Good old British arrogance

Why the Britain’s Brexit Negotiating Strategy Is Already Flawed

, by Willem Van Boxtel

Good old British arrogance
Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker meeting at 10 Downing Street. © Jay Allen (Number 10 // Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Media misrepresentation. Deliberate pre-election timing. Hardening of the other party’s stance. No, these are not accusations thrown around by the loose-worded Trump administration. They came from the steps of 10 Downing Street, the UK Prime Minister’s residence, and were aimed at the administration the UK will have to deal with over the next two years: the EU.[1]

In a statement on May 3rd, Prime Minister Theresa May attacked not only European officials who supposedly threaten Britain, she also accused the “continental press” of misrepresenting Britain’s negotiating position. All these acts, she claimed, were deliberately timed to affect the general election she has called for June 8th. She then went on to display her own benevolence and innocence for the remainder of her seven-minute speech.

In her rather extraordinary attack, reminiscent of Britain’s political climate in the 1960s and 70s, when Europe was seen as something the UK was not and would not ever be a part of, May also threw around the accusation that “some in Brussels do not want Britain to prosper.”[2] As far as election tactics go, this is a very well-known and effective one. Donald Trump’s everyone-is-against-me tactic gained him a great deal of support, and similar attitudes have helped mostly far-right politicians across the world. The sad thing about May using these Trump-like strategies is that the UK Conservatives, whose motives are, admittedly, sometimes questionable, at the very least usually pretended to use rational argument and thought-through policies. No more, it seems.

But rather than continuing to rant about the UK Prime Minister’s conduct lately – which, I assure the reader, I could do with pleasure – I would like to analyse some main points of her statement on the 3rd of May, and explain how they show the UK government’s attitude to Brexit and Europe is not only hypocritical, but arrogant, incorrect, and self-damaging.

Claim 1: “These acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election”

Sometimes, it is difficult to see how someone seemingly as intelligent as Theresa May could get something as fundamental as this so, so wrong. I wonder if she genuinely believes EU leaders could be so apocalyptically silly as to try to influence the UK general election, when experience tells us that if there is anything EU leaders would not do it would be to try to affect British voters. These kinds of actions always backfire – immensely. When Barack Obama came out in favour of Remain back in 2016 [3], rather than encouraging voters to support staying in the EU, the backlash by Leave spokespeople was immense – and effective.

During last year’s referendum campaign I spent quite considerable time leafleting in and around Birmingham, and one of the main points I was always – and sometimes rather aggressively – told was the utter resentment many Brexiteers feel towards established foreign politicians. If EU leaders truly did want to affect the UK election, they would employ completely different means of doing so than openly expressing their opinions on Theresa May’s cabinet decisions, and raising the suggested ‘divorce bill’ from €60bn to €100bn out in the open, in public, for everyone to judge. There are many ways to rig an election, and this is not one of them.

Claim 2: “Some in Brussels don’t want Britain to prosper.”

I was tempted to withhold comment on this plainly incorrect remark, and just quote Trump by saying nothing but “wrong”, but that would be lowering myself to May’s level. In short, even if this claim were true, I can understand why many in Europe would feel some kind of resentment towards the UK at present. After all, it was the ‘British people’ who in their thousands told Europe they were not good enough for them. It was the ‘British people’ who gave in to anti-European xenophobic sentiments. It was the ‘British people’ who told Europe they did not want any of Europe’s talent, labour, and intellect to immigrate to the UK.

But rather than voice the opinions I believe many Europeans feel towards the UK, European politicians have been extremely lenient and well-tempered towards the British government so far. To name but a few: Dutch PM Mark Rutte called for a down-to-earth attitude to Brexit just a few days ago, and told reporters he was confident negotiations would end positively;[4] and Italy’s Matteo Renzi told the BBC he aimed for the “best alliance between the UK and the EU.”[5] These don’t seem like unsympathetic calls to me.

