Desperate Brexiteers try to pick and choose

According to The Independent, during the second instalment of the Brexit ‘Meaningful vote’ debate, Downing Street has agreed to let the Commons pick and choose around the crucial Backstop articles in the agreement Theresa May and Brussels reached. The agreement is legally binding, an official agreement or treaty between London and the EU.

On the Institute of Government website last December, former IoG expert Simon Hogarth said such an option could mean Downing Street violating its international obligations it freely entered into. That’s what the Hugo Swire Amendment is proposing.

If the Brexiteers in Downing Street or the Commons think this is going to wash in international politics, they are completely bonkers and political ignoramuses.

The Dutch know from bitter experience how swift, tough and compelling the international reaction will be if any country, Great Britain or small Netherlands, tries to opportunistically tinker with such a legally binding international agreement.

In the bloody guerrilla war (1945-’49) surrounding the decolonisation of the Dutch East Indies (which evolved  into Indonesia), the Dutch government had, according to messages from the British ambassador, from the start a totally unreal view of the situation, and an idiosyncratic view of how much power and influence the Dutch could hold on to in Indonesia (sounds familiar?). The British were the first western military forces which liberated the Japanese internment camps on Java and Sumatra (big islands at the heart of the Indonesian revolutionary “republic”). Dutch military power there remained fragmentary in 1945-7.

British (and growing American) pressure resulted in rounds of Dutch-Indonesian negotiations and interim agreements, which culminated in the Linggadjati agreement of November 1946. In this, we recognised the rule of Sukarno’s ‘Republik Indonesia’ over the islands of Java, Madura and Sumatra, although these were the heartlands of Dutch colonial rule over all Indonesia.

The Dutch parliament and politics refused to see military (we were weak, recovering from war) and economic realities (our economic blockade of the Republik meant scarcity of important resources and products), and in a special Tweede Kamer (=our Commons) debate we “put some civilized clothes” on the Linggadjati agreement. This was the second time a Dutch-Indonesian agreement was being re-interpreted and altered. The Tweede Kamer only ratified Linggadjati if everybody (Indonesia, the United Nations, London, Washington) subscribed to a unilateral, self-serving ‘Addendum’ – an annex written by Dutch authorities. Mainstay of the Addendum was the creation on other Indonesian islands of separate states, and the aim was to force Sukarno’s Republik to become one of many member states of an Indonesian  confederation. And the Hague insisted on holding on to Western (Papua) New Guinea, a breach of Linggadjati.

This and further Dutch colonial intransigence resulted in a threatened condemnation by the UN Security Council, which could, nay would, lead to exclusion from Marshall Plan American reconstruction aid for the Netherlands. That threat finally forced the Dutch government to start real negotiations with the Sukarno government, and to grant the Republik, encompassing most of the Dutch East Indies, independence.

So trying to “put British clothes” on the Brexit Backstop is is an excessively self-centered, introspective way of destroying British credibility as a serious power in international politics. Don’t even try it.

* Bernard Aris is a Dutch historian (university of Leiden), and Documentation assistant to the D66 parliamentary Party. He is a member of the Brussels/EU branch of the LibDems.

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28 Comments

  • Bernard Aris 10th Jan '19 - 2:36pm

    Oops, something has gone awry.

    This was my piece; Mary is just today’s LDV editor…

    O, well, no hard feelings.
    It’s the story of the historical parallel, showing the impossibility of this tinkering, that counts.

    Bernard Aris

  • We have a complete mess.

    The Tory leadership’s attempts at Brexit are trapped between what their blue collar voters want, their donors want, their shire voters want and their corporate donors want. In the end they will please no one – and that is before Conservative Remainers have their say. The ERG want a free trade global Brexit whilst UKIP and “working class Tories” want a protectionist “Britain First” Brexit.

    Then there is Labour. Corbynite Labour want an international socialist Brexit. Hoeyite Labour want an economically left wing nationalist Brexit. Flint and a few of the Labour “right” supporting Brexit similar just want to “honour the referendum” and are cowering to both the protectionist left, and ignorance amongst constituents. Meanwhile McCluskey and the rail unions who fund Labour are piling on pro Brexit pressure.

