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Forever the optimist – small tentative steps towards rejoin?
17 Dec, 2021

Against the backdrop of the verdict issued last night by the North Shropshire electorate, Andy Pye ponders the question "What if the UK wanted to rejoin the EU when Boris Johnson exits?" What name would we give it instead of Brexit? How do you think the other EU members would receive such a proposal?

For me, often the inspiration to write a blog or comment column comes from social media comments made by Hardline Leavers - it is one of the few benefits of engaging with them and helps me sharpen up my own arguments!

In this case, it was slightly different. The question above was on Quora and the first answer came from Mats Andersson, a regular contributor to Quora and one who is very pro-European.

On this rare occasion, I found myself not quite in agreement with Mats. This is his answer in full:

"The first thing is that we here in the EU would have to be convinced of would be that the UK was serious about this. A handful of successive UK governments would have to commit to this, consistently. We’re talking at least 10 years before the application is taken seriously.

Then, it’s another 10 years of negotiations. The UK would have to join on considerably worse terms than it left - which many British seem to have forgotten were way better than anyone else in the EU had; the UK could probably keep the Schengen exemption, due to being an island and all, and the Euro exemption, since other countries have that, but they can forget about the membership fee reduction, for instance.

I can’t see the UK re-joining in less than 20 years.

And I can’t really see that Johnson’s departure would suddenly see a huge swing in how the British view EU membership. Support is simply too low at present; you need figures of at least 60 to 40 for re-joining."

Mats’ answer - as always - is very well argued. But on this occasion, I slightly disagree with his conclusions. Before I explain, my colleague Nick Hopkinson also wrote a relevant article in the New European, nearly a year ago in January 2021. As a former director of Wilton Park, the international policy forum, his views are likely to be more informed than mine, a mere engineering journalist, relative layman and Brexit victim. Called the Rocky Road to Rejoin, Nick's article is well worth a read to provide some additional perspective.

Here are my views:

(1) For the UK to rejoin, both sides have to want to do it. At the moment, the current populist cabal wouldn’t reverse Brexit under any circumstances. It’s an ideological project, way beyond any economic logic and irrespective of any damage caused to their “subjects”. So the first thing that has to happen is not just a change of Government, but a change of electoral system. Retaining FPTP would simply lead to the risk of “flip-flop”: Rejoin-Leave-Rejoin-Leave.

For this to change, the Labour Party has to get over itself and realise that its only route to power - ever - is a coalition based on cooperation with the other non-Tory parties. The choice is now between UKIP-Tories-Forever and No-UKIP-Tories-Ever. However, the stakes are high, If that choice is not made for the next election, it could be the last general election ever for the UK before it slides into full-on dictatorship. I should add that I do not think for a moment that this Tory party bears any resemblance to the one I grew up knowing – it has been hollowed out from the inside by a parasite.

(2) What about the EU side? Here is where I partially disagree with Mats. Why?

(a) As a country looking to join, rather than one looking to leave, the UK has far more to offer - more cards, if you like, rather than the 6-High it held when it was dragged out! For one thing, we add a sixth to the size of the Single Market, and a lot of financial and military strength.

(b) It would also be a fantastic PR coup for the EU to show how a large country tried to leave and it was such an abject failure that they needed to rejoin almost immediately.

(c) It removes a nuisance neighbour from their doorstep.

(d) It resolves all the issues that Brexit has thrown up - fishing, Ireland, etc.

(e) This re-engagement would have so much benefit to both sides it could even be possible to renegotiate the old deal - or something close to it. But even if not, the EU gets the benefit of not having to concede the old opt-outs. This in fact is where I think the negotiation would focus: not if, but on what terms.

And guess what? That is the thinking of many in the EU corridors of power as well. They are leaving all the doors and windows open, waiting for the bird-brained UK to fly back in.

(3) The Single Market - it is likely that the first stage would be rejoining the Single Market and/or Customs Union. Maybe not yet out of conviction, but of economic necessity. We are already seeing the country 4% worse off in GDP (about £90 billion per year) and we are not even controlling our imports properly as yet: rules-of-origin rules click in in January.

When the EU clearing business is reclaimed by the EU, that will knock another chunk off UK GDP. There's an excellent video on this, recorded by Graham Bishop, Brexit is Dimming the Lights of the City of London, the European Movement Vice Chair, in conversation with Brendan Donnelly of the Federal Trust.

