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Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Mrs May wraps her damp squib in platitudes

Theresa May has taken the most emollient line possible for her in the presentation of Britain's Brexit notification to the European union, and in her explanation of her position to the House of Commons.

Arch-Brexiteers should take warning: the tone for the discussion has now been set, and on a first reading of her official letter it is clear that the compromising component of the government has predominated in the discussion.

In the wordy statement in the Commons, doubtless the product of a small army of speechwriters,  the Prime Minister repeatedly referred to the government's obligation to future generations; which made a 'hard Brexit' and a leap off the cliff into the unknowable territory of a future without an agreed relationship with the EU equally unlikely. The possibility of an extended 'implementation period' is scouted from the first, and will almost certainly become a reality.

One interesting aspect of the coming talks derives directly from the bloated bureaucracy of Brussels, to which the EU lead negotiator M Barnier is closely affiliated. At a date before 2020, Britain will stop paying in to the ongoing costs of the fat cats. Britain must accept obligations to pensioners and for EU debts that have been incurred with British assent in the past [and during the negotiations]. But Britain has no obligation to pay for supposed services and facilities that it will not access after the date of Brexit. So either the EU machine will have to be slimmed down by the break date or the remaining 27 members will have to pick up the tab for any wanton waste. Britain can fairly be charged a share in the redundancy costs of any eurorats who are to be 'let go', and other adjustment charges that will be incurred up to the date of the rupture.

This will be a delicate negotiation that must in the end rest on a truthfully computed set of accounts: which is something the eurorats are not used to facing. Britain must insist on it being completed, and must be willing to pay the UK's share in full. M Barnier has indicated that he will ask for more, some sort of penalty or fine on Britain for having a residual belief in democracy: any such nonsense must be exposed and resisted intransigently.

Mrs May has indicated that her approach to the EU negotiation will be fair and rational. It is therefore sad that she has linked this with a great deal of fantasising about building a fairer and better society that 'works for everybody' in the UK. Her government is doggedly continuing with the Osborne austerity proposals, which will reduce the quality of life for every man, woman and child in the country. As the Brexit negotiations drag on, social discontent about hospitals and schools and other public provisions will increase. The government will be more and more massively unpopular; and Brexit will more and more seem to be an irritating side show alongside the increasingly urgent crises that affect ordinary lives.

Brexit is important, but from today it should be seen as the second problem with which the government should be concerned. Tragically, they have no wish or capability tackle the big issue. Thus it will feature more an more prominently on this blog; from which Brexit will certainly not disappear.

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