But time and again these calls were ignored by British media – a subject discussed below – and are now being systematically disregarded by May and her government. Of course, this feeds into the popular voting tactic of everyone-is-against-me which will certainly help May in her electoral performance this June. As for the seeming hardening of the EU’s negotiating stance, I believe EU leaders realise the UK desires the impossible: the British government aims for full access to the EU’s single market, but refuses to allow freedom of movement in the EU. This may or may not have something to do with EU leaders being fed up – I would be. This is arrogance. This is hypocrisy.

Claim 3: “The British negotiating position has been misrepresented in the continental press.”

But perhaps the most arrogant and hypocritical of all claims made in May’s speech is this. How dare she, how dare she accuse continental media of “misrepresenting” the UK’s Brexit position? If there is any national press that constantly engages in deliberate, unfaltering, xenophobic misrepresentation of Brexit, it is the UK’s gutter press. Sewage paper masquerading as sensible news outlets such as the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Sun, which do not only actively spread lies to the British electorate, but constantly fail to accurately report the EU’s stance on Brexit and the possible consequences of Brexit. It did so during the referendum campaign, and it has continued to do so after the 23rd of June 2016.[6]

I am not one who usually justifies a political point by attacking media outlets, but May has actually lost touch with reality on this. I realise some media sources in the UK have a definite pro-EU bias, as well (the Mirror and the Guardian spring to mind) but none of these are as strident as the Brexiteer press has been. To attack the media as an established cabinet politician is extraordinary. The UK is becoming the fifty-first state.

So all in all, Theresa May has her work cut out for her if she attempts to arrogantly attack the EU leaders she will have to negotiate with over the next two years. For EU citizens in the UK like myself, and many other kind-hearted Brits, it is not just embarrassing and concerning, but a threat to our welfare. We can only hope EU leaders, national and supranational, stand up to this sudden bloat of arrogance, ignorance, and sheer hypocrisy from the UK government. It truly is a shame the UK has descended into this kind of behaviour, when its future was so bright. I will leave the reader with an often overlooked quote from a British national hero, Winston Churchill, from whom Theresa May can learn a great deal:

We hope to reach again a Europe united but purged of the slavery of ancient, classical times – a Europe in which men will be proud to say, ‘I am European.’ We hope to see a Europe where men of every country will think as much of being a European as of belonging to their native land, and that without losing any part of their love and loyalty to their birthplace. We hope wherever they go in this wide domain, to which we set no limits in the European continent, they will truly feel ‘Here I am at home. I am a citizen of this country too.’ Winston Churchill Amsterdam, 9th May 1948

References

1: Kuensserg, L. (2017) Theresa May accuses EU of trying to affect UK election. BBC News, 3rd May. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-39787353 [Accessed 05/04/2017]

2: Bloom, D. (2017) Watch Theresa May’s full extraordinary attack on EU leaders and read the transcript. The Daily Mirror, 3rd May. Available at http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/watch-theresa-mays-full-extraordinary-10348693 [Accessed 05/04/2017]

3: BBC News (2016) Obama urges UK not to leave EU. 7th June. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-europe-33042038/obama-urges-uk-not-to-leave-eu [Accessed 05/05/2017]

4: Van Slooten, B. (2017) Rutte: kalmte geboden bij brexit-onderhandelingen. NOS, 29th April. Available at http://nos.nl/artikel/2170731-rutte-kalmte-geboden-bij-brexit-onderhandelingen.html [Accessed 07/05/2017]

5: BBC News (2016) Brexit: Italian PM warns UK over EU rights. 29th September. Available from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-37502578 [Accessed 07/05/2016]

6: Sommers, J. (2016) Brexit Newspaper Front Pages: The Daily Express and Daily Mail’s Splashes After Shock Referendum Result. Huffington Post, 23rd June. Available from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/brexit-newspaper-front-pages-leave-supporting-papers-dont-mention-market-carnage-on-historic-front-pages_uk_576d9d02e4b08d2c56392f46 [Accessed 07/05/2017]

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