Can we have a deal with Theresa May ?
President Trump has left the UK leaving behind a field of political ruins. He humiliated the British Prime Minister, he insulted the Mayor of London, he showed a corporal language reminding me of old filmed reports showing Mussolini telling lies to his people. Britain has shown itself so weak that there was even no reaction at all to all the gaffes of a notorious liar. The Murdoch Press has shown that it is a dangerous helper of fascism. The special relationship should be held with the good and reasonable America, not with the destructive forces of Trump’s populism.
At the same time the Prime Minister is in domestic turmoil – as President Trump correctly observed. She tried to rally the Cabinet behind her in Chequers with the result of Boris Johnson and David Davis resigning. These resignations were overdue, but now she is facing an even stronger resistance from hardcore Brexiteers in her party who may be reinforced by the new backbenchers. These people want a no-deal-scenario with the EU, they would even have sympathy with Trump’s idea of sueing the EU. The influence of a fascist like Steve Bannon is manifest in such circles.
The Labour Party is still in similar turmoil because only being in opposition let’s the party of Jeremy Corbyn get away with the continued ambiguity on Brexit.
The EU has an interest in a stable, friendly, and reliable British government, a flourishing Britain inside the EU, or a good and fair partner outside the EU. But with whom can such a deal be concluded ?
How can the EU rely on any agreement with a Prime Minister who is not commanding a clear majority for her proposals, who has no leeway for a flexible negotiation, and whose proposals may be worth nothing whenever a leadership challenge leads to another constellation either of far right Tories or far left Corbynites ruling the country? How can any agreement be concluded when the British Parliament believes it could tear up any treaty whenever majorities change.
It is true: sometimes agreements have to be hammered out even with very unreliable partners (as armistices are often concluded even if they just hold over some hours) . But a comprehensive deal may not be possible with the existing political class in Britain. It does not make sense to give concessions to Theresa May if in the end this only helps her adversaries and does not lead to a stable and reliable agreement. There seems to be no majority for any solution.
The EU is in turmoil itself about migration policy, financial stability, and still unsettled problems of democracy in Poland and Hungary. An agreement with Britain that disrupts the sensitive balance inside the EU will not command any majority in the European Parliament.
The jingoistic press and extremist politicians still have a grip over a huge number of British voters. Many still believe that the consequences of Brexit are just fantasies of Project Fear. May be only the experience of a cliff edge may have a sobering effect. The EU must now study the possibility of some more interim agreements to overcome the first time after a possible cliff edge trauma. The timetable is there and Britain will leave on 29 March 2019.
Time is running out, the proposals from Chequers come far too late for a negotiation process that has to be concluded in a few months. So there are only three realistic solutions: stay inside the EU possibly based on an election fought on that issue or based on another referendum, or take a solution off the shelve like the Canada CETA free trade agreement, or even the Norway model – including free movement untouched! – (the Swiss model is far too complex for such a short time left) or the cliff edge.
The EU is already quite ambivalent on a possible second referendum especially if it leads to the UK is staying in the EU. Such a torn and divided country with preposterous politicians like Jacob Rees-Mogg or Boris Johnson, or socialist dreamers like Jeremy Corbyn may be a partner who will only create havoc inside the EU as it is creating havoc at home now. I would love Brexit to be reversed, but I know that many in Europe now even fear that.
The Chequers proposal may be dead on arrival, so let’s take the CETA-model from the shelve and negotiate about any additional co-operation later and with more time to cool off the extremists and may be even split the Tories and strengthen the political centre by having a more proportional electoral syistem. A border in the Irish Sea can be managed for some time, another more encompassing agreement could then be negotiated in a more calm atmosphere. A Customs Union may be an option again after experience will have shown the weakness of Britain when it goes alone in trade negotiations with third countries.
If this way is not wanted, Parliament must act and act quickly: decide immediately that a full Customs Union must be negotiated, and alternatively the UK would stay in the EU. The two houses could state that after it became clear that the tiny majority for Brexit was the result of fraud, lies, foreign interference and disinformation, there are no more reasons left to believe that the result on June 23, 2016 did really express the will of the people and that Parliament will therefore exert its sovereign right to declare that fraudulent result null and void.