Johnson in full blame game mode

by David Hannay | 08.10.2019

Beware of anyone who tells you that a government can successfully play the blame game and work for a deal at the same time. The real world does not operate in that way. Playing the blame game destroys the trust without which a deal cannot be struck, and it deprives both parties of the incentive to search for compromise solutions. Yet it is precisely that attempt by the government to straddle two contradictory approaches which we are watching unfold this week. In Brussels, David Frost attempts to reach an agreement with some remarkably unpromising material, while in London No. 10 is in full blame game (and aggressive retaliation) mode.

What is wrong with the material that the government has put on the table in Brussels and which they are so coy about revealing in detail? Quite a lot and not just from a European point of view.

Take the removal from the table of the earlier commitment in the Political Declaration to a regulatory level playing field between the U.K. and the EU. The government said in Parliament yesterday that this is to free the UK from the EU dinosaur and to enable it to go for higher standards – on the environment, on labour laws and on social issues. But that is quite simply rubbish, because there is nothing stopping the UK from having these higher standards as a member of the EU – we already have them in some cases. The only conceivable reason for scrapping the level playing field commitment is to free up the possibility of having lower standards than the EU.

Take also the “ consent “ provision which requires Stormont to agree to any Northern Ireland protocol in a revised Withdrawal Agreement and to renew that agreement every 4 years. Such a provision would hand a veto to either the DUP or Sinn Fein, each of which could bring the whole construct crashing to the ground; and it would in any case be inoperable in current circumstances when Stormont is in limbo.

And how about that seemingly innocent commitment by both sides to avoid the re-imposition of controls, either regulatory or tariff controls, on trade between Ireland and Northern Ireland? But there is a whole range of circumstances under which the UK and the EU would be obliged by their WTO obligations to impose tariffs on each others’ trade; and some of those circumstances – for example a Canada-style Agreement, which the government seems to favour – would require just that.

It is already pretty clear that in order to keep alive any hope of a deal – and such a deal would in any event require more time than there is available between now and October 31 to finalise and to ratify – the government would have to make substantial changes to its current proposals. And there is no sign of willingness to do that. So we can expect their contradictory negotiating strategies to come apart pretty soon and for the government to shift into full blame game mode. Blame the EU, blame Parliament, blame the courts.

All this points therefore to the need to ensure that the government honours its obligations under the Benn Act to avoid leaving on October 31 without a deal and to make the People’s Vote march on October 19 a massive and peaceful demonstration of support for that objective and for holding a Brexit referendum ahead of any general election.

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Categories: Brexit, UK Politics

6 Responses to “Johnson in full blame game mode”

  • Well, post-war Europe going through verbal abuse and a range of unbelievably brutal British shenanigans. This country was once known as the great liberators, revered right through the second half of the 20th Century. I am sure that Hitler c.s. are mightily enjoying This divertimento from the utter boredom that a prolonged stay in hell presumably is.

  • Yes absolutely Peter, and whoever thought that this could happen in the UK, sorry, England , because we are really talking about England, aren’t we, acting in the convenient disguise of the UK ?

  • I have mixed feelings about Brexit. On one hand, since I feel myself to be a European, I am disgusted and ashamed by the whole putrid mess and on the other hand, as a Scot, I hope that Scotland will take this opportunity to cut the ties with England and return to being an independent country again.with the option of re-applying for EU membership. The polls all suggest this, especially in the event of a no-deal. Once the penny drops in NI, I think reunification will definitely be on the cards, probably not without some bloodshed. What is interesting also is that it now appears that Wales is having second thoughts and talking about independence. Brexit will also be UKexit and the end of a great democratic and (up to 2016) rational nation. Thanks, David Cameron. I hope you will feel duly guilty when it becomes obvious what a terrible thing you have done.

  • No mention here of Frau Merkels assertion that NI must remain in the customs union effectively meaning staying in the EU and not part of the UK. Surely that is why the backstop is a cynical trap!

  • @ Peter
    I think you are confusing the European Customs Union with the EU. The EEA i.e. the European Internal Market is different again, with different state memberships.
    Of course, it has a close relationship with the EU, but given the very intricate security situation in northern Ireland, it is obvious there has to be a close relationship there.

  • Saw a wonderful simile of hard Brexit in M & S Christmas section to-day: a flying pig with a unicorn on its forehead: it should of course have been ‘in medio stat virtus’