How Not to Buy a Car

Allow me first to trace the steps we have taken toward self-destruction.

We have a Conservative Party that, quite alone, quite brutally, coldly, deliberately created the crisis we are brought to; for it is the Conservative Party that has been in power for almost a decade. It was a Conservative “Remain” Government that proposed a Referendum, in order to dish its own Brexiteers, and nevertheless over three years since has run through three Prime Ministers; began by backing Remain as its core policy, while simultaneously providing the leaders of VoteLeave; was defeated in the Referendum, sacrificed a PM, but neither power nor office; abruptly and cynically switched sides to save the Party and its fading grip on power; failed to deliver Brexit; dumped another PM, and simply rebranded itself as the Brexit Government of a Brexit Conservative Party; and still fails to deliver Brexit, or an election or anything at all.

Nevertheless the Conservatives have desperately clung on to power through every disaster and every continuous abject step towards defeat, failure and self-destruction their Government has taken; transparently put the Conservative Party before people or country (in the hope the electorate believe the national interest and the Conservative Party are the same thing); comprehensively trashed the Constitution for Party interest in the process; created a British existential crisis; and through it all it has grimly leached itself to office, even when finally bereft of parliamentary power; then, in the final hubris of disintegration, began purging any Conservative MPs possessing a spine, or who did not literally flee the field of political carnage first; insisting throughout that everyone else BUT the Conservative Party and Government – EU, Opposition, every single “Remoaner” who ever voted for or believed in Remain; is wholly and solely to blame for the disaster which imminently confronts us: the failure and chaos is nothing to do with the Government or Conservative Party: that is the official position of Conservatives – including thirteen Scottish Conservative Party MPs who have effectively supported every step this Government has taken, from Remain to Brexit to No-Deal; in a slow, dead march to their own political self-destruction; inured or indifferent to the grim prospect of dragging their constituencies and country to destruction with them.

The principal argument of the Brexit-Conservative Party is that the Conservative Government hitherto has not negotiated a deal with the EU effectively; this, we should not simply forget is entirely the responsibility of Conservatives: they are, after all the Party of Government – excuses will not do. The oddest part of this argument, however is that the Government should not reveal its negotiating hand to the EU, in order to ensure it negotiates from strength; while, bizarrely the Brexiteers use megaphone diplomacy to make it obvious to the EU the nature of the critical card they intend to play; while simultaneously keeping secret from both the EU and British public the solutions to the impasse in negotiation. This is because Brexiteers have no interest in negotiating niceties with the EU; the Brexiteer target audience is exclusively a British pro-Brexit public. There is only one object of this campaign: ‘no deal Brexit’; because the prospect that this tactic will work in order to achieve a deal can be discounted, indeed may be treated as being disingenuous.

The key UK Brexiteer weapon in negotiating with the EU is the ‘no-deal’ card; not really a ‘card’, but a threat: Britain could walk away. Somehow, we are supposed to believe, the EU effectively (‘at the death’ – the famous past-midnight characteristic EU last-minute deal-making closure) needs the UK more than the EU needs the Single Market in order to survive; or, that a deal with the UK is more important to the EU than ensuring that there is any point being a member of the EU after the UK leaves with a cost-free deal. Faced with this existential threat to the EU by Britain’s Brexit negotiation tactics, the EU has no real choice other than accept the UK walks away with no deal. A Brexit deal on Brexiteer terms would breach the immovable EU red line it can never betray: the survival of the EU. The Brexiteers know this very well. From a Brexiteer-Conservative perspective this is a win-win strategy; either the EU caves in (and the EU is finished – therefore it will not happen) or the Brexiteers will have the no-deal they want.

The publicly spun assumption behind this Brexiteer negotiating tactic, as peddled to the British electorate – the threat to walk away- is that the negotiations between the EU and UK are not really a matter of geopolitical diplomacy between States, but rather are just another business deal. Not even a global, multi-national business deal, but a shopping expedition. The favourite Brexiteer analogy is buying a car. Think about it; we are just buying a car. No we aren’t – first and foremost the EU is, in the words of Donald Tusk (a Pole who had to spend his early years under the tyranny of the Warsaw Pact) “a Peace Project”; but allow me to tease out the logic of the shopping expedition metaphor. We are buying a car. The dealer knows when we come in that we can walk away. This gives us power – we can walk away, the dealer knows it and wants a sale. We may need to remind him of the force of the threat when we negotiate for the car we want. We have to hold the threat to ‘walk away’ to the bitter end, in order to achieve the best deal. Then we walk away, if the price is too high.