In it, Bishop argues that the current controversy over central counterparties (CCPs) is symbolic of the difficulties facing the City of London after Brexit. The City will not lose its dominant position in this sector overnight, but the EU sees building up its own CCPs as strategic necessity. Over the years, the EU will look to make CCPs from the EU first competitive with and then eventually more attractive than their City equivalents. Of course, we all knew about CCPs when we voted in the Brexit referendum, did we not?

The key point to Graham's video is the timetable over which the EU is likely to wrest control over its own finances, because of the inherent risks of not doing so. Graham called this a "medium-term project", but I was amazed when he said that the medium term would be only four years or so. That means that within four to five years, the UK could lose this business. Such a hit, taken with other losses, could easily become a death spiral (or positive feedback loop as we engineers call it). It's tail-between-legs territory and we’ll be heading towards a diet of cabbages and carrots by then.

Watching this, just a couple of Friday mornings ago, was a watershed moment for me, coming as it did on the same day that Dominic Cummings disclosed that it took Boris Johnson until October 2020 to understand what the Customs Union is. That's four and a half years after the referendum. Given that amount of time, most of us could have mastered Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. But not our PM. He's too busy doing...well, whatever it is he does instead of his job.

Taking these two events alone must mean that Brexit simply cannot work - and therefore the first stage of return may be closer than it appears.

(4) There’s a tipping point in public opinion and we are not far away. We are already seeing a 10% margin in favour of rejoin and in Scotland a 10% margin in favour of independence. A united Ireland is likely too. Even the by-election in Bexley, where a teddy bear wearing a blue rosette would get re-elected, saw a 10% swing to Labour. Now North Shropshire has shown a massive swing of 34% away from the Tories, more than enough to see the Lib Dem’s Helen Morgan convert a huge Tory majority into a sizeable majority of her own.

(5) In 2018, our colleagues at the Wandsworth & Merton branch of the European Movement conducted a Brexit survey among local businesses, organisations and other employers to assess the situation two years after the referendum.

Now Brexit is a reality, during September and October 2021 they asked retail managers, business owners and leaders of organisations and institutions in all sectors in Wandsworth and Merton to take a new survey.

On 3 December they launched the results in a report called ‘The Business of Brexit’.

The voices of Wandsworth and Merton confirm our fears and give an overwhelming verdict on Brexit. We now have the hard facts to support the argument when we continue our campaigns to rebuild and strengthen Britain’s relations with the EU.

Fully 91% of respondents (excluding 'too early to tell') said that the effects of Brexit overall had been negative for their business.

The very first one should whet the appetite to read more. Much more.

"As someone who voted leave (only to give David Cameron a better negotiating position with Brussels), I’m thoroughly disgusted with the Boris Johnson deal. On every level it’s a complete failure. It’s a huge backwards step, I would have never implemented such idiotic measures with our largest business partner. We have lost £200k with this deal to date and I envisage losing a lot more."

(6) Our young people are overwhelmingly pro-Remain/pro-Rejoin. But they are difficult to energise into voting and campaigning. What they are most energised about - understandably - is climate change. Of course, the two are linked - the Brexiters are busy tearing down regulations and removing the red tape which our President Lord Heseltine describes as the boundary between civilisation and the jungle. Here he is talking to Lord Adonis, also featuring a cameo appearance by John Bercow. Of course, free of the red tape which protects our environment, supports UK farming and prevents dumping of toxic waste, how far will they go? They will likely break their promises on green energy too, in favour of offering financial incentives to their friends in the oil lobby and elsewhere. So the more that can be done to link the issues, the more the anti-Brexit movement will gain momentum.

In summary, I think rejoining Single Market - just 5–10 years; rejoining the EU - 15 to 20 years; repairing the UK’s economic and reputational damage - that’s 40 to 50 years away.

But at least future generations will be able to focus on the real issues of the day in climate change, rather than the self-destruct policy of Brexit.  What a total waste of energy, resources, wealth, it has been, all poured down the drain by a small band of self-interested ideologues.

Andy Pye
Secretary, London4Europe

London4Europe blogs are edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author and not necessarily of London4Europe.

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Andy Pye
published this page in Latest blogs 2021-12-17 06:06:58 +0000