    And despite this – the vast bulk of Labour MPs, members and voters want Remain. Sadly they are split three ways between the economically liberal moderates (the Blairites), the economically far left (Ed Miliband, Starmer, Burnham) and the economically extreme left who make up the bulk of Corbyn’s cabinet and Momentum.

    The fact of the matter is that each of these groups have wildly differing views on how Brexit should proceed and other than perhaps the global free trading Tories (who’s social conservatism and opposition to migration is utterly frightening), they would all lead to some form of protectionist autarky.

  • Peter Martin 10th Jan '19 - 3:31pm

    I must admit that I am not 100% sure what is being argued here, but it sounds to be that what the executive might have provisionally ‘agreed’ in closed negotiating sessions can’t be vetoed by a subsequent Parliamentary vote.

    I would have thought that Remainers and Leavers alike dislike what is on offer to a sufficient extent to scupper the May/EU plan.

    To that extent nothing is agreed until Parliament approves it. Period.

  • Bernard Aris 10th Jan '19 - 3:59pm

    @ Peter Martin

    If you go back to the Independent article which was my source (mentioned in my article), you see that this is a deal between the May government and a couple of Tory MP’s headed by ex-minister Sir Hugo G.W. Swire MP.
    So there is nothing about Parliament not being able to veto this; the minority (around 290 according to the two big votes May lost) of pro-May Brexit Deal Tories has just made an Alliance with the little group around Swire. I think adding the Swire duo or trio will not give May a majority; but it will make collecting enough Tory doubters including Swire c.s. into a small majority somewhat easier.

    May reaching out to Labour MP’s about guaranteed Workers’ Rights is a similar operation; all in all May is assembling a mosaic of (very) heterogenous MP’s to form a very fragile majority, demanding differend tweaks to the deal.

    Sounds like building a tower made of pebbles found on a beach… extremely accident-prone

  • The EU has said repeatedly that it will not renegotiate the withdrawal agreement negotiated with May. All or nothing.

    No treaty is binding until the whole agreement is ratified by both sides. Just like buying a house in England.

    Brexiteers of various flavours are failing to understand reality of what Brexit really means. One of the few things May has got right is saying it’s my deal, no deal or no Brexit. Her deal looks very likely to be defeated, parliament appears to be taking back control to stop a catastrophic No Deal Brexit, so it is likely to be how do we stop Brexit.

    The UK has the right to withdraw the Article 50 letter unilaterally. Quick and simple in principle but difficult politically. Likely we need an extension to the A50 deadline to enable a People’s Vote. Recent opinion polls show a substantial shift to Remain but cannot be taken for granted. Hopefully the campaign will be based on facts and not lies and racism.

  • William Fowler 10th Jan '19 - 4:24pm

    Would have liked to see Sir Vince et al on the TV saying if there is a general election the LibDems will revoke article 50 if they win or partner with one or other parties, that should put Labour’s fakery in the spotlight. Not sure what any of the other parties are going to put in their manifesto’s on Brexit, though, as the same disagreements will be there!

  • Sincere apologies to Bernard for not setting the author correctly initially. Now amended

  • nigel hunter 10th Jan '19 - 5:18pm

    We already have guaranteed workers rights in the EU The implication is that after Brexit these would be in jeopardy which after a GE could be lost

  • Peter Martin 10th Jan '19 - 6:31pm

    @ Bernard,

    Thanks for the clarification.

    I would say it’s all rather academic as there is little to no chance IMO of the May/EU deal getting through Parliament.

    It’s possible that the EU negotiators don’t want any deal to be passed, in the hope of keeping the UK inside the EU, or they mistakenly think what’s on offer will be good enough.

    While we are all playing a game of brinkmanship, the world and European economy is headed for the sick bay! It’s not just cars as this link highlights. The motor industry is just a general barometer of the state of the economy generally.

