Thoughts about Brexit – Part Three: The negotiations and decision-making

February 3rd, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my two previous posts I have started to write down my thoughts about Brexit. As I have said, I didn’t really want to take up this theme on my blog. And indeed, I haven’t had the least intention to present myself as a historian or as a political analyst. In my first post I have written about the difficult pre-history – the rocky road of the United Kingdom to membership and the uneasy years of the British membership. In my second post I wrote about the campaigning before and during the referendum and about the polarised atmosphere. Now, it is time to say something about the policy processes after the referendum – of the negotiations and of the decision-making.

The negotiations on the “Brexit-Deal” – the first phase

Once the result of the referendum was clear and there was a new government, the hard work for preparing a mutual agreement on future relations started. This pointed out to be a long period with many issues to be settled and to be considered anew. After all, the United Kingdom (UK) was during that time a Member State and could not declare its obligations null and void just on the basis of the referendum. Equally, as long as there was no clarity of the future relations, there was an immense uncertainty on the practical implications of Brexit.

The situation was not improved when the prime minister called new elections and the government lost its majority. From that point on the government had to struggle to keep the government party and the supporting party united behind a deal to be made with the European Union (EU). And the situation was not improved when the prime minister brought a deal that was once rejected time and again to the parliament with some modifications.

The (prospect of) change of government and (of) the new negotiations

During the period when the government tried to get support from the parliament, very specific dynamics emerged. The opposition and the opponents in the government party were not debating the substance of the agreements. Instead, they declared themselves to be more competent and capable to negotiate a better deal. So, whatever was put on the table by the government was bound to be rejected. Time passed by and the risk of a chaotic No-Deal Brexit was becoming a real threat.

The (prospect of) elections and (of) the final decisions under time constraints

Then, after the unsuccessful prime minister had stepped down, a new phase started with negotiations and playing poker with procedural questions. The parliament wanted to prevent a No-Deal Brexit by legislation. The government wanted to extend the autumn break of the parliament. And it was difficult to reach a fair agreement on the timing of new elections. Finally, the elections took place and the government got a clear majority. And the decisions were made within the time frame to reach a basic agreement on the general terms of Brexit.

What comes next?

Now, after the departure of the UK from the EU has been confirmed, there is a transition period. During this period UK is a third country vis-à-vis the EU and its partner countries with framework agreements (such as Norway or Switzerland). The new relations have to be negotiated. And these negotiations will not be easy. From the UK side we hear expectations that the EU should give up its basic principles for common market (that it has created as a union) just because the UK (now as an outsider) doesn’t want to comply with them. And – given the history of Brexit negotiations so far – there is not much time to reach and agreement.

So, time will tell what comes out of these negotiations. I do not want to speculate on the result. It is better to wait and see with patience what negotiators can work out. For the moment I want to leave this theme for the future. I hope that those who want to continue good cooperation between EU and UK will find their ways forward.

More blogs to come … (but preferably on other topics)

PS1. Disclaimer: These are merely thoughts of the author – an observer from the European continent. Pontydysgu as an organisation is not responsible for the views presented above.

PS2. What could be a better musical theme for leaving this topic for a while than Auld Lang Syne as it was sung by the Members of the European Parliament together with the British MEPs leaving them?

Thoughts about Brexit – Part Two: The campaigning

February 2nd, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous post I started to spell out my thoughts about Brexit. As I said, I didn’t really want to take up this theme on my blog. And, moreover, I didn’t have the least intention to present myself as a historian or as a political analyst. What I have written in my first post about the pre-history of Brexit is mainly based on what I have learned from German media. Now, when we get to discuss the campaigning before and after the referendum 2016, I am able to bring into picture my own observations of the time when I visited UK twice during our project meetings. So, I was there and following the British media as well as the German media. And I had several conversations with our UK colleagues. Below I try to sort out my impressions of that time.

The dynamics of the campaigning

A specific feature of the campaigning was that the two leading parties were divided between those who wanted to remain in the EU and those who wanted to leave. The party leaders wanted to avoid splits in their parties and left it to the opinion leaders of the fractions to lead the campaigns. They themselves kept a low profile. Thus, their position vis-à-vis the achievements and benefits of the EU membership was ambiguous. Later on a resigning British Member of the European Parliament formulated it in this way: “They did not take ownership of what had been achieved with common European policies and never explained this to their voters.”

Instead of political parties taking the major role in the campaigning, specific campaign organisations were built and self-appointed opinion leaders stepped up to lead the debates. In this way the political debate around the referendum was decoupled from substantial issues – of the benefits and limitations due to the membership vs. on the consequences of leaving the membership. Instead, the campaigns became image campaigns.

The atmosphere during the campaigning

In the light of the above the debates during the campaign became very heated. The Leave campaign was successful in promoting the idea that the Brexit is mainly about ‘getting control back’ and getting rid of financial obligations to Brussels. The slogan that was painted on the campaign bus told that the money that was paid for membership fees could be invested into the National Health Services. The importance of the EU support for the agriculture and for the regional development in the UK was plaid down. The issues on getting back customs between the UK and the outer borders were not the lead issues.

