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By Jason Michael
Dear President Tusk, writes Theresa May, we realise we have nothing to offer, but we do have a hostage and unless we get what we want we will pull the trigger. Of course, a hostage situation and a blackmail letter won’t fly very far across Europe.
Given the obvious weakness of Mrs May’s negotiating position, her Article 50 letter, addressed to the President of the European Council – Donald Tusk, is a truly remarkable document. On the surface, whilst lacking entirely of grace, it is a cordial and diplomatic statement of intent, but it is impossible for the reader to fail to notice the subtle belligerence of its tone and the fact that it is quite a petulant attempt at blackmail. At its heart is Britain’s proposal of a “bold and ambitious” Free Trade Agreement of a “greater scope and ambition than any such agreement” without the inconvenience to the United Kingdom of the European Union’s fundamental freedoms. As such it is no better than the previous deal David Cameron had already failed to achieve.
Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) March 29, 2017
Theresa May outlines three bargaining chips in her frankly delusional bid to bring the EU to heel; economic and security stability, and of course Northern Ireland – where, other than Gibraltar which she neglects to mention, the UK and the EU share a land border. All of this is naturally couched in the language of the “deep and special partnership” she intends to maintain with the bloc once the negotiations are over, but – deal or no deal – it is evident Britain will be going to Brussels shortly with a list of demands.
She has made it perfectly clear – knowing well the changing mood on the continent towards Scottish independence – that neither Scotland nor the other devolved administrations will have a seat at the table. “From the start and throughout the discussions,” she reiterates, “we will negotiate as one United Kingdom” – a refrain that sounds so much more hollow after yesterday’s decision by the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh to seek a second independence referendum as a direct consequence of England’s decision to leave the EU.
As was voiced in the United States when she went there crawling for a get-out-of-jail-free card, the British Prime Minister has almost nothing of any real substance to offer Europe. The EU will not, as Switzerland has already learned, entertain the possibility of free trade without a mutual concession to the other freedoms of the union Britain has utterly foresworn in Brexit. Yet, undaunted by this hard reality, May imagines she has a couple of aces up her sleeve. So she dangles the carrots of shared economic prosperity and security before Mr Tusk before making a veiled threat to the peace and wellbeing of the Republic of Ireland.
Indeed, Mrs May writes about the unique relationship between Ireland and Britain and the need to preserve the peace process in the North, but – if her complete indifference to the political crisis in Belfast of late is anything to go by – she and the British government couldn’t care less about Ireland or the Good Friday – or Belfast – Agreement. To keep the Brexit agenda on track the Westminster Brexiteers have demonstrated both their contempt for the Irish Republic and their callous willingness to return Northern Ireland to a state of civil war. No, Ireland is not a priority for Britain. It never has been. All the same, they know that – as a member state of the EU – Ireland, and therefore by extension Northern Ireland, is a serious concern for peace and stability in Europe. For Brexit Britain they are little more than pawns in a high stakes trade negotiation.
London has, at best, a marginally better chance than a snowball in hell of securing an agreement with the EU that will safeguard its economy, and of course this too will have costs for the EU. Still, everyone has accepted that the Brexit process will result in certain and unavoidable losses. It is now only a matter of ascertaining which side can bear the cost better – and that isn’t going to be Britain.
Security is the only other offer the UK is making in this its opening gambit, but even this is a transparently ridiculous bluff. “We want,” the letter says, “to play our part to ensure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and able to lead in the world, projecting its values and defending itself from security threats.” Like every other offer this is conditional. Britain will continue to work with Europe against all the bogeymen it has helped to create on condition it gets what it wants – unprecedented access to the market without obligation.
The bottom line is that this is no offer at all. In such an interconnected world Britain knows that the security of Britain depends every bit as much on the security of Europe as the security of Europe depends on the security of Britain. Twenty-one of the EU’s member states are members of NATO along with the UK, a common defensive alliance that links Britain to the security of the EU regardless of EU membership – not to mention the obligations all involved have to peace and security as members of the United Nations. No, the security carrot is a piece of nonsense and everyone knows it.
What happens to those folk who have years left on their UK/ EU Passport. Do they have to apply for a new UK passport -so many unanswered Q's—
iScot Magazine (@iScotNews) March 29, 2017
What we have in this letter is a feeble crack at blackmail, and one that is already doomed to failure. Having realised this – even as it was being formulated – the British government has resorted to the desperate measure of using Ireland as a human shield. Where Britain continues to speak of a “unique relationship” with Ireland, Ireland – outside its official discourse – sees all of this as a hangover of its history as a British colonial possession, and Britain shows in this ransom note that it still thinks of Ireland as its plaything.
Just how this pathetic note in which the UK is trying to impose the rules of engagement will go down in Brussels will not become fully apparent until the talks begin. Tusk did, by expressing his regret, give us a hint as to how other EU leaders have received it – and that does not bode well for Britain. Starting from the position of weakness that it so obviously does, and with nothing much to offer other than an Irish hostage; perhaps a blackmail letter was not the best way to begin a process that will play a massive role even in the future existence of the United Kingdom.
Theresa May’s full address to the House of Commons