“We do not negotiate taking back control,” the MP John Redwood sniffed yesterday in an article for Comment Central, “that is a contradiction in terms.” Nonetheless, negotiations are what we have today instead of revolutionary oomph, the paralysis of Brest-Litovsk instead of the urgency of “Peace-Bread-Land,” and it is fruitful to note the disparity between how the two sides are being currently represented in the media.
The UK’s three swashbuckling Brexiteers – Liam Fox, David Davis, and Boris Johnson – are widely ridiculed in commentary and cartoons for their squabbling, supposed backstabbing, and indecisiveness. Yet all three are elected politicians – in the future, they will all place themselves in front of living voters again and ask to be judged on their achievements. When it comes to everybody on the Left’s favourite pseudo-elected, almost-democratic international organisation, though, then there is naturally no scrutiny or accountability whatsoever.
The European Union’s chief negotiators appear to have been elected by the sparrows. Michel Barnier (unelected) and Sabine Weyand (unelected) have been appointed to lead the EU’s Brexit department by President Jean-Claude Juncker (indirectly elected). Whatever they negotiate will be plunged whole into that famed cauldron of political ferment, the European Parliament (elected, albeit on a continent-wide average turnout of 42.6%). Under any criteria for democratic legitimacy, it begs the question: is the EU, at least as it is now manifested, really up to the Brexit negotiations?
Of course, the UK government can never feasibly choose who it negotiates with. Our government never kicks Iranian ministers out of top-table discussions because they are not satisfactorily representative of the Iranian people. Note the analogy that I have here smuggled past you – yes, when we are dealing with the EU, it is as unimpressive as all other battered tinpot.
The Brexit negotiations will be a settlement with the peoples of Europe, and this settlement will profoundly shape the economy of our continent for many years to come. It will be complicated, since Europe’s individual nations each have widely different levels of immigration from and to the UK, and different amounts of imports and exports from and to our economy.
Now clear your head. I am asking the impossible of you. Just try to imagine that the EU was actually a functioning democracy, and that people from all around Europe wanted to employ its user-friendly apparatus to decide the great questions about Brexit. What would this look like? Would each country elect their own member of the EU’s Brexit team, a conspicuous personage who everybody could lobby about their own interests? Well, you might splutter, would it not be easier to use the Foreign Ministers who are already at each nation’s disposal? You could surely weight their voting influence in some fair, democratic way? Why do we need quite so many representatives?
And with this, the inevitable perfidy of the EU is exposed. The reason why the luckless serfs of Europe cannot tell whether President Juncker or President Tusk, Michel Barnier or Guy Verhofstadt, Angela Merkel or Count Dracula, is in overall charge, is because this calculated anarchy ensures that the electorates remain disempowered and that they keep their noses out of Europe’s future.
Perhaps we should negotiate only with politicians who are as elected as David Davis is, and if the EU cannot produce anything resembling an elected politician, then we should negotiate with national Foreign Ministers. Or perhaps we should just forget about the Single Market altogether, since its leadership is under no democratic control, and just get by under WTO rules. Might not Theresa May’s “the best deal for the British people” be a prioritisation of our democracy, our foremost value, over the rubble of capitalism?
Horror in the European Parliament! Steven Woolfe, that doyen of intellectual Ukippers, is on the floor – he’s not getting up again – he’s being carted off to hospital – there are ominous references to bleeding-on-the-brain – to epileptic seizures! The media are agog… but they are also frustratingly far away.
What emerges from this story is quite how empty the EU’s chosen appearance of democracy really is. Never mind the improbable absence of security personnel, the strangest feature of Woolfe’s descent to the floor of this toy parliament is that the BBC had no correspondent there to cover it. On yesterday’s Radio 4 news roundup The World at One, the story was broken by Glen Campbell, from a Westminster studio. The BBC later had resort to its Europe Correspondent, Damian Grammaticas, who was over two hundred miles away in Brussels; and Tara Palmeri, a Politico reporter in Strasbourg (whose name the Beeb could not spell correctly in its rolling online coverage).
Let us just contemplate how remarkable this is. The European Parliament was admittedly based in its Strasbourg getaway cottage (due to a treaty obligation, it has to shuttle between Brussels and Strasbourg every month). But even so: we are all still “citizens” of the EU; we are all supposed to elect representatives to its parliament; and so you would think that the UK’s biggest broadcaster might actually have a journalist in the building, to cover what our representatives are up to.
Theresa May has so far evinced the same talent as Alex Salmond for knitting together a centrist administration out of threadbare leftovers. Yet what a curious electoral product she is unveiling before us! It is basically a UKIP-Labour coalition government, manned exclusively by Tories. The Foreign, International Trade, and Education portfolios all go to UKIP, with Brexit and grammar schools on the agenda. The easing of austerity and the statist snorts consign most of the economy to have-a-go Blairites.
The paradox of UK politics is that the most politically conscious amongst us tend to be stuck in the 1980s, when there were straightforward ideological differences between Labour/the SNP and the Tories. In this tuneful time warp, social democrats are always grooving to save public services from dastardly privatisers and free-marketeers. May has calculated that a post-2020 Tory government will be maintained in office by a coalition of appreciative working-class former Ukippers and do-gooding middle-class former Ed Miliband supporters. This might render the vociferous nostalgia of many political narratives, which are already under terminal strain, ever more meaningless.