Of course, this is nothing at all like our negotiations with the EU, or any present, past or future member’s negotiations with the EU, ever; because if I ‘walk away’ from a car dealer I do not go back. I do not then return to the dealer and say, forget all that, we need to do some sort of deal about a whole lot of other matters, because this is really nothing like buying a car. I do not go back in to the dealer and say; look, what are we going to do about all the close relationships we already have with you? My family members who work with you? Your people who work for me? The goods and services I already supply to you? The services you supply me? The security arrangements we have together? The energy links? I could go on, and on, and on in an endless list of complex relationships we already have. This is nothing like buying a car. We can leave the EU, but we have to do a deal because this is nothing like buying a car. If you don’t buy a car you walk away, and you do not go back to the car dealer: it is over. Our relationship with the EU does not end with Brexit. Not now, not in any foreseeable future. Beyond the next Brexiteer headline we will be back to the EU. To negotiate. Something. It is inescapable. It is inevitable. Brexit is nothing like buying a car. Period.

Comments (4)

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  1. Papko says:

    Very good points made . I like the way you spell out practical problems and how they are all intertwined.
    It can seem laborious to read it and no doubt to write it.
    But it illustrates your example and debunks the car buying myth.

  2. w.b. robertson says:

    So much for that car buying argument. on the other hand… there is the shop steward who goes into management to claim a wage rise for the workers. boss says GTF. SS goes back in and says that his members will go on strike and walk out if there is no deal. boss starts doing quick sums and negotiates. It was a certain British foreign secy Ernest Bevin (A Socialist of the old school) who pointed out that a country cannot go into international negotiations “unarmed” and without a bargaining chip.

    1. John S Warren says:

      “Armed” rather gives away the underlying menace of the game you propose. The EU consists of close neighbours, allies and friends; not the old Warsaw Pact or North Korea. In a large, long established and complex arrangement like membership of the EU there are many ‘bargaining chips’ that can be used, on a case-by-case basis, issue by issue through negotiation: that is what negotiation is for. It isn’t difficult, but it requires professionalism and insight; provided only you do not expect a free lunch through the use of an existential threat to the EU – and expect to get away with it.

      The “arms” should be in proportion to the need. The desire to turn negotiations out of the EU into an arms race could only make no-deal inevitable, and reveals the real purpose of Brexiteers: to undermine the EU. Theresa May gave us warning of this strategy; when she ran round every capital in the EU to try and split the EU piecemeal. It didn’t work, and in consequence of her blunder, based on astonishing British hubris; she failed to achieve her objectives and her premiership collapsed. This policy however, resurrected from the grave by Brexit Conservatism, and carried aloft as the banner of Boris Johnson, is essentially just the replay of a very old, discredited British foreign policy strategy in Europe: old-fashioned “balance of power” politics, with Britain providing a shifting fulcrum in Europe, from the outside, and exclusively in its own disruptive interest; the policy died in two world wars – but some people never learn. The 27 know what is happening. This is Brexit, or – how not to make friends or influence people you would be wiser to cultivate.

      1. John S Warren says:

        This very day (11th September) the Independent website has reported in ‘Merkel warns of danger to EU of Singapore-style UK on its border’ the following: “France’s minister for Europe, Amélie de Montchalin, accused the UK of breaking “the spirit” of the negotiations by trying to strike “mini-deals” with individual EU member states. “We see that in the bilateral meetings the British try to get with their opposite numbers that they are trying to organise a managed no deal,” she told a news conference after meeting the 26 ambassadors to France of the EU’s members. The British ambassador was excluded. “And what the British want is to ensure that the different relationships that they have with each EU member state are recreated before the moment of separation, thanks to these mini deals. It is completely contrary to the spirit in which we’ve been negotiating. When [Stephen] Barclay [the UK Brexit secretary] or others try this in France, we say: ‘We hear you. Go and talk to Michel Barnier to see what can be done at the European level.’””

        Theresa May’s ill-judged policy, trotted out by the British yet again. It functions like clockwork: because ‘They learn nothing and forget nothing’ (paraphrase of a quote possibly mis-attributed to Tallyrand about the Bourbons; but it fits the Conservatives so well). I rest my case.

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