So today brings Theresa May’s much anticipated and heavily trailed speech on Britain’s future relationship with the EU, an exercise that is as much about appeasing the Europhobic tendency on the right of her own party as it is about practical politics. Even before she has spoken, the EU-bashing usual suspects in the press have spoken rapturously about the event. But what it may presage does not get a look-in.
While the Murdoch Sun - which had to admit it was part of the Leave campaign - announces “May’s ‘Global Britain’ Vision … PM to set 12 demands … Clean EU break vow … Great Brexpectations”, the UKIP-backing Express bawls triumphantly “At last, the news we’ve been waiting for … WE WILL GET CLEAN BREAK FROM EU” and the Mail continues Paul Dacre’s embarrassing schoolboy crush on the PM with “THERESA’S NEW FREE BRITAIN” (yes, we’ll be giving it away), a worrying reality awaits elsewhere.
The ever-alert Adam Bienkov, now at Business Insider UK, was among the first to call out the back-up plan in the May negotiating strategy: “Theresa May is ready to turn the UK into a low-tax, low-regulation haven after Brexit, her spokesperson confirmed today”. There was more. “Asked whether the prime minister backed comments made by the Chancellor Philip Hammond that the UK could be forced to abandon its ‘European economy with European style taxation’ her spokesperson said she ‘stands ready to do so’”.
Hammond had told the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag “Most of us who had voted Remain would like the UK to remain a recognisably European-style economy with European-style taxation systems, European-style regulation systems etc … I personally hope we will be able to remain in the mainstream of European economic and social thinking. But if we are forced to be something different, then we will have to become something different”. Bienkov has now been backed by ITV political editor Robert Peston.
Peston has been working his contacts around Westminster and has now told “we will be out of the customs union … [Ms May] will ‘grudgingly’ allow for a short period of [transition] to a new trade deal”. And then came the sting in the tail.
“May will make clear that the UK will default to slashing taxes and regulation if we don’t agree an acceptable trade deal with the EU - in other words she will say ‘be nice or it’s commercial war’”. One can only wonder what some of those Leave voters think about that.
That our Government is so devoid of negotiating nous that it is prepared to threaten some kind of economic “scorched earth” policy should worry anyone not rich enough to care about such niceties. Any kind of trade war means uncertainty, which is anathema to any significantly sized business. It also suggests that some of those involved have allowed themselves to believe the press claims that the EU needs us more than we need them.
And any Trades Union that backed Brexit must now know they have been had for mugs. Their members are set to be royally shafted. As to all those working class voters UKIP has been targeting - they will feel the full force of being made even more flexible, even more disposable, even less protected than before. It’s always the little people who lose out.
Meanwhile, the press, who dropped us in this mess, will continue to exercise “power without responsibility” and tell their readers it’s someone else’s fault. No change there.