Friday, 13 July 2018

The Brexit White Paper: Hard Brexit with cherry-picking


After wasting an incredible 15 months of the Article 50 negotiating period on their internal squabbles and distractions like Theresa May's failed vanity election, the Tory government have finally released their long-awaited Brexit White Paper.

In this article I'm going to address some crucial issues with the White Paper, but I strongly advise you to have a look through the document yourself (I'll provide a link at the end of the article) and to check out other people's analyses too, because the way Brexit is implemented is of such importance to our future as a nation that it would be grossly negligent not to investigate what the government is proposing for yourself. 


An anti-democratic shambles

If the way the Tory government released their Brexit White Paper is indicative of their approach to Brexit, we're in for an anti-democratic farce of epic proportions.

The Tories decided to completely ignore parliamentary protocol by sharing copies of the White Paper with selected members of the press at 9am, while only providing opposition MPs with copies during the new Brexit minister's speech (necessitating the extraordinary spectacle of the Speaker suspending parliament for five minutes in the middle of the speech as copies were literally thrown around the chamber).

The reason the government is supposed to provide copies to opposition MPs in advance is obviously to provide time for them to read the proposals and formulate questions in order to hold the government to account.

The decision to cut out the opposition parties in favour of providing preferential access to their mates in the media just goes to show the absolute contempt the Tories have towards stuff like democratic scrutiny and due process.

Filler, fluff, and sound bites

Before we get to the actual details of the White Paper it's crucial to note that it's absolutely stuffed full of slick pro-government fluff, much of it utterly devoid of real meaning.

Take the repetition of the phrase "principled and practical Brexit". It's just more evasive and essentially meaningless floss from the "Brexit means Brexit" and "red, white, and blue Brexit" school of empty sound bite trickery designed for no other purpose than appealing to the hard-of-thinking.

Superfluous waffle

Take this concluding quote from just the 2nd point in the whole paper:
"The UK hopes that this will be the basis of a serious and detailed negotiation in the coming weeks and months that will lead to a historic agreement in the interests of both sides".
Why on earth is it necessary for the UK government to waste space by stating that it hopes that negotiations will take place and an agreement be reached, given that this is the entire purpose of the White Paper we've waited 15 wasted months for?

Toddler tantrum diplomacy

In the preceding days the new Brexit Minister Dominic Raab has reiterated the threat that if the EU don't cave into Tory demands, they're going to inflict an extraordinarily damaging hard-right "no deal" Brexit in retribution, and to underline the point the Tories have been briefing their allies in the press that they're planning to stockpile canned food and emergency generators to show that they're serious about their threat to plunge the UK economy into "no deal" chaos.

"Give us what we want or we'll destroy our own economy" is a totally crackpot negotiating strategy for two key reasons.

One is that the underlying threat completely undermines any goodwill that is earned from all the kind words, hopeful aspirations, and begging for cooperation in the White Paper.

the second is that the majority of the economic, social, and reputational damage from a "no deal" flounce would obviously fall on Britain, meaning the EU actually has an incentive to call our bluff, and then welcome the massive flood of businesses, skilled workers, and capital fleeing the self-inflicted "no deal" chaos in the UK.


Cakism

The economic partnership section calls for a new free trade zone for goods to avoid disruption to the modern cross-border supply chains that have built up over the last four decades, but this call for free movement of goods is totally undermined by the demands for the destruction of the right to free movement of people.

What the Tories are demanding is an agreement that provides greater freedom of movement to a British-made packet of crisps, than to a British citizen.

Not only is this proposal something that's already been rejected by the EU as cherry-picking, it's also a pure distillation of the warped Tory mentality that property has more inherent value than people.

Agencies

The White Paper proposes that the UK should be allowed to retain membership of multiple EU agencies such as European Chemicals Agency, the European Aviation Safety Agency, the European Medicines Agency, the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), Rapid Alert System for Serious Risk (Rapex), the Information and Communication System for Market Surveillance (ICSMS), Interpol, the European Criminal Records Investigation Sytem (ECRIS) and Interjust.

It's beyond obvious that the UK would be absolutely crackers to quit these agencies, especially given the necessity of spending £billions to replicate the regulatory roles they perform, and the total impossibility of replicating the functions of agencies like Interpol and ECRIS.

The decision to request continued membership of these agencies is one of the rare outbreaks of common sense in the White Paper, but continued alignment is likely to send the hard-right deregulation-obsessed Brextremists into fits of irrepressible rage.

European Court of Justice
"Where the UK participates in an EU agency, the UK will respect the remit of the Court of Justice of the European Union."
Brextremists will be incandescent with rage at this bit too because they hate the European Court of Justice with an undying ideological passion.

Customs

One of the most contentions issues for the fanatical Tory Brextremists is the customs issue. The White Paper proposes the establishment of a Facilitated Customs Agreement (FCA) with a common rule book on goods, including agri-foods.

This is obviously going to be completely unacceptable to the hard-right Brextremists who see a free trade deal with the Trump administration as their number one priority. 

A Trump-Tory trade deal would be completely incompatible with continued regulatory alignment with EU food standards because one of the main US negotiating objectives is to crack the UK open to cheap substandard American produce like chlorinated chicken, hormone riddled beef, and unlabeled GM produce.

If the UK government begins allowing cheap substandard US produce into the UK as part of a Tory-Trump trade deal, then the EU will obviously need to enforce customs checks to stop this American crap leeching across the UK border into their territory.

Standards

Food standards are not the only area that is under threat from a Tory administered Brexit. In November 2017 Labour put forward an amendment to the Tory EU Withdrawal Bill to prevent the Tories from using Brexit as a Trojan Horse to attack our workers' rights, environmental laws, consumer protections, equal rights protections, and food standards.