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-01-10/carmakers-face-perfect-storm-in-europe-with-added-brexit-chill

  • John Marriott 10th Jan '19 - 6:44pm

    I want to get next week over with. Firstly Wednesday might see the rejection of the ‘May’ deal. She’s then got three days to come back with Plan B. In the meantime perhaps they could persuade Corbyn to table his No confidence motion, which will probably be rejected.

    With that out of the way we can then hope that, assuming May can offer nothing more, Parliament can take over, get May to seek to suspend Article 50 on the basis that any deal that can achieve a parliamentary majority, together with a range of options would be put to the British people in another referendum. Or why not put it to a Citizens’ Assembly?

  • We are still refusing to face reality. The problem we have is the Irish border. We have, when we leave the EU two mutually contradictory policies. One is to honour the Good Friday agreement. The other is to have frictionless trade with Europe in a interim agreement. It is interim because the government has failed to face reality either since the referendum or now.
    So the options are clear – tear up the Good Friday agreement or accept we won’t have frictionless trade with the EU.
    Why can’t the government get on with governing the country?

  • Black clouds are ahead of us, bit late to come to that conclusion Peter. I’d suggest you take a look at the housing bubble.blog and wolfstreet.com they have been signalling that for months. Still setting sail in a leaky dingy away from the big ships in the face of a storm is unlikely to end well, the big ships might take a battering but the dingy is odds on to sink. It is a question of size and no being a medium sized economy doesn’t help, too big to be tax haven, too small to carry any weight. Still continue to drill holes in the hull with your Brexit drill, I’m sure it will let out any water we take in.

  • David Raw
    As one of Hugo Swire’s constituents, I can tell you that although in his early years as East Devon’s MP he had a second home (or homes, I believe) in the constituency, certainly by the 2017 election he had moved his “constituency” second home out of East Devon, and rumoured to be in Central Devon. My understanding is that his main home is in Fulham, not all that far from that other Old Etonian haunt of Notting Hill!

    Hugo’s ministerial career has been one of ups and downs – in one of his most famous previous gaffes, he was fired as a Culture Minister after a widely publicised suggestion that charges be made for entry to our iconic major museums in London. He was more recently precipitately fired when fellow Old Etonian Cameron left office, but gained a knighthood in what I have called a Dismissal Honour. Not any old knighthood, by the way, but KCMG, that some irreverent wags call “Keep Calling Me God”. Despite the dismissal, he seems to be ultra loyal to Theresa May!

  • Hugo Swire’s attitude to Brexit has been ambivalent from Day One. Rather like his other fellow Old Etonian, Boris, he only made up his mind at the last moment which way he would go in the vote – in his case, to remain, leading to many constituents, and Liberal Democrats locally calling for him to show more decisiveness!

  • I don’t see the analogy here.
    Britain is not trying to hold on to colonies as the Dutch were in the 1940s. The British ones went at around about the same time. Interestingly, France, arguably the driving force behind the European project,was still trying to cling on to it colonies in the 1960s. This was the cause of the disasters in Vietnam and Algiers. What we’re actually seeing is Pro EU people trying to foist a shared cultural identity on a country that separated from Europe centuries ago and to keep us stumping up cash for what a lot of people perceive as the vanity project of a European Parliament. Few, except Kippers (you couldn’t make it up) could even bothered to vote for EU representation in the last set of elections.
    Britain is not trying to cling on to power. It has simply rejected being a further part of the Pan European Political and Identity movement .

  • @Glenn

    “… France, [was] arguably the driving force behind the European project…. What we’re actually seeing is Pro EU people trying to foist a shared cultural identity on a country that separated from Europe centuries ago.”

    Thanks for your interesting comment, it is good to have a range of views especially as most here are pro-EU.

    I think it is interesting how much British politicians of all parties were interested immediately after the World War II in a coming together of Europe. Winston Churchill made his famous speech envisioning a “United States of Europe” barely a year after winning the War which lead directly to the setting up of the [separate to the EU] Council of Europe. And Roy Jenkins and Edward Heath were also to play key roles in the UK joining the EEC. Those that lived through the War and seen the death and destruction knew how much better “jaw jaw” was to “war war”.

