Europe: A Simplification of the Issues


One of my readers has asked for my opinion on the draft treaty of withdrawal from the European Union. Since I have not read its 120 pages, and since I have no wish to read them, I am in no position to comment. Or perhaps I am just more honest than most of those who are commenting. Whatever the case, I will not comment. Instead, I will give a general view of what seems to be happening.

Imagine that a close friend comes to you and says he no longer loves his wife, and that he wants a divorce. Your advice, I imagine, would be to think very carefully about the matter. There are children to consider. There is the house. There are joint savings and joint investments. It might not have been a good idea to marry in the first place. You may even have suggested this at the time. But that was a long time ago. Since then, two separate lives have, for all practical purposes, become one life. Separating them will be difficult, and will raise questions beside which soldiering on together might be the least bad option.

Imagine, however, that your friend says he has already told his wife. She has not broken down in tears, and apologised for any derelictions on her part, and asked to discuss some revised basis for carrying on. She has instead told the social workers that he is a drunk, or a paedophile, or a nazi, or something else, and he is no longer allowed near the children; and she has announced that she wants the house and a half-share in his mother’s house and savings, to which he is the only likely heir.

That changes things. Your friend may have acted unwisely. But he is your friend, and he is now at war. Your duty is to try to help him through. You stop questioning his overall judgement, and you turn to the matters at hand.

This is roughly where we are with our European connection. I wish the Referendum had not been called. Nobody in or near power had so much as the vaguest idea of how to leave the  European Union. Nearly two years on, nobody still knows what to do or how to do it. The politicians are all incompetent or dishonest, or both. The politicians in charge called an election, and were so sure of winning it that they effectively lost it. The politicians most likely to replace them are probably more incompetent, and certainly more dishonest. The other European powers and the European powers have now had time to recover from their initial shock, and are behaving like that spurned and vindictive wife. Though I repeat that I have no read it, I have no doubt their draft treaty is the modern equivalent of the Versailles Diktat. They are pushing this on us because they want to deter any other member state from trying to leave. I also suspect they are pushing it because, for the past three centuries, they have been repeatedly stuffed by us, and they now want to do some stuffing of their own.

If we accept the draft treaty, or anything like it, we shall have exchanged an equal membership of the European Union for satellite status. We shall have limited control over our internal regulations. We shall have limited control over our borders. We shall have consented to a unification of Ireland on the most humiliating terms. If, unable to negotiate better terms, our leaders tell us that we should stay in after all, that will involve still more humiliation. What little authority we ever had to negotiate opt-outs from inconvenient regulations will have evaporated. We shall be forced to join the Euro and the Schengen Agreement. Any future British “No!” will be met with pitying smiles and firm insistence. I will say nothing about the prospects for civil disorder in this country.

Whether she is profoundly stupid is beside the point. Our main problem with Thersa May is that she appears to be unable to make up her mind. Well, I think it was Abba Eban who said that, when everything else has been tried and seen to fail, people will often do the right thing. Here for what they are worth, are my proposals for Mrs May:On the bright side, the draft treaty – if as bad as I am told it is – makes everything much simpler that it was. The Tory ultras strike me as no less corrupt and dishonest than everyone else. I think little of the people concerned. But their plan, such as it is, has become the only plan on offer.

  1. Reject the draft treaty without further discussion;
  2. Propose a free trade treaty to cover goods and services, and call for a joint committee to examine how all present and future European regulations can be imposed and verified in this country for those things alone that are exported into the European Union;
  3. Tell the Irish that they can avoid a hard border with Ulster by joining us outside the European Union;
  4. Put up whatever cash may be needed in the short term to keep Ulster from economic collapse;
  5. Tell the Americans that, if they want any kind of future alliance, they should give us their full backing, and be prepared to make an emergency free trade agreement;
  6. Tell everyone to plan for an economic shock next April, and make collective preparations for dealing with it.

I further propose that the other parties should be invited to back this approach. These might not have wanted to leave the European Union. They might be in favour of continued participation in some kind of single market or customs union. But the Europeans have overplayed their hand and are behaving like a victorious enemy. I doubt there is the good will needed to manage a soft transition. Either we walk out properly, or we are forever lost. At the least, some degree of consensus in London might bring the Europeans to a better view of their interests. Consensus should be invited. Those who reject the invitation should be called the Quislings that they probably are.

That will do for the moment. In the longer term, we must sort out the ghastliness of our own internal government. Because one of my students is from there, I have been looking at Singapore. This manages to combine lowish taxes with full employment and an effective welfare system. It seems to manage this by ensuring that taxes are spent on delivering defined common services, and are not made into a feeding tube for several hundred thousand parasites and their millions of clients. The authorities there also have no visible interest in making everyone believe three impossible things every day before breakfast.

Oh, but that as well must do for the moment. Indeed, I have probably said too much on all three counts. I think it was Abba Eban who said that, when everything else has been tried and seen to fail, people will often do what is right. I am not sure if the present set of British politicians ever crossed his mind.