Negotiations on the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union are proceeding along the expected and extremely painful scenario for Boris Johnson
The so-called Brexit no-deal is on its way, that is the catapulting of Britain from the European Union without any clear agreements on how London and Brussels will interact further. The prospect of such a development raises sharp and unpleasant emotions among the British public, as well as in the business community, which will have to experience the consequences of severing economic ties and the likely imposition of European tariffs, which will in fact be nothing less than economic sanctions.
To understand the seriousness of the situation, one need only consider one element of the UK’s preparations for life after Brexit: Her Majesty’s government has advised retailers to stockpile food to meet the needs of a food-strapped population. Reuters also reports, citing The Sunday Times, that “Ministers have asked suppliers of medicines, medical devices and vaccines to stockpile for six weeks at safe locations in the United Kingdom”.
According to the same source, Boris Johnson will personally manage the operation to save the UK from food and medicine outages. If he shows the same ingenuity and ingenuity in this matter as he did in the Brexit negotiations, the people of Britain can only be truly sympathetic.
However, it cannot be said that Boris Johnson’s government does nothing to protect British national pride. The problem is that the measures aimed at demonstrating London’s inflexibility and determination to fight for the national interest range from ineffective to downright comical.
The Times reports, “Royal Navy police will be given the power to arrest French and other EU fishermen who illegally enter UK waters in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a diplomatic deal. The government is preparing legislation to extend the powers of naval police to board foreign vessels and arrest fishermen amid fears of a power clash in the Channel. The Royal Navy is also prepared to deploy four patrol ships to stop and even seize EU fishing vessels if they illegally enter the Channel after leaving the EU without a deal.”
One cannot help noticing that if the situation has reached the point where forceful operations are being prepared to seize European fishermen and their vessels, it is a clear sign that relations between London and Brussels have reached the point of outright mutual hatred and refusal to observe even the minimum level of decency in the name of maintaining the former “pan-European solidarity”.
Given that Johnson himself accused the European Union back in September of preparing a (probably maritime) food blockade of the UK and especially Northern Ireland, one can conclude that we are facing not a momentary excess, but the result of a systemic degradation of relations between the UK and the EU – both sides view their opponents solely through the prism of causing maximum damage.
The parties to the conflict may seem to be behaving in a relatively irrational manner: creating another enemy is a bad idea from the point of view of EU strategic interests, but turning the EU into an eternal source of problems and difficulties is an even worse idea from the point of view of UK interests. The problem is that in fact both sides are behaving rationally, just guided by a specific logic: the EU, in order to avoid the threat of a repeat of Brexit as performed by Italy, Finland or Poland and Hungary, needs to inflict as much damage on the UK as possible. Every story about food shortages in the UK, if you look at it from the perspective of the fanatics of European integration, is propaganda material aimed at creating a simple and understandable reflex among EU residents: “if you vote to leave the EU, you will have nothing to eat, no money and no aspirin in pharmacies either”.
If we look at the situation through the eyes of Boris Johnson, it is even simpler: the proposals to resolve the UK’s exit from the EU, which would preserve some more or less adequate economic cooperation and mutual access to European and British markets, include a requirement that the UK actually comply with all Brussels’ directives in terms of economic stimulus (that is, its absence), technical regulations and elements of domestic labour market regulation – to avoid the UK becoming a In this case, as Johnson himself rightly points out (and this is the rarest case when a British prime minister does not lie, which is surprising in itself), Britain is being asked to agree in advance not only to current, but also to future EU rules, and without any possibility of influencing these rules. London is being offered the status of a powerless colony of Brussels simply as punishment for Brexit, which greatly offended European officials.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Sky News: “I think the EU is concerned that Britain might actually succeed when we leave the EU and is worried about competitive advantage – even with the application of normal global rules.” There is a rational point to this statement: both the EU and the UK operate in international trade under WTO rules, which in theory should be the norm for their interaction in terms of market access to each other in the absence of a Brexit deal. But Britons fear that the EU will immediately impose barrier tariffs against the UK, aimed at stifling British companies and depriving the country of investment, and effectively shutting off access to the European market.
The Guardian gives an example of the consequences of such an approach: “Nissan is among the many manufacturers who say they have no plan B in the event of the UK splitting from the EU single market. The auto industry expects prices to rise for consumers following the introduction of the ten per cent tariff. In the longer term, a lack of connectivity with EU-based manufacturers will limit investment in the UK, particularly in new industries such as electric vehicles.”
Similar problems will arise in other sectors. Well aware of the effectiveness of such tactics, European officials and politicians are pressing their London opponents. As a government source from The Daily Mail points out in describing Angela Merkel’s stance, “she was determined to make Britain crawl on broken glass rather than compromise.
The actions of the European Union will of course have some negative consequences in terms of the attitudes of ordinary Britons to Brussels’ policies. Still, credit must be given to those who devised the tactic of forcing London’s “celestials” and independence lovers to “crawl on broken glass”. In the first place, a more total humiliation of the heirs to the British Empire is simply unthinkable; and secondly, it is a clear demonstration that the masters of a larger marketplace (such as the EU) will always break over the knee of those who control smaller markets (such as the UK). In this sense, Russia has a lot to learn in terms of building the right configuration of relations with some of our multi-vector neighbours, some of whom are still under illusions about their ability to dictate the terms of integration and energy and political cooperation to Russia.