    I want to co-operate and trade with all my neighbours – whether that is in the next town, county or country. That does not negate my identity as part of those either. The exact opposite. Indeed I believe that the EU means a bigger cultural identity to its regions and nations. It is a bit bizarre that I can do that if I go 30 miles in one direction but not 30 miles in another just because it happens to be across a bit of sea. People can be Yorkshire, Lancastrian, Geordie, Liverpudlian, English, Welsh, Scottish, (Northern) Irish etc. as well as British. And we can be those things and European as well.

    It is perhaps ironic that we British are arguably the most “mongrel” and European of races – the Italian Romans, Germanic Saxons, French Normans, Scandinavian Vikings, etc. etc.

  • Peter Martin 11th Jan '19 - 10:00am

    @ Michael1

    “I want to co-operate and trade with all my neighbours – whether that is in the next town, county or country.”

    You, and others, are missing the point if you think that those who are opposed to the EU don’t want to co-operate. We do, but we don’t want to be swallowed up in the Pan European ‘ever closer union’ of the EU. We effectively made our choice to stay out of all that when we stayed out of euro and Schengen. Brexit is just a continuation of that process.

    I’m not sure what Glenn’s view is but if we could wind back to what we had in EEC days I could live with that and I’d be voting to Remain. I suspect most people would. I’m not sure why we had to have the European Parliament, that was never more than an expensive talking shop, but apart from that I was generally cool with the idea of a European Free Trade bloc.

    The EU is not the same as ‘Europe’. It’s quite possible to be pro one and anti the other. Maybe it’s even impossible not to be.

  • Glenn you are talking absolute tripe, do you ever check facts before posting. France abandoned Indo China in the early 1950’s, their Africian colonies they granted independence in 1960 before we had left Kenya. They did hang on to Djibouti until recently, but then we are still hanging onto odd islands in the Indian Ocean. I fear your views are just based on feelings rather than solid facts, in fact given your inability to check facts I’m sure of it.

  • Michael !
    My point about France was that being one the of chief driving the forces of the European Project didn’t stop it from trying to cling on to its colonies. Thus the analogy with Dutch colonialism and British rejection of Pan-Europeanism is a little faulty because (a) Britain has no colonies and (b)the Pan European movement did not stop attempts to cling onto colonies, anyway. To me this article reads more like a discussion of the collapse of Dutch imperialism through American pressure than anything to do with the big Pan European political project, except in the vague sense that it might be suggesting Europe should be like Indonesia or something or other.
    There is nothing arbitrary about national borders. The regions of England share a common language, exist within borders arrived at in the early medieval era and are counties not countries. Countries are legal, cultural and political entities. There is nothing bizarre about this. Britain actually has more in common with Australia, America, Canada and New Zealand than mainland Europe. Southern Europe probably has more in common with South America than Northern Europe and so on. You certainly do not need formal political links, a single currency, a parliament and so on to trade or even feel some sort of bond with other nations. What the EU seems more like, is a secular attempt to create something like the pre-reformation map of the what was then seen as the civilised world, complete with decrees and pieties. IMO, the EU should not feel aggrieved because a little island doesn’t really feel a deep connection to its ideals or goals. You can be friendly without joining a committee, shared aims and taking part in group bonding exercises.

  • Peter Martin 11th Jan '19 - 11:19am

    The EU is a step in the direction of a United States of Europe. Maybe that sounds a nice idea to some. But can it ever really work?

    I don’t normally quote the late Milton Friedman but he was quite right when he wrote, as long ago as 1997,

    “It (Europe) is composed of separate nations, whose residents speak different languages, have different customs, and have far greater loyalty and attachment to their own country than to the common market or to the idea of “Europe.” Despite being a free trade area, goods move less freely than in the United States, and so does capital.”

    The euro was seen by the EU PTB as a way of forcing political convergence. However it has backfired just as MF predicted it would.

    “The drive for the Euro has been motivated by politics not economics. The aim has been to link Germany and France so closely as to make a future European war impossible, and to set the stage for a federal United States of Europe. I believe that adoption of the Euro would have the opposite effect. It would exacerbate political tensions by converting divergent shocks that could have been readily accommodated by exchange rate changes into divisive political issues.”

