Monday, January 11, 2016

How to Win Friends and Influence People

There's a hilarious article in the Guardian making the case that the EU has indulged Britain enough over this silly renegotiation lark, and what's needed now is some bloodcurdling threats about the terrible things the EU will do to us if we have the temerity to leave. Obviously, it being the Guardian, the first thing to do is to define your enemy - more Scots currently want to remain in the EU than do the rest of the UK, so we can take the Scots out, while the Welsh and Northern Irish despite polling showing they want to leave can be ignored because they "have far less influence". So the enemy is "the English".
Step one is to ask if this referendum is actually a once in a lifetime opportunity to cut the English loose. Why not let them simmer in their splendid irrelevance for a decade or more, and then allow them back in – provided they ask really, really nicely.
The basis behind this, behind the article as a whole, is that the UK's status is a function solely of its membership of the EU. Without that, it is splendidly irrelevant. Which must come as a surprise to the UN Security Council and NATO, not to mention the G7.
The United States values Britain as its proxy seat at the European table. With that seat empty, why would Washington keep its poodle?
The US are obviously opposed to the UK leaving the EU. But what concrete policy changes would happen as regards bi-lateral relations if it did? Most examples of US-UK co-operation are bi-lateral anyway (Trident for one, and most foreign policy initiatives for another).
Meanwhile half of British trade is with the EU, but only 11% of EU trade is with Britain. 
Worth identifying what that trade is though. The UK runs a thumping trade deficit with the EU - we buy stuff from them, and sell much less stuff back to them, The area in which the UK is most strong -services - is not part of the Free Market (which kinda shows how much influence we have in setting economic policy).
Yes, we would strangle or crush the English in the post-Brexit negotiations, the way any group of nations comprising 450 million people would to an opponent eight times smaller who has just tried to blackmail them.
Hmm. He comes back to this later, in more detail . As a starting point, however, it's worth pointing out that we're all members of the WTO, and the scope for punitive tariffs (for example) is limited. Even if it weren't however, the threat of levying tariffs (like Russia has done) is the threat to make your own citizens poorer - it's imports that make people richer, and they can't force the UK to enforce import tariffs.
This is why the best way forward for Europe is to threaten to hit the English as hard as we can. We must stop treating membership of the EU as a favour granted by England, and instead make the English feel their vulnerability and dependence...In other words, the English attitude towards the EU is transactional rather than transformational – therefore appealing to the European ideal or England’s better self is pointless. Instead we need to spell out all the ways in which we will make the English suffer if they leave.
Historically, threatening to crush or destroy the English has been sub-optimal in terms of outcomes.
So let us start talking now, out loud in Brussels as well as in Europe’s opinion pages and in national parliaments, about the offer we are going to make to the Scots, should they prefer Brussels to London in the event of Brexit.
Probably better square that with Spain and Belgium first, unless you want that offer to be "you can't join the EU".
Let’s also discuss in which ways we are going to repatriate financial powers from London to the European mainland. It is strange enough that Europe’s financial centre lies outside the eurozone, but to have it outside the EU? That would be like placing Wall Street in Cuba.
I don't know what financial powers he thinks the EU has ceded to the UK that could be "repatriated", or what effect he thinks that would have on the City. Much (most?) of the City's work is with non-EU members - the US, the Far East, the Middle East and everywhere else. If it were possible to create a European financial centre by fiat, I think Frankfurt might have done it by now. Also, if he thinks it's weird that a financial centre should be located offshore of a large economic entity, he needs to travel a bit.
Clearly multinational corporations from China, Brazil or the US cannot have their European HQs outside the EU. So let’s have an EU summit about which European capitals these headquarters should ideally move to.
Because that's how multi-nationals make their location decisions - on the basis of EU summits telling them where they should go to.
Or consider the UK-based Japanese car industry – would Greece, with its excellent port and shipping facilities, not be its ideal new home?
Oh yes. I'm sure Nissan would be itching to move the most productive car plant in Europe to the country with the lowest productivity in the EU. Oh, what's that?
If Britons voted to leave the EU, "life would carry on," he said. "We would continue to find ways to invest."
Ah.
This is the chief problem for those in England trying to make the EU case: they must acknowledge first how irrelevant and powerless their country has become. Except that is still a huge taboo.
Funnily enough, this is untrue in two different directions. First, the UK is a long, long way from being irrelevant and powerless. Fifth largest economy in the world. Member of the UN Security Council. Member of NATO. And that's before we look at the more intangible side of things at which, it turns out, the UK is supremely good:
Britain scored highly in its “engagement” with the world, its citizens enjoying visa-free travel to 174 countries—the joint-highest of any nation—and its diplomats staffing the largest number of permanent missions to multilateral organisations, tied with France. Britain’s cultural power was also highly rated: though its tally of 29 UNESCO World Heritage sites is fairly ordinary, Britain produces more internationally chart-topping music albums than any other country, and the foreign following of its football is in a league of its own (even if its national teams are not). It did well in education, too—not because of its schools, which are fairly mediocre, but because its universities are second only to America’s, attracting vast numbers of foreign students.
Secondly, wittering on about how irrelevant and powerless the UK has become has been a national obsession for well over a century. We love talking about how weak and feeble we are, regardless of whether it's objectively true or not.

Brilliantly, the author concludes by saying what a waste the renegotiation is anyway, as the UK ought to have focused on CAP reform (as if the UK hasn't been banging on about this fruitlessly ever since the 1970s) and the pointless parallel Brussels/Strasbourg situation. In other words, if only Britain had contented itself by harmlessly asking France to cancel things that it will never cancel, everything would be fine.
Instead he has set his sights on largely symbolic measures aimed at humiliating and excluding European migrants, safeguarding domestic interests versus those of the eurozone and, no surprises here, guarantees for London’s financial sector.
Imagine that, a national leader asking for reforms and safeguards in the national interest! Scandalous.

I'm sure there's an intelligent and reasoned article to write about how the EU can collectively put pressure on the UK to vote to remain in the EU (although I'm equally sure that an external Project Fear would be massively counter-productive). I'm absolutely sure that this wasn't it.

3 Comments:

Blogger Recusant said...

Hear, hear!

2:24 pm  
Anonymous mike fowle said...

Good post and good to see you back.

4:17 pm  
Blogger Tim J said...

Thanks! Will try and post more often, but you know how it is

10:12 am  

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