On Monday we looked at the future of the UK and EU. Yesterday, my thoughts turned into front page news.
Prime Minister Theresa May threatened the EU with its worst fear. Turning the UK into a low-tax and business-friendly environment risks exposing the EU as an economic drag instead of a successful trading bloc. Doing a quick trade deal with the US would add a dose of humiliation.
The big problem with May’s plan is supposedly that she can’t have her cake with a cherry on top. That’s according to President Donald Tusk’s Instagram. A senior EU diplomat told Express why:
They don’t understand the argument that if we give too much flexibility the whole thing will fall apart because everyone will want an a la carte deal. We’ve said this over again but they don’t want to hear it.
That’s right, the EU would be undermined if countries demand what’s in their best interests… Doesn’t that tell you plenty about the nature of the EU?
As I explained on Monday, a Europe that cooperates instead of complies is a perfectly possible. In fact, it’s already a reality. Borders are up inside Europe. EU refugee policy is being ignored. One nation after another is flouting EU rules wherever it suits them. The UK is just honourable enough to leave before it does so…
The EU might be able to keep up the charade of unity until May, when it holds the next European parliament elections. Sadly, Brexit is scheduled for March. So, unless there’s an agreement to delay, the UK won’t get the benefit of negotiating with a newly eurosceptic EU.
Unable to claim the Chequers cherry, the UK cabinet now seems to be turning back to the free trade deal option. That’s something the EU and UK previously ruled out. It would either require a land border in Ireland or keeping Northern Ireland inside the customs union.
The obsession with the land border makes me chuckle every time. As though it isn’t easier to ship smuggled items across the Irish Sea or English Channel anyway. Perhaps there’s a reason our founder Bill Bonner set up in Waterford…
We’ve looked into the Irish border topic plenty of times. But I didn’t realise how much you can learn from Gibraltar’s history. According to a New Statesman article from back in 2015, the rock has some interesting lessons for Ireland.
The rock in the EU’s shoe
The Spanish and the EU have a rather odd relationship with Gibraltar. It became part of the EU with Britain in 1973, but not part of Schengen.
Because Spain wasn’t part of the EU yet, and insisted on keeping the border closed, Gibraltar wasn’t included in the customs union or the common agricultural policy either. Doing so would’ve left it isolated – forced to comply with the EU, but stuck far away from it.
The Spanish still like to reject Gibraltar’s status as being part of a foreign country, but they do like the idea of imposing a border there…
This reminds me of the microstate Liberland. Neighbouring countries dispute its existence, but place border guards at its borders…
My friend the President of Liberland likes to joke his borders are the most heavily guarded in Europe, despite everyone denying there is a border there to be guarded… (He said that before the migrant crisis though.)
The local police go on to arrest people on land their government claims to have ceded. Liberland settlers have taken to boats to avoid being chased through the forest on regular raids.
Back to Gibraltar. The Spanish tried to isolate the peninsula, which led to its prosperity. Instead of being stuck with the EU’s stupid rules, Gibraltar flourished. Partnerships were formed with all sorts of other communities instead of Spain, including Morocco and a Jewish community. Low taxes and regulation allowed the financial sector to flourish.
Eventually, as part of its accession to the EU, Spain was forced to open the border and give up claims to Gibraltar. But it fought the issue, especially on having to open the border. Which is one reason why it took Spain 12 years to get into the EU. It simply didn’t want to respect the EU’s four freedoms…
The fascinating part is when the border was closed in the first place. General Franco closed it in 1969. Now the EU wants to…
The point being that the issue of a border in Ireland is far from new. Messing about with borders is practically a European tradition. Closing borders and having open borders despite regulatory differences didn’t necessarily cause trouble in the past.
It’s even possible to be part of the EU, but not the common agricultural policy and customs union. Meanwhile Theresa May is campaigning on the reverse. Out of the EU, but in the customs union…
And it’s not just Gibraltar that’s odd. Toby Young encouraged all sorts of confusion with his statement that “there hasn’t been a hard border in Ireland since 1923 when the Common Travel Area was first established.” What is a hard border?
I remember being smuggled into Switzerland under a green blanket in the back of the family car because my parents had forgotten my passport at the hotel. The Swiss border had no checks coming out, but spot checks going in.
The EU refusing a free trade deal because of a land border with Ireland is immensely amusing given the internal borders which popped up in Austria and Hungary.
Amidst this complete confusion, it is no wonder May thought she could do a deal. Everyone else has, historically.
But let’s turn to the UK’s internal politics. Which are no less entertaining.
Swap party leaders
If news out of the Labour camp is to be believed, the leaders of our two political parties are in quite a state.
We’ve got a Remainer prime minister trying to deliver Brexit, and a lifelong eurosceptic opposition leader who is trying to sneak in a Remain vote via a second referendum.
Clearly Labour and the Conservatives need to swap leaders. Or why not send Jeremy Corbyn to the EU as our Brexit negotiator? They socialists there would like him much better.
But wait, because it gets worse.
The Remainer PM who is trying to deliver Brexit is actually subverting Brexit by pushing for a deal that is Brexit in name only.
Meanwhile, the eurosceptic opposition leader’s reluctant plans for a new referendum make a Brexit more likely than ever by distancing the electorate.
Voting a second time is sure to cause some epic controversy. Can you imagine what the leadup to a second referendum would look like? It’d likely turn downright vile.
Brexit voters would paint Remainers as anti-democratic, which is deeply ironic given Remainers are pushing for a referendum. It’d be almost the reverse to the positions in the last referendum.
I’m honestly not sure what Remainers would be campaigning on. The idea that people don’t know what they voted for, and that a second referendum is needed because people can change their minds, sound a bit odd. It implies constant referendums and elections on every possible issue each time new information emerges or polls swing.
I’m not even sure which billboard messages would support which side. Placards declaring “democracy” and “the people’s vote” could encourage votes either way…
Personally, I’d love to see a billboard featuring the mugs of the EU’s three presidents with this tagline: “You can’t vote for any of us, but you can vote for all of us.”
I say we do a Gibraltar. Remain in the EU and escape the customs union and common agricultural policy. Just to confuse everyone.
Until next time,
Capital & Conflict