    Ironically, those who are most pro the EU often make the most divisive and disparaging comments about their fellow ‘compatriots’. We just need to ask Arnold Kiel what he thinks about Greeks and Italians to know there is just nowhere near the level of European national identity to make it all work properly.

    https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/the-euro–monetary-unity-to-political-disunity

  • @Peter Martin

    I appreciate the point that people will have different levels of co-operation that they are happy with. The sad thing is with May’s deal we will not even be a member of the EEA/EFTA – uniquely (I think) among Western European countries.

    There is an interesting Venn diagram on Wikipedia showing the different European institutions and who is a member of them. Not only is there the EU but the Nordic council, the Baltic council, the Visegrad group, Benelux Union etc. with a variety of aims but essentially to bring laws into line among members, and co-operation and trade etc.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurozone

    Within the EU institutions, there is quite a variety. For example Ireland is in the Eurozone but outside Schengen and in the UK/Ireland common travel area and so on.

    I appreciate that “ever increasing union” is a worry for some. But a new treaty would be subject to a UK veto and highly likely (I think it was put into law during the coalition years) a referendum (!) if we were still in the EU. And if we stay in, basically we are going to stay outside Schengen and the Eurozone for ever – well OK for the foreseeable future which is basically the same thing.

  • @Glenn

    I appreciate that I picked up a tangential point you were making. There is a feeling that the EU is some massive French or Franco-German “plot” and I thought it worth pointing out there was a strong push by British politicians very soon after World War 2 for European institutions. No doubt also fuelled by the spectre of the rise of Nazism in Germany during the inter-war years.

    I would venture that national borders are fairly arbitrary – even if they are the result of long-forgotten wars, royal marriages, alliances etc. The UK/Ireland border is one such arbitrary border. Germany came together as a country relatively recently. Obviously living on an island one feels it less than elsewhere. But you can postulate alternative history where “Britain” included Brittany, that Scotland remained an independent country, something different happened with Ireland etc. I could make the slightly fatuous point about whether the regions of Britain share or shared a common language but I won’t!

    Actually one of our immense strengths if we stayed within the EU could be the English language. Wikipedia says that 51% of the EU speak it either as a first language (13%) or enough to hold a conversation in it.

  • Joseph Bourke.
    Genetic maps show very little difference between the Welsh , Scots, and English,. The notion that the English are relative new comers is no more true than of anyone else in Britain or for anywhere else, for that matter. The differences are more cultural. legal and historic. I find it interesting that the EU tends to be more popular in countries with a more strongly Catholic influence. Ireland and Scotland Remain, England and Wales Leave, for example. The point being that England broke with the idea of being formally linked to the politics of mainland Europe centuries ago and for all kinds of historic/cultural reasons sill is far less inclined to be overly involved. IMO, the country just is not very European minded. Hence, arguments have mostly been framed as economic by pan-European idealists and as cultural by Leavers. To me there was already an acknowledgement that Blighty was only ever half heartedly involved in the concept of a grand “Europe” built into the Remain campaign. Even now there’s much talk of staying in to reform. However one sometimes suspects advocates of pan-European unity are actually more interested in reforming Britain than the EU and are trying to disguise the reality that they want more political ties/integration rather than less. Put it this way, I don’t think Brits really want more Europe. However, Europhiles do.

  • Bernard Aris 15th Jan '19 - 10:21am

    @ Peter Martin

    I just thought it worth telling (I also mailed my article to the relevant LibDem MP’s) to warn you how the Tories are bending the rules of international law & diplomacy to get Brexit in spite of everything.
    What next?
    *) will they end rules to expedite the roll-out of Universal Credit (a second enormous Tory omnishambles kicking the weakest harderst)?
    *) will they start massaging NHS target data to prove it can go on fine without all EU citizen employees May’s “Hostile Environment” for Europeans chased back to the continent? There is a parallel with the Windrush scandal May also engineered, chasing Westindians away….

  • bernard aris 15th Jan '19 - 10:23am

    The first *) should read: “will the BEND rules…”

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