For weeks and weeks if not months and months now Brexit has appeared to be tantamount to a disaster waiting to happen and probably for government and observers alike, one in which the perception needs to be ‘the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry’!
However, small though it is, incomprehensible and whatever else you might call events in Westminster last night and that in making Mrs. May’s life seemingly easier on one hand yet even more difficult on the other, I sensed a touch of behavioural change from MP’s in the House of Commons, one that seemingly has begun to accept not only a realisation that the current state of impasse cannot be allowed to go on but moreover, one that acknowledges the time for achieving some kind of consensus and compromise had arrived.
Like many of you, I am sick and tired of the whole Brexit issue, the vitriol and nastiness that it has created between all of us caused by there being two very determined, meaningful and very different perspectives about what Brexit should mean, what the cost, benefits and or pitfalls of Brexit might be? The sooner that it is all over the better and if it really does become a case of ‘you made your bed on so lie on it’ then, although surely the very last thing that anyone in the UK of sound mind really wants is the unknown quantity of a no-deal Brexit, then let’s get on with it.
I for one have no wish to see the UK leave without a deal but for the sake of upsetting Sir Gerald Howarth and other on this fine morning I will keep my thoughts on that to myself. One thing is certain, no matter what your views on Brexit are, we cannot go on like this. Whichever side of the fence you choose to sit, remainer or leaver, no-deal Brexiteer or one that believes achieving an orderly leaving process is a perquisite, we need an end game and one that allows this nation of ours to come back together and get on with its business.
I don’t envy Mrs. May’s next trip to Brussels or indeed, the one after that come to that. That said, for the first time in this whole debate she can at least go back to Brussels and say ‘you asked us to come back when we had decided what it was we wanted – we have done that and now we have’. In the meantime, those determined to damage the Brexit political process have charged out across Brussels and Dublin seeking those prepared to give Mrs. May’s attempts to seek changes to the existing agreement the cold shoulder. That may well be the reality of the situation but at least she is being seen to be trying.
Even so, history shows that the EU can often say one thing and mean another. The great machine may not look as if it is capable of turning but sometimes it does. Even if the public and political message portray stubbornness and refusal to budge, behind the scenes Brussels knows when compromise is required. They also know that it is in the interests of all the remaining 27 that a future without an agreed Brexit is inconceivable. The UK has done its level best to compromise throughout the Brexit negotiation process – now it really is the turn of the EU.
Unsurprisingly, apart from begrudgingly accepting that the Prime Minister had a hollow victory in the House of Commons last evening the BBC’s Political Editor, Laura Kuenssberg was in no mood to give Mrs. May the benefit of the doubt for having achieved much saying “that although Parliament had made clear yesterday that it does not want to leave the EU without a deal MP’s could have made that demand more convincing” although even she conceded that “The Tory Party that was visibly split in two a fortnight ago is giving the impression of being largely united”. I might well argue that as a reporter it is not the place of Ms. Kuenssberg to have added “even if this is only temporary” but there we – sadly she is hardly in the mould of great parliamentary correspondents like the late Conrad Voss Bark is she!
The point is that neither Ms. Kuenssberg nor any of the rest of us knows – not even members of parliament. Personally, I find the manner in which presenters and correspondents smirk or laugh as they talk live on air extremely offensive. I know that they hold now respect for politicians and see them as fair game but the damage this does in public plays into the hands of those that would break down the society that we live in.
On that subject Ms. Kuenssberg was quickly back to her old ways of knocking the Prime Minister after the seemingly surprising votes that the Government had effectively won yesterday by adding that “Yet the prime minister only won because she gave into Brexiteer and DUP demands, by making a promise that she can’t be sure she can keep – one the EU says at the moment is impossible” and by further adding that “this process has for a long time been about No 10 stumbling, often seriously, then getting up again to try to take another step” pointing out her view that the “valid question” was “to what end?”.
Interestingly Norman Smith, one of two within the BBC journalistic hierarchy that carry the title ‘deputy political editor’ and who, in my opinion is both more rounded, detailed in knowledge that he imparts and one who I see as being generally unbiased when talking about political and opposition leaders and government policy was talking this morning about Mrs. May trying and trying again. He was also reported as suggesting that, following comments made by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, that he is now prepared to talk to Mrs. May and that this could well occur later today – perhaps after PMQ’s. We will see. For my part I am pleased that even if the consensus continues to doubt that the EU will give way on the main hostage to Brexit agreement fortune – the Northern Ireland backstop arrangement.
Separately, I am grateful to Richard Gardner for bringing to my attention a Conservative Home report highlighting the dangers that the still evolving EU integrated defence proposals could have damaging implications for the NATO alliance that has ensured peace, stability and harmony in Europe since April 1949 and also the implications this could have for UK/US relations.
While it is easy to conclude that much of what France and Germany are pushing realities to, as Richard so aptly put it in his email to me, an attempt by these countries to “stich-up” the European defence procurement market for themselves and further extend EU protectionist policies, it is difficult to perceive how when Germany currently spends around 1.3% of GDP on defence and France just short of 2% how this can be perceived as being affordable.
As the report makes clear, some EU member states continue to demand that proposed EU defence integration should not undermine NATO but given that the policy is being led by the EU’s two other defence powers Germany and France, this cannot be taken for granted. The report which lists Colonel Richard Kemp, former chairman of the COBRA Intelligence Group and of the EU and Nato Intelligence Support Committee and Dr. Lee Rotherham, Director of the think-tank Red Cell and also the Executive Director of Veterans for Britain, suggests that the aspiration of intent by Germany and France is “undermined by the practical effect over time of assigning strategic ambitions, creating big budgets, identifying defence obligations, harmonising forces, creating common units, and creating a single defence industry (with all the shutting down of peripheral factories that will follow).
The point that they are rightly emphasising is that the strength of NATO will be seriously threatened by any separate EU defence ambition coming to fruition. The report goes on to suggest that the UK Government is “running a Brexit policy on defence that aspires to being institutionally close to the entities pursuing this process”. If right the report warns that the UK would find itself sharing risks and damage of any separate EU defence policy that evolves.
The concern here is that with the UK having already agreed to pooling resources on an ad-hoc bases and where this is deemed to be practicable in order to cut UK costs that not only will the NATO alliance be weakened but that our own independent defence capability could be as well. The larger fear expressed here is that “Given proven trends, and demonstrable ambition, that the time will come when, unless the UK government changes pooling and sharing policies in regard of defence it could, “by negligence, have contributed to a catastrophic defence rift between the continents of Europe and North America” Of more direct and immediate concern the report concludes is that this will have potentially triggered the breakdown of what we all regard as being a unique and irreplaceable defence and security relationship that the UK currently has with the USA.
The UK should have absolutely no part of any EU defence plan. NATO remains the over-arching defence alliance and anything that is placed in the way of NATO ability to continue its mission is obsequious to its purpose and mission.
CHW (London – 30th January 2019)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785