Altogether, the atmosphere during the campaigning got polarised and heated. The worst incidence was the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox at a market place when she was campaigning for remaining in the EU. She had been a moral instance in the Remain campaign and spoken for decisions to be made on the basis of valid arguments. She was stabbed by a fanatic who called her as a ‘traitor’. The funeral of Jo Cox and the memorial service that was sent by BBC was a touching moment – but the voters had made up their minds.

Facts, myths and manipulation

Afterwards the campaigns – in particular the Leave campaign – have been analysed from many perspectives. It appeared that blunt lies could be told and repeated without fear of being caught. All fact-checks were late and had no impact. People tended to believe the arguments that addressed their interests and wishes. Also, the campaign organisations could use big data for targeted messages. Furthermore, during the campaigning period fake profiles in social media were used to multiply the impact of some messages. I don’t want to go into details but this was part of the picture.

The impact on the political parties

Since the main parties were divided when preparing for the referendum, the result was no relief. The prime minister who had promised the referendum had to resign and the Conservative party had to choose a new leader. However, the situation was not easier in the Labour party. Both major parties had to cope with the fact that their supporters were divided on the Brexit issue and that there were vehement supporters of the Leave campaign and of the Remain campaign among the MPs. Furthermore, whilst the result of the referendum gave a clear message that majority wants to leave the EU, it was not clear on what terms. At this point it was symptomatic that opinion leaders of the Leave campaign stepped aside and gave the floor to others.

So, the debate seemed to be have been concluded. The hard work for preparing the terms of departure and making the decisions started. Thoughts on that period will be presented in a further post.

More blogs to come …

PS1. Disclaimer: These are merely thoughts of the author – an observer from the European continent. Pontydysgu as an organisation is not responsible for the views presented above.

PS2. What could be a better musical theme for reflections on this period than “Let it be“?

 

Thoughts about Brexit – Part One: The difficult pre-history

February 1st, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

I thought that I could just have a good night sleep and then go on with everyday life. I didn’t want to take up this theme on my blog. But apparently my thoughts are still caught with the departure of the United Kingdom from the membership of the European Union – Brexit, as we have known this for years. Now that this has happened I need to put down some thoughts and then try to leave this topic with some lessons learned. I do not claim to be a historian or a political analyst – by no means. I have just been an observer – most of the time from afar but every now and then from a closer distance. So, there are observations based on European media and some personal memories mixed in the thoughts that I am writing below. It seems that I need to write a couple posts. Let us start with the pre-history, then to the campaigning and then to the negotiations and decision-making processes after the referendum of the year 2016 until the final departure.

The difficult process of becoming a Member State

Looking back, the process of becoming a Member State was not that simple and pleasant for the United Kingdom (UK). In the initial phase – as I have recently learned it from media – the six founding members tried to get the UK into the club. Due to the illnesses of the crucial government members the decisions were postponed and the membership as well.The six founding members formed the European Economic Community (EEC) and the UK joined a parallel organisation – the European Free Trade Area (EFTA).

Then, later on, when the UK government was willing to join the EEC, the membership was blocked by the French president Charles de Gaulle. Only after de Gaulle had stepped down, the French government was ready to accept the membership of the UK. This was already a bad omen – the UK had to prove that it qualified for membership. This was reflected in the fact that shortly afterwards a new government organised a referendum whether to go on with the membership. The majority voted for remaining.

The bargaining for British opt-outs and discounts

These tensions became part of the everyday life in the British EU membership. The governments were reserved about deeper integration of the Community into a Union. The processes that paved the way for deeper integration and introduction of new fields of common European policies were not easy. For European observers this phase of the British membership appeared as constant bargaining for British opt-outs or discounts. The famous quote of the (then) prime minister was: “I want my money back.” To be sure, changes in the British government brought also changes in the climate of European participation. Yet, due to many opt-outs there was a clear distance that prevailed.

The road to the 2016 referendum

In the light of the above it is no surprise that – in spite of the governments’ commitments to European cooperation – it was easy to blame the EU as a scapegoat or as the source of all evil. In the media and later on in the social media such reporting flourished. In both major parties there were euro-sceptic fractions and a new political party started campaigning for the departure from the EU membership. The hard years of economic and financial crisis – and in particular the hard measures to prevent state bankruptcy in some of weaker countries of the euro-zone – nurtured increasingly sceptical views on the European Union. At this point the government party leader made a promise to organise a referendum on the membership if the party wins the elections. The calculation was that with the new majority government the prime minister is powerful enough to negotiate new concessions with the EU and then have a strong position when organising the referendum. As we know, the history took a different course. But that is to be discussed in the next post.

More blogs to come … 

PS1. Disclaimer: These are merely thoughts of the author – an observer from the European continent. Pontydysgu as an organisation is not responsible for the views presented above.

PS2. What could be a better musical theme for reflecting this pre-history than “The Long and Winding Road“?

 

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