Revolutions always eat their own: May will now use free movement and its deliberate mischaracterisation as solely an immigration issue against the ERG Brexiteers the way they used it against Remainers
The current withdrawal deal will only contain political declarations when it comes to this country’s service industries which comprise as much as 80% of the UK economy of which close to half is directed to the Single European Market. Even if one is conservative in estimating their numbers, the PM has decided that it is in the national interest for 37% of the UK economy to leave the certainty of the Single Market for what in essence is a no deal Brexit for the service industries.
This part of our economy - the creative, scientific, and technology sectors, in addition, to the non-scientific research industries (ever increasing in their own right due to data processing and other computer technology) will only continue to grow.
The individuals and businesses in these industries now face not only the uncertainty of not knowing what access they will have to the Single Market after the transition period, but also basic restrictions on the key element of a successful business in these industries, the free movement of individuals (brain capital and freedom), in essence on the individualism which underpins their businesses and their future growth.
Moreover by leaving the Single Market in this manner or not negotiating a complete trade relationship now, the May government risks losing access to the future single digital market which is emerging within the EU. This combined with the fact that the EU will now use the harmonisation of copyright and contract law across their markets as a protectionist measure will result in the the UK’s creative, media, software, and communications industries being put an inherent disadvantage.
The withdrawal deal is a deal which results in the country no longer having a say in making the laws that will apply to it on goods, has no guaranteed access to the European markets for services after the transition period, and will only have political declarations for the remaining aspects of our trade relationship.
While leaving the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is a plus, one would think that considering how much has been ceded on the trade of goods with no guaranteed agreement on services, that British negotiators would have ensured that leaving the CFP would be viewed as a given and not a concession made by the EU for which they would expect a quid pro quo. And if this was the case then it either shows the weakness of the UK bargaining position or May’s poor handling of the negotiations as far to much was given away on goods without any immediate return on services.
Once more Northern Ireland has either covered up the UK’s weak bargaining position and mandate or the PM has allowed it to be exploited by the EU negotiators because she could not control her own caucus who would have rebelled against her leadership and government had she prevented the Irish border from becoming a bargaining chip by negotiating a trade relationship at this time and not leaving it for future negotiations.
That would have required her to bring out into the open the compromises necessary to obtain the best deal for the country which in actuality would start to look like a reformed EU such as for instance accepting free movement subject to emergency breaks.
This then would have resulted in a second requirement. Her to stare down the Leavers and Brexiteers and challenge their interpretation of the 2016 referendum.
But this would risk her personally losing power and splitting her party. This despite the 2017 elections where she played a hard Brexit card and lost her majority in a campaign which saw Labour purposefully muddy the waters on the Single Market including free movement.
It would also have resulted in the Conservatives losing face by having to admit the missteps of the Cameron and May governments. Specifically when Cameron first negotiated with the EU in January 2016, his Remain campaign, the conduct of Leave Tory MPs during the campaign, May’s misjudgment in calling and conducting the 2017 election and her subsequent deal with the DUP when Northern Ireland as a whole voted Remain.
The PM’s, her government’s and this generation of conservatives’ weakness stem from the fact that they do not have the political mandate to implement a policy which is not in the national interest and which has them reaching for beyond their grasp in order to stay in power.
The result, is that we have a withdrawal agreement based in politics and not economics and where the parameters or framework have been drawn not by national interests or in a manner reflecting the country’s divisions but one reflecting Tory divisions and meant to control the Brexit ideologues.
Unsurprisingly this has not worked as what the Prime Minister has now delivered is not enough for the ERG Brexiteers whose votes against the withdrawal deal will with some irony serve and be needed by Remainers who want to stop this withdrawal deal and obtain a second referendum.
More irony is however found in the fact that PM May will now use the mischaracterisation of the EU mobility right as solely an immigration issue and will fan the flames on ending free movement (as she did at the Tory conference in October, during the 2017 election, and after the draft withdrawal agreement was reached) not only against Remainers but against and to outflank the ERG and other Brexiteers into accepting her deal.
So in a prime example of revolutions eating their own, Leavers/Brexiteers such as former Parliamentary conservative candidate Iain Dale find themselves preferring remaining in the EU to May’s deal. As however his preferred option of no deal (over May’s deal) or even no deal over remaining is not feasible without going back to the people, the idea of a second referendum with three options on the ballot garners even more strength.
The Prime Minister will make this about ending free movement because she believes it is a winning issue just like the Leave campaign did in 2016. She may be right but I doubt it just as I doubt that these past two years have been about the “will of the people” or national interests as opposed to keeping the conservative party in power and their party from splitting as it certainly has not been about the 48%.
John Nucciarone is a Canadian and member of the New York Bar currently living in London. All views are wholly his own.