade Talks Commence in New Times for Britain
Updated: Mar 9
In the growing heat of the coronavirus dismay, attention has not turned sharply to the Brexit talks. At the current rate of the plunge in interest in Britain's departure from the EU, this year will end with our relationship with Europe as redundant in the public interest as David Cameron wanted it to be at the end of 2016. Coming in 2020 instead, this works out for Boris Johnson, whose luck runs on. A controversy-free, low news departure in a year of coronavirus, Iran, an election across the pond and new government initiatives give the Prime Minister a good chance to close the year illuminated by an approving public. Hopefully, 19th century style binary identity politics with a nasty twist (Leave/Remain) can be put to bed and at last we may approach things as we always should have: evaluating politicians and persons with their affiliation to the EU counting for only a fraction of the appraisal, and 'Leave' and 'Remain' not being replacements for personalities.
Yet this year is crucial for drumming out the terms of the future relationship between the two parties. Meeting about once every fortnight, the two teams will seek to draw an agreement by the year end, with threats from the British side of a termination come June. It is no longer so tenable to think we are bluffing. For all his swerves on the way to power, since office the Prime Minister has been as consistent as a principled leader. Neither have the recent relations between Britain and the EU been friendly. A no deal is far from off the table and we should brace for the short-term losses such a scenario will incur. Of course, a great shift since the election has brought us into the new year. For the first time since before the last decade, the embodiment of British politics as it is played out is tending to the person in charge rather than Parliament, Government, Civil Service or Party. Naturally, this changes Britain's relations with the wider world, not least the EU at the current time. He may be a person unafraid to command a unilateral walk-out in the pursuit of deregulation. However, the defiance and growth in celebrity of the Prime Minister may not cover the short-term negative impacts such a decision will deliver.
But who voted for Brexit? Last year, the European Journal of Political Economy found that 'voting Leave is associated with older age, white ethnicity, low educational attainment, infrequent use of smartphones and the internet, receiving benefits, adverse health and low life satisfaction'. The novel results from the December election seem to match up with these. 'Lord Ashcroft Polls' found that just 6% of leavers said their main reason was that “when it comes to trade and the economy, the UK would benefit more from being outside the EU than from being part of it.” Listening in on LBC last summer, one would even have been able to hear a guest caller declare that he was willing to see his business perform worse if it meant withdrawal from the EU. As we know, immigration and sovereignty were the key words in reasons to leave the EU. Those on both private and state pensions definitely wanted out, as did homeowners... as did most Tory voters and a handsome number of traditional Labour voters. Meanwhile, Remainers tend to be university graduates and white collar workers. Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that there are few dense groups around the country which will be drastically impacted by a swift deal or lack of one in a situation they did not vote for, and even fewer inflamed by Brexit. Rather, seriously impacted individuals will be scattered across the country, and they will only be seriously inflamed if the Government does not offer support and a clear link between Brexit and the impact is discerned (which will not be guaranteed if the coronavirus really takes hold). Unless the economy spectacularly tanks, where exactly does the Prime Minister substantially lose support if the economy does dip because of Brexit? For a Boris Johnson this may translate to: "where exactly do I lose enough popularity if I implement the early, potentially no deal walk-out in the pursuit of deregulation that may actually work out in the long-term?"
The Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has also warned that a no deal Brexit is a 'growing possibility' as the rhetoric around the talks gradually sours. But it is Emmanuel Macron of France who is moving to be the most compelling figure as the French realise the implications of any Brexit. Britain and France are stronger partners than they appear at first. This is especially the case regarding international security. France will be keen to be bolstered by an external power in an EU where they will share hegemony with only Germany. The Prime Minister will be wise to secure some concessions from the EU by way of the French and their own long-term goals before storming out of the talks in the pursuit of ours. However, the interests of France and our friendship with her will far from cease in the event of a walk out.
The French President emphasises defence and security when committing to the relationship between Britain and France
If the Prime Minister ploughs on with shaking up the agenda, seeing some of his staff take the heat and scores some successes, the news reels will not descend a heavy, boring fog of information full of the worrying course the EU talks are taking, which will naturally drudge the discourse against him.
An exciting and growing range of possibilities lie in front of Number 10. But the defiance and growth in celebrity of the Prime Minister may very well cover the short-term negative impacts the one that gambles to sod the EU may induce. A classics student and reader of Churchill and Disraeli riding on success, we shouldn't put that beyond him.