Opening up the ‘can of worms’ that is seemingly the Brexit negotiating process may not be a nice way to start the week let alone to welcome in the lovely month of May but on this occasion I fear that it has to be done!
Denied as it has been by officials at 10 Downing Street, broadcast media and some press have been quick to seize on suggestions made in a Frankfurter Allgemeine article over the weekend suggesting that Prime Minister, Theresa May’s dinner meeting last week with European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker had not gone very well. The Frankfurter Allgemeine also reported Mr. Juncker as saying “that he left the meeting ten times more sceptical than I was before”.
I can have no idea whatsoever whether we will succeed or fail in our Brexit negotiation process or whether the stance that we are entering into the negotiation process or indeed, that being entered by EU negotiators is right or wrong. Neither, at this early stage of the process, can I have any idea whether we understand all the complexities that are the Brussels process or whether we ourselves are fully fit for purpose as we approach the negotiation process?. Like others, I am bound to wonder whether we have all of our ducks in a row as we prepare to launch into the negotiation process, whether our EU officials are strong enough to sort out all the ‘front and back office’ issues and maybe, whether those same civil servants will attempt to scupper what our politicians are attempting to achieve in the negotiation process just as they seemingly had successfully done two years ago when David Cameron ended up coming back from Brussels empty handed.
What I do know though is that while Prime Minister, Theresa May is a women of fewer words than we are perhaps used to, someone who is less descriptive than we might like sometimes to hear and see and someone who is perhaps slightly imperfect in a world that is seemingly led by the ability to use PR to its advantage, is that she is as strong as an Ox and determined that she will achieve what she and her Government believe is best for Britain.
This is not the first time that Mrs. May has been accused on not understanding the EU process but I venture to suggest that when she was Home Secretary, apart from security, immigration and the weakened ability of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) of allow her to deport despots, hate preachers, terror suspects and of denying our MP.s the power to ban prisoners from voting, why should she know that much more about the EU?
Even so, during the Brexit campaign following one of the extremely rare speeches Mrs. May made on the Brexit subject, she said ‘Britain must leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which is not part of the EU’. She was immediately ridiculed by fellow Tory, Jacob Rees-Mogg who I seem to remember saying that ‘this [leaving ECHR] was not possible as long as Britain was a member of the EU’. Rees-Mogg was actually reported as saying that “either she doesn’t understand how the EU works or she’s positioning herself for a leadership bid at a later date”. Out of the mouths of babes!
Back to the present and the purported claim that ‘we are ignorant of the Brussels process’ and the pushing of suggestions such as this by broadcasters and press demonstrates, if nothing else, that we really have now reached a new low in the relationship between our elected politicians and media.
Coming as this does during an election campaign, over stressing the word ‘ignorant’ which I remind, may or may not have even been said, is clearly designed to reduce public confidence in Mrs. May and her Government. As if to back my theory up, I note this morning that the BBC’s chief political muppet, has pushed out a story under the headline ‘How Brexit row could impact UK general election’. Now there’s a surprise – I am sure that you get the point.
Along with many others no doubt, while I admit to being perplexed at the thought that we could possibly achieve all the things that we may desire through the process of Brexit negotiations with the rest of the EU there is no harm in trying. Hard Brexit, soft Brexit – now familiar terms in this debate but either both parties in these negotiations will agree or they will not and we will simply walk away into an unknown and uncertain future, one in which the short term will be bumpy if not precarious but the long term might just be very successful. Who knows? I for one certainly don’t but I do worry about the impact of all this on our remaining industries and on the economy as a whole. As to having to pay a reported £50 billion to leave the EU, a figure that represents over six times what the EU costs us annually in respect of net contribution, we should I believe be very thankful that Mrs. May will fight hard on our behalf to stop that unjustified claim in its tracks.
Nobody wins by Britain leaving the EU but what we must seek to achieve is that nobody loses either. Only in ten or maybe twenty years from now will we know whether we made the correct decision to leave the EU or not but what is equally true in my view is that Britain’s leaving the EU should not be allowed to weaken the European Union. Britain should not be allowed to become the excuse of why in the end it failed.
True, while I may have my serious doubts about the single currency mistake, I really have no desire to see the EU broken up as a result of Britain leaving. My point is that while I find many aspects of the Brussels process no longer acceptable and like many others, long for a return to almost full sovereignty, I would not at this stage of the process wish to see the EU weakened further. There is quite enough geo-political instability in the world for us to be forced to watch over a collapse of the European Union. While one day we will have been proved right or wrong for having chosen to opt out of the EU, in respect of the need for geo-political stability and harmony in Europe, a strong EU is far better for Britain over the next few years than one that begins to seriously question its own existence. Five years from now may be the time to take a rather different view.
Like most of you I suspect, I believe that whether our decision to leave the EU turns out to be right or wrong, a disaster or hopefully, long term advantageous, the sooner we start and subsequently conclude the process of negotiation the better it will be for all of us meaning for both the UK and the EU.
As I have said many times before, while I have long disliked the EU process in many respects, I did not vote to leave the EU. Neither, had I been given that chance, would I have voted to stay in an EU that failed to accept the need to radically change. So be it – we made our bed and now we must lie on it!
What I dislike most of all about the pre-negotiation process is persistent speculation being presented to the public by broadcast media in a form that appears to suggest that they [broadcasters] are the only people that know all about the process of what needs to be done, what is achievable and what is not in the Brexit negotiating process. Having voted to come out of the EU, wouldn’t it be nice if we in this country showed our political leaders a degree of respect by allowing them to get on with the job of negotiating our exit from the EU without our own national media belittling what we are seeking to achieve through slanted one-sided views that may or may not emanate from Brussels? Remember, they have a vitally important job to do to ensure that we can hopefully eventually prosper from the decision to leave and also that not all of them had actually voted to leave the EU!
Even though Labour is inconsistent with its approach on Brexit and no-one quite sure of what its policy really is, media works hard to draw on the negative stance of some Labour MP’s whilst giving almost equal status to Liberal-Democrats as if they were the party in opposition as opposed to be a minority party. With not one word of support being aired for the approach that Mrs. May and her Government are taking in respect of negotiating
Media appears to be spending an inordinate amount of time trawling the corridors of Brussels looking for negative and challenging views that can fuel the opposite of what the British Government is seeking to achieve. It is as if the mantra of the BBC’s editorial staff and maybe of some others as well that its journalists have a duty of care to put every obstacle to progress and hostage to fortune in the way of Mrs. May and her Government.
This morning we heard that ‘Senior European officials had told the BBC they believed the Government did not understand how negotiations would work and that the chance of success was just 50%’. Somewhere or other words claiming ‘UK politicians are ignorant of how Brussels works’ were added but we are not told by who it was that such words emanated. They may well of course be just a figment of the imagination on the part of media journalists but I am bound to be perturbed that any media organisation should allow such words or expressions to be used without naming a source.
CHW (London – 2nd May 2017)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785