UK Government Brexit bluster like broken Record
If the United Kingdom Government is serious in getting any kind of Brexit deal, it is more important than ever that it faces up to some harsh realities and subsequently level with the British people about what these realities are. Monday 3rd February press conferences by Michel Barnier and Boris Johnson could not have been any different: Whereas Barnier was focused on detail and precision, Johnson’s was all bluster and hype. For both sides, the clock to the 31 December deadline is ticking and a “no-deal” deal on the future relationship, now being dressed up by Johnson’s government as an “Australian style deal” (Australia does not have an FTA with the EU but is in the process of negotiating one), is in neither side’s interest.
The UK is economically more exposed to the EU than vice-versa and that is the key ingredient which matters. In other words, if either side would need to blink, it is the UK side which (logically speaking) would be more likely to do so. But logic, however, is something on which the entire Brexit process has been week. It is all very well for Boris Johnson to argue that he has no intention of following EU standards but if the UK were to diverge from those very standards then the deal he is looking to negotiate would not be able to come about. There are some powers in the world which are norm-setters and it is not for nothing that experts talk of the “Brussels effect” when it comes to the setting of global regulatory standards.
This is not the 19th century and it is not “Britannia rules the waves” despite Johnson’s attempts yesterday to dig up past glories in the hope of this leading to future success. The Prime Minister talked about his wanting to champion free trade whilst at the same time, due to the UK’s exit from the single market and the customs union, erecting those very same trade barriers which he is looking to tear down. The hypocrisy of this stance would be hilarious if only it weren’t true.
Whilst Brexit-cheerleaders might argue that following EU rules whilst no longer being an EU member state turns the UK into a ruler-taker, this is precisely the point: Brexit will weaken the UK’s negotiating hand when it comes to negotiating with the likes of the EU, the US or China. The UK Government might not like reality but it is reality which they are facing. If they are unable or unwilling to be honest with the British people about what the UK’s future position is in the world and relative strength is when it comes to international negotiations, they will be severely misleading this country.
For those of us who have sat around the negotiating table in Brussels, it is excruciatingly painful to watch successive UK Governments (first May and then now Johnson) adopt a “cake-and-eat-it” approach to international negotiations. The UK is weaker outside the EU than as a member state and if the Government can come to terms and be open with the UK public about this loss in stature then an element of realism might well creep into these talks. If not, UK Government Brexit bluster is going to slowly start sounding like a broken record.