In the eighteen months since the Referendum virtually all the EU/Brexit news has been bad.. I haven't kept a list, but, off the cuff:
- citizens from other countries are increasingly abused and vilified on Britain's streets;
- a 15% or so depreciation in the value of the £ is feeding inflation, but not, so far, stimulating exports;
- the promise of £350m a week for the NHS turns out to be hollow, and those who made it say it was never meant to be taken seriously anyway.;
- industrial and commercial investment has stalled;
- we have slipped from being the fastest growing economy in the G7 to one of the slowest;
- a hidden (ie never mentioned in the Referendum campaign) decision to leave EURATOM, wiull hamper supplies of vital radioactive isotopes for, among others, the NHS;
- free trade deals with other countries are not, after all, two a penny, and those available will probably be on foreigners' terms (eg hormone-packed beef and chlorine-washed chicken from the US);
- banks are planning or threatening to relocate in continental centres: Frankfurt and Dublin often cited as likely bases for future financial hubs;
- EU institutions are moving out of London - the European Banking Authority to Paris and the European Medicines Agency to Amsterdam;
- the government has not after all conducted a detail examination of the likely effects of Brexit on various sectors of the economy, and our cabinet has not yet discussed what it eventually wants to achieve.
Now at last they have something to cheer. Mrs May, after a midnight flight to Brussels (which evokes memories of Chamberlain's flight to Germany and return with his bit of papers promising "peace in our time") has secured agreement to move on to the next stage of the negotiations.
In spite of the fact that this agreement has been achieved some two months later than was originally anticipated, she is for the moment the heroine of the hour.
However, we are accustomed to seeing, for example, budgets hailed on the day as works of genius by the incumbent chancellor, and unravelled a few days later after examination of the small print,
I suspect something similar will happen to this agreement.
- the divorce bill has rocketed from an initial "they can whistle" (Foreign Secretary Johnson) to €/£20bn and then almost doubled to around €/£40bn;
- the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the rest of the EU will continue to be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Count of Justice (ECJ) for a least eight years, though we shall no longer have any representation on the ECJ;
- ro avoid a "hard border" in Ireland regulations in Northern Ireland (and by implication, the rest of the UK) will be "aligned" to those of the to the EU..
I want to make it clear that the above anomalies are from the point of view of the Brexiteers, not me. If we must leave the EU I believe that our international reputation demands that we pay our full dues (eg for pensions and expenditure committed whilst we were member), with the amount determined by an independent arbiter. I am very happy to be subject to the decisions of the ECJ, as we are subject to the decisions of umpteen other international tribunals, and it is my firm belief that our regulations should not just be "aligned" to the EU, but we should remain as full and co-operative members of the Customs Union and Single Market, indeed of the EU itself, thus helping to make the regulations as well as obeying them.
Apart from the economic and social impacts of the Brexit obsession, I have two major worries.
First the four opening headlines on the BBC news a few days ago were:
- The Vice Chancellor of Bath Spa University was to be given a pay-off of £800millions (By contrast Job Seekers receive £71.10 a week. Asylum seekers, who are not allowed to work, must subsist on £36.95 a week, of which, says our Home Office, £24.39 is for food and £2.60 a week is designated for clothing)
- a government minister said that former ISIS fighters should not be allowed back into Britain but hounded to their deaths (no trial was mentioned and the rule of law ignored):
- the number waiting over the maximum of 4 hours for treatment in hospital Accident and Emergency Departments has increased by 120%. If that were measured in dozens that would be bad enough, but I believe the total is over 3 million:
- The Queen launched the world's most expensive warship, an aircraft carrier, and named it after herself, but it will be some years before we can afford to equip it with the necessary aircraft.
Second, although most concern is devoted to the economic damage that Brexit will cause, whatever it is we shall still be a wealthy nation and , if we have the political wilt to share our wealth equitably we can all live comfortable lives. No one need suffer economic hardship..
However,already our political influence is diminishing and will diminish even further outside the EU.
Which all our faults and limitations the UK has in the past made a positive contribution to the creation of a fairer and more liberal world, helping to create and promote the international rule of law. We are no longer the Great Power I was taught to think we were when Churchill sat with Truman and Roosevelt in my childhood. But inside the EU we are still among the "big hitters". Outside we shall sink to the third or fourth division.
At a time when the major power promoting and defending liberal democracy, the US, is in questionable hands, the world is surely looking for alternative leadership. This is no time to opt out.