Fresh anger broke out this week as the European Union outlined the negotiating guidelines for the Brexit transition, stating that Britain will have to adhere to EU laws and keep free movement rules until we have left.
While even the very mention of Brexit can cause upset and resentment in its most ardent supporters (let alone critics), this latest outcry is more than a little perplexing. One of the big arguments for staying in the EU was retaining our seat at the table, and getting a say over what laws are implemented. We are leaving, so we lose that right.
As members, we already exercised our right to opt-outs or exclusions from large swathes of EU legislation. For example, we aren’t in the Schengen Agreement – meaning we could control our own borders. We aren’t part of the monetary and economic union – meaning we didn’t have to adopt the euro. Even with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, we have certain provisions in place to ensure the sanctity of British law. So while we were - rightly - known as the awkward partner of Europe, you cannot say the union wasn’t accommodating.
But, they are a union. They are united. We have given two fingers to the union and have, it seems, at every stage during these negotiations to be as unreasonable and unrealistic as possible. Fuelled by this hubristic belief that 27 countries will bow to our every demand, those braying for Brexit (and sadly those who are negotiating) appear to have been taken by surprise when the union rallied against giving concessions that threaten said union.
Where is the logic or incentive for the European Union to continue to allow us to input on how laws are implemented when we turned our back on the institution and plan to be ‘free’ from them after a two year transition period? I can’t see any. Especially not when we have in the past voted for things that have ultimately damaged the economy - not raising tariffs of cheap Chinese steel for example, or Brexit…
We may cry foul play, or exclaim that the EU is bullying us, but the reality is that they are acting in the best interests of the union. If we were to be given special consideration, it would undermine existing treaties and agreements. Norway are part of the Single Market, and have to subscribe to the four areas of freedom that necessitates. The fact of the matter is, the EU aren’t going to risk having Norway and others turn around and demand renegotiations because of our departure – something Norway has already said they’re considering doing.
Counterpoint: If the union are going to act in a way that best promotes their own interests, surely we should do the same?
I agree, but think about this. Would you rather negotiate a trade agreement that gets you access to one country, or a trade agreement that gets you access to the world’s largest single market, where your goods and services are available in 27 countries with a unified legal framework that you can have influence over? It’s a no-brainer, and we already had such an agreement in place and are now squabbling over how to get access to some of it, while burning our ability to have a say in the matter.
Call it unpatriotic. Call it remoaning. Call it whatever you like, but reality from where I’m sitting currently looks bleak. As it was feared from the start, we voted for Brexit without a remotely clear understanding of the various ways that might look, how it would be achieved, or really even who would deliver it. Gove and Johnson, the modern day Tweedle-Dum and Dee, offered a nationalistic future of chest thumping and cake exports during the campaign, when the reality required perhaps more nuance than they can muster. David Cameron promptly realised he screwed up and washed his hands of the whole affair, and Theresa May is only permitted to stay in the role because the Conservatives can't see a clear replacement.
Of course, this isn’t the first time EU actions have upset the British public during these negotiations. For example, both Remain and Leave camps were annoyed at the two-stage negotiation timetable set out by the EU, believing that parallel negotiations would have worked better for both sides. While I agree that it would have allowed more time for all issues to get resolved – can you hand on heart say you would have faith in our Government juggling multiple strands of negotiation at once? They’ve struggled with the very basics. It’s been a year-and-a-half since the country voted to Leave and they still haven’t decided what it is they want.
The sad truth is that the negotiations aren’t going well because the ruling party, much like the country, is split on what it wants. This whole referendum was a way of smoothing over the cracks in the Conservative party but it was like sticking a plaster on a leaking dam. The Government is ripping itself apart, and Theresa May is failing to offer a solution. If she cannot negotiate with MP’s from her own country - those who are supposed to want the best for Britain - there’s little hope of successful parley with the EU, who above all else are going to act in the interest of the union.
So, don’t be ‘enraged’ that the EU is continuing to function without our direct involvement, and definitely don’t feel slighted that we are being shut out of the club. We were, after all, the ones who cut up our membership card.