As she promised on becoming Leader of the Conservative Party, and despite threats of blocking by the courts and Parliament, Theresa May has triggered Article 50 and begun the formal process through which the United Kingdom will leave the European Union, one of the biggest political developments of the last half century.
Unelected and unaccountable leaders of the European Commission and Presidency continue to send mixed messages - a variety of threats of doom ahead for the British economy and taxpayer, mixed with promises of cordial and constructive negotiations. But, already the process is becoming clearer. By April 19th, draft guidelines will have been produced by EU officials to ensure that all the remaining Member States are able to sing from the same hymn sheet in their public statements and in their private discussions with the British Government and its officials.
There will then be a meeting of Government Ministers from around the European Union on 27th April, and a meeting of the Heads of Government two days later, on 29th April, at which those negotiating guidelines will be finalised and endorsed. We will then know precisely how the Union intends to proceed, what its key objectives are, and where it’s “red lines” are to be found. At least, such is the plan.
But, against the backdrop of widespread unease among the people of the other 27 Member States of Europe, it’s hard to see how there can actually be one, single, universlly endorsed negotiating position. The interests, for example, of Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy remain today as different to those of Germany as they have always done: that has been the reason for the tensions within the Union and within the Single Currency over the last ten years, and those tensions aren’t going to vanish in a puff of smoke just because the political elite of Brussels hope that they will.
So, Britain’s decision to leave the European Union has the potential fundamentally to shift the balance of power between the Union’s institutions in ways that are not entirely predictable, but which will, hopefully, restore some sense of political accountability and balance between the remaining Member States, the ineffective European Parliament, and the completely unaccountable European Commission and Presidency.
And for all the tough talk coming from Angela Merkel’s Government in Germany about a refusal to grant a post-Brexit United Kingdom access to the Single European Market, there are equally insistent voices from German industry that are quietly whispering in her ear about the dangers of cutting off Germany’s economic nose to spite its face.
German based businesses include car makers such as Volkswagen, Porsche, Mercedes, BMW, Skoda, Opel and Audi; chemical giants such as BASF and Bayer; household appliance suppliers such as Bosch, Miele, Blaupunkt, Siemens and Grundig; financial Goliaths like Deutsche Bank and Allianz; power companies such as E.ON; telecoms businesses such as T-Mobile; along with other leading brands such as Aldi, Lidl, Hugo Boss, Haribo, Knorr, Oetker, Osram lights, Leica cameras, Puma clothing, Steinway musical instruments, Stihl tools, Wella cosmetics and thousands of others.
The investors who stand behind these businesses are not going to want to lose access to British markets by the EU starting a trade war and erecting punitive tariff barriers lest the United Kingdom retaliate.
Nor are we going to see British nationals expelled from other European countries any more than Theresa May wishes to expel from the United Kingdom those nationals of other EU countries who have come here to live, work and raise their families. In many cases, the skills that are offered through such labour mobility are as vital to European economies as they are to the British economy.
And just imagine the political outrage if the property markets of France, Spain and Portugal, to name but three, were sent into free-fall once again as British ex-pats flooded the market with homes they were vacating. This simply isn’t going to happen, and everybody involved in the forthcoming negotiations knows that full well.
All that is up for debate is how the language is phrased and what leverage can be brought to bear by each side of the negotiations before the inevitable joint communication is published announcing that the position of existing expats will be mutually respected; and that there will be a constructive and flexible agreement in place to allow movement between countries in future, though not perhaps with automatic rights of residence for those who are newly awarded citizenship and residence in other countries as a result of mass migration.
Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, and Liam Fox as Trade Secretary are already putting in place the bones of free trade agreement with countries around the world. As we move forward, these will be fleshed out rapidly to ensure that Britain gains much more than it loses when it comes to tariff free trade. This is a huge, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to enable Britain to return to its historic position as one of the World’s greatest trading nations.
Brexit could truly put the “Great” back into Britain in economic terms, and those who try to block this, such as Nicola Sturgeon and her Scottish Nationalist Party, will do themselves no favours with their own electorates if they seek to thwart attempts by the United Kingdom Government to do the best possible deal for all four nations of the Union. Already support for a second referendum in Scotland has fallen, and as Brexit is delivered, support will fall still further.
The SNP’s star is waning, its time has been and gone, just like that of Britain’s membership of the EU itself. The dream of an independent Scotland in the European Union is now dead in the water. It is the Norwegian Blue parrot of political fantasies and the sooner it is abandoned the better it will be for the people of Scotland. Get on board the Brexit bus, enthusiastically, Scotland, you have nothing to lose but your own self-imposed chains of poor public service and wasted political energy.
This article first appeared in The Catholic Universe of 31st March 2017.
Cllr Chris Whitehouse KCSG is Chairman of Westminster’s leading political consultancy, www.whitehouseconsulting.co.uk, Secretary of the Catholic Legislators’ Network, a Trustee of the Right To Life Charitable Trust, and a Member of the Isle of Wight Council (Cons. Newport West).