The Tories and their bigoted DUP backers stripped out this amendment, saying that we should just trust their word that they have no intentions to trash our rights, standards and protections (but why would they remove the amendment to stop them from doing it if they had no intention of doing it?).

Now they're making similar claims to the EU, claiming they have no intention of attacking and undermining workers' rights and environmental laws because they've made "strong domestic commitments" not to.

it's important to remember that the Tory party also made "strong domestic commitments" to not raise VAT during the 2010 General Election, then raised VAT within weeks of being enabled into power by the Lib-Dems.

One suspects that the EU negotiators won't be quite as naive as the British public when it comes to believing Tory promises.

Rule-takers

The White paper proposes that the UK would maintain regulatory alignment with the EU by continually updating its own laws (in Westminster and the devolved parliaments) in order to avoid the necessity of customs checks.

This raises a couple of really crucial issues.

What happens if one of the British parliaments decides to defy new EU standards (which is likely to happen sooner or later)? Do we then get customs checks by default?

And what's the sense in quitting the EU where we had the power to shape and influence new EU rules and standards as one of the largest and most influential member states, if we're simply going to accept the rules and standards they decide, without our input, in perpetuity?

Disputes

In the section on how the UK and EU deal with disputes the White Paper proposes an extrajudicial system of dispute resolution with no appeals process that is very similar to the hated ISDS components of the thankfully abandoned TTIP corporate power grab.

Here's the section:
"An independent arbitration panel, which would include members from both parties. In some instances, the arbitration panel might include specialist expertise such as where a dispute required detailed sectoral knowledge ... with the decision of the panel binding on the parties."
So if the Tories get their way, instead of disputes being decided in open courts, they'll be decided in closed rooms full of corporate lawyers with no scrutiny, and no right of appeal.

Mutual recognition

Throughout the White Paper the British government begs for mutual recognition of qualifications, mutual recognition of geographical origin designations, as well as for continued access to stuff like the Erasmus scheme and the EHIC travel insurance scheme.

All this begging raises the question of why we're leaving at all if we're so damned keen to cherry-pick so many of the benefits of membership as we leave.

Lexiter hell

All the left-wing people who voted for Brexit because they thought it would free the UK from the neoliberal influence of the EU should be spitting blood at this White Paper because the Tories are promising to tie Britain into all the hard-right, anti-state, pro-privatisation dogma the Lexiters voted Leave to escape from.

Here's an extract:
"To support the depth and breadth of the future UK-EU economic partnership, the UK would propose to incorporate its domestic choice to maintain a robust state aid regime into its future economic relationship with the EU. In light of this, the UK would make an upfront commitment to maintain a common rulebook with the EU on state aid, enforced by the Competition and Markets Authority."
Anyone who voted Leave in 2016 because they thought it would mean an escape from the hard-right anti-state dogma in the EU rules should be absolutely kicking themselves for imagining that such an escape could ever have happened under the Tories (who were instrumental in pushing these hard-right rules on the EU in the first place).

Outright dishonesty
"The Government has already demonstrated during the passage of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill that it will actively engage with suggestions from both Houses"
Anyone who actually followed the progress of the EU Withdrawal Bill knows that this is total bullshit. The Tories colluded with DUP to strip out all but one of the opposition amendments from the House of Commons, then they quickly stripped out all 15 of the amendments from the House of Lords with virtually no time allocated for debate over the amendments they were removing.

A more truthful statement would read: "The Government has already demonstrated during the passage of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill that it will actively ignore suggestions from both Houses".

Public reaction

One of the most alarming things about the Brexit White Paper is the bizarre public reaction to it, with an astounding 40% of the public claiming that Theresa May's approach is "too soft" as opposed to just 13% who think it's "about right", and 12% who think it's "too hard".

One wonders what percentage of the respondents to the YouGov poll have actually read the White Paper and found for themselves that it's clearly "hard Brexit with cherry-picking". I'd guess well below 1% of them. Which raises the question of how they have come to believe that it's "too soft".

My view is that it's come about through strategic Tory media manipulation. An absolute mass of coverage has been given to hard-right Brextremists like Boris Johnson, David Davis, and Jacob Rees-Mogg to slam May's proposals as "too soft", with virtually no coverage given to those who would accurately describe it as "hard Brexit with cherry picking".

The orchestrated Brextremist resignations have played a vital role in framing the public debate so that millions of people who have no intention of actually reading what's being proposed are left believing that the main problem with the White Paper is that it's "too soft" when the real problems are that it's too hard, too right-wing, and too much of an unrealistic shambles.

The Tory intent is obviously to move the public towards the economically ruinous "no deal" catastrophe the Brextremists have been craving from the beginning, and if over three times as many people see this White Paper as "too soft" as those who see it as "too hard", then their perception management strategy is clearly succeeding.

Conclusion

It's taken the Tory government an incredible 15 months to come up with this strategic document, when it's beyond obvious that they should have figured out what they wanted from the negotiations before they even considered triggering the time-limited Article 50 process.
Having left it so late to set out their objectives huge numbers of people remain spectacularly under-informed about what the White Paper actually proposes.

What they've actually come up with is a right-wing hard Brexit shambles that is massively over-reliant on unrealistic cherry-picking of the benefits of EU membership, while all of the good will necessary for any such cherry-picking to be allowed is being continually eroded by their toddler tantrum threats of a ruinous "no deal" flounce away from the negotiations if they don't get their own way.


Here's a link to the White Paper so you can have a look through it for yourself.


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