Few things can have filled European politicians with more horror this summer than to have heard Dominic Raab saying that he is intending to intensify the Brexit negotiations.
The sight of blustering, besuited British ministers appearing over the horizon to demand a bespoke deal, then threaten to walk away and refuse to pay the bill is about as welcome as a faulty hotel drain or a traffic jam on the Autobahn. One of the many things the UK Government does not understand about European political life is that the summer holiday is taken very seriously indeed. And so is the unity of the Single Market.
But let’s take a step back and think about the ‘deal’ that was agreed at Chequers and why it might be unpalatable to our erstwhile European partners. I say ‘deal’ with some reservation, since it is a deal within the Conservative cabinet, which has been carefully balanced between Brexiteers and Remainers, even though most MPs supported our staying in the EU and understand the risks Brexit brings. It was the price of becoming leader that the Prime Minister agreed to over-represent the Brexiteers and now we are all paying for it.
It goes without saying that the Chequers plan is nowhere close to the sort of Brexit that would command a majority of MPs and is very far indeed from serving the interests of most British people. It’s also clear that Conservative grassroots and the Brexit Syndicate are mobilising against this moderate fudge, which is not extreme enough for them.
From the Brussels end of the telescope, this just looks like an internal row within one side of the negotiations. They are relieved that there is finally a position on our side of the table and welcome May’s victory – even if temporary – over those who suggested we could just walk away from our economic relationships with the EU and seek trading partners in the Pacific or Latin America. So the Chequers proposal means the cabinet being forced to accept the reality of our economic situation, but can this proposal ever gain support across the Channel? There are many reasons why it will not be accepted, but I’ve only got space for two.
First, there are several aspects of the proposal that cut across the design of the Single Market, a design that until a few years ago British Tory MEPs were celebrating as their major European achievement. Those days feel very long ago now, but it is worth remembering that the majority of Tory MPs who understand about Europe still recognise the enormous value of a vast free trade area for business. The Chequers plan fudges the whole question of regulatory alignment, agreeing to accepting the ‘single rulebook’ – accepting laws we had no political control over – but only if the UK Parliament approves them.
The EU negotiators are also offended by the idea that we would treat things better than we would treat people. The Single Market has always been based on four freedoms of movement – for goods, services, people, and capital – and the unity of those freedoms is indivisible. This is the closest thing the EU has to a founding principle and EU politicians feel about it the same way US politicians feel about the truths they hold to be self-evident. No amount of tête-à-tête discussions between Merkel and May or appeals to German car manufacturers will alter this. When Barnier asks why he should undermine the rules of the Single Market just because Britain decides to leave it is a rhetorical question.
So as we move towards the two-year limit for negotiations we see Raab playing the same poker games as his predecessor. The stakes are rising as the middle ground disappears and we see a looming choice between no deal and no Brexit. Given Raab’s close connections with many of the Brextremists and their fake think tanks, it seems likely that he will continue in this direction.
But as the debate polarises, making evident the disastrous future we might be facing with stockpiling of food and medicine and the loss of thousands of jobs, the temptation for politicians to hand the whole stinking mess back to ‘the people’ is growing all the time. The whole country seems to be shifting towards the Green Party’s pragmatic position: we should have a right to vote on the reality of Brexit when it becomes clear rather than allowed a tainted vote on an undeliverable prospectus to be the final decision.
We are committed to campaigning to reject the deal and stay in the EU. I think the chances that we can achieve that are growing all the time.