Five years on and the Brexit bandwagon still rumbles on. Despite the Prime MInister’s protestations that the B word should not be used it is still on the lips of many of us. Indeed a poll out this week puts the country as divided as ever over the issue with just over half the population saying they would elect to remain in the union if given the chance. It is an issue that continues to be divisive and won’t be going away for a long time yet.
One reason for this is the protracted negotiations that continue between the UK and the EU. The UK chief negotiator David Frost, according to the headline in the Independent, said that the EU should stop making ‘threats’ to ‘big’ countries like Britain. The last time I looked, there was no such country as Britain, Great Britain yes, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland yes, but Britain no. He also let it be known that negotiating with the EU as a third country was more difficult than as a member.
What did he expect?
Throughout the years following the vote to leave the EU, from the outside, the negotiations seem to have been plagued by three impediments.
Firstly there is a lack of trust. How can you expect anyone to negotiate in good faith if the other party makes it clear that they are happy to rip up any agreement that they have made, if they don’t get their way? Subsequent events have proven that it is difficult to trust this government. It is clear that many of those who voted for the withdrawal agreement never read it, or at best didn’t understand it
Then there has been the ongoing appearance that the UK government does not know what it wants. Rather than specifics it has focussed on amorphous issues such as sovereignty, while kicking the difficult cans down the road. Many practical issues still remain unresolved. The UK government keeps delaying import checks for example. The devil was always going to be in the details.
Finally, and I think this may be the kicker, is the arrogance that has characterised the negotiations from the United Kingdom’s side. Frost’s reference to the UK as a big country, needing special attention, reeks of British (English) exceptionalism and continues to reinforce the view that somehow we are better than anyone else. Such a stance is bound to get people’s backs up.
I suspect that we will be hearing the B word for many years to come.