HARD TIMES

britannia-statue1Ooh, it’s hard – it’s really hard! Yes, porn-speak infiltrates political discourse and, guess what, the SNP, Sinn Fein and the Lib Dems aren’t happy. Finally, the PM emerges from her Downing Street bunker and outlines her Brexit strategy. It’s only taken Theresa May the best part of six months to come up with some sort of speech to get the classes chattering at Westminster, Holyrood and Stormont, but she’s done it at last.

Yesterday, Our Beloved Leader announced that the UK will be leaving the European Single Market as part of our exit from the EU, confirmation of something that had been anticipated and (in the self-interested case of Nicola Sturgeon) hoped-for. Free movement of goods, services and capital without the free movement of people isn’t going to happen, so the Prime Minister had little option but to include this as a key part of her speech. It goes without saying that prominent Remainers in Parliament took the news badly; Tim Farron described being removed from the single market as ‘a theft of democracy’ and ‘not something proposed to the British people’. In case he’s already forgotten, nothing other than Leave or Remain was on the ballot paper last June; that was the extent of the detail.

The PM said Parliament would indeed vote on the final deal once unveiled, though a majority of votes by MPs and Peers against it wouldn’t alter the deal being enacted, which renders the laborious process of debating the issue in the Commons and the Lords somewhat redundant; I suppose it’ll serve as a token gesture to the Great British Sovereignty that a Leave vote was allegedly intended to return us to the bosom of, and it’ll also waste more time as the negotiations drag on and on, of course.

Along with leaving the European Single Market, the UK will wave bye-bye to the EU Customs Union, with the PM claiming it restricts Britain from being able to cut trade deals with non-EU member states; at the same time, she said she wanted the UK to have a new tariff-free trading relationship with the EU. It looks like Mrs May wants that cake and she’s determined to eat the bloody thing! It was this aspect of the PM’s plans that particularly upset the Nationalist parties in Ulster, with Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd declaring the decision ‘creates a hard border on the island of Ireland’. However, May did add that a crucial element of her intentions for Brexit in relation to Northern Ireland would be that the Common Travel Area between the UK and Eire remains.

At this moment in time, with the power-sharing Executive suspended pending an election, Northern Ireland would seem to have more pressing matters; not so Scotland, of course – according to the SNP, anyway. The PM may have said all the devolved UK administrations would have a part to play in formulating the Brexit strategy, but Nicola Sturgeon wants a ‘special deal’ for Scotland that flies in the face of May’s rejection of the European Single Market. The First Minister may be publicly stressing she believes Scotland remaining attached to the EU is in Scotland’s economic interests, but it’s been evident ever since she succeeded Alex Salmond that she intends to overturn the Independence Referendum result of 2014 at the first opportunity; and now it would appear that Theresa May’s speech has presented it to her.

Perhaps still stung by Obama’s threat of the UK being at the back of the queue when it comes to trade deals should the country dare to exit the EU, the Government now seems to be hinging a lot of post-European optimism on maximising ‘the special relationship’ again. The President-Elect wants to be our friend, or at least that’s what we’ve been led to believe via the Donald’s stated fondness for Britain, his thumbs-up for Brexit and his apparent willingness to do deals with us. Toe-curling snapshots alongside the likes of Farage and Gove probably shouldn’t be taken as an indication that this is where the majority of our global trading future lies, however.

Enthusiastic Brexiteer Boris Johnson has played down any over-reliance on the US by claiming endless other nations will be queuing up to sign trade deals with the UK once the death warrant on our EU membership known as Article 50 has been triggered – well, once the expected two-year process is over and done with. The Foreign Secretary added that ‘we are not slamming the door to migrants or hauling up the drawbridge’. But for all Bo-Jo’s bravura, nothing is as clear-cut as he and his ilk are liable to paint it; and one of the few straws Jeremy Corbyn could clutch at yesterday was his conviction that extricating ourselves from the EU might take a little longer than a couple of years.

Whether that means all those countries forming an orderly queue to trade with us are prepared to wait that long, only time will tell; and all of this is undoubtedly going to take time.

© The Editor

PS We can still console ourselves as to the integrity of our Great British Institutions, however…


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