May deal ‘threat­ens na­tional se­cu­rity’

The only guar­an­tee is the cri­sis will con­tinue be­yond the March dead­line

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD - JACQUELIN MAGNAY

Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe backed the Brexit deal of his Bri­tish coun­ter­part Theresa May af­ter meet­ing at Down­ing Street to deepen Ja­panese in­tel­li­gence shar­ing with Five Eyes coun­tries, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia.

But at the same time, two of the coun­try’s most se­nior se­cu­rity ex­perts is­sued “a dev­as­tat­ing warn­ing’’ that her Brexit deal would dan­ger­ously un­der­mine the Five Eyes in­tel­li­gence ar­range­ment.

For­mer MI6 head Richard Dearlove and ex-de­fence chief Charles Guthrie said in a let­ter to Con­ser­va­tive party lo­cal asso­ciations that Mrs May’s deal was so bad Bri­tain’s in­tel­li­gence re­la­tion­ship with Aus­tralia would be com­pro­mised and sur­ren­dered to Euro­pean con­trol.

The Five Eyes is Aus­tralia’s crit­i­cal in­tel­li­gence shar­ing op­er­a­tion with Bri­tain, New Zealand and the US.

Sir Richard and Field Mar­shal Lord Guthrie warned of a sig­nif­i­cant change in Bri­tain’s na­tional se­cu­rity pol­icy un­der Mrs May’s deal, which will bind Bri­tain into new sets of EU-con­trolled se­cu­rity re­la­tion­ships.

“Buried in the agree­ment is the of­fer of a new deep and spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with the EU in de­fence se­cu­rity and in­tel­li­gence which cuts across the three fun­da­men­tals of our na­tional se­cu­rity pol­icy: mem­ber­ship of NATO, our close bi­lat­eral de­fence and in­tel­li­gence re­la­tion­ship with USA and the Five Eyes in­tel­li­gence al­liance,’’ they wrote.

They be­lieve the de­fence and se­cu­rity re­la­tion­ship with the EU will be drawn into ne­go­ti­a­tions of a “back­stop”, which would tie Bri­tain to the EU un­til the Ir­ish bor­der ques­tion was re­solved.

Mrs May is pulling out all stops to get sup­port for her deal — in­clud­ing con­tact­ing the lead­ers of two of Bri­tain’s big­gest unions — to stave off the de­feat of her Brexit with­drawal bill in par­lia­ment next Wed­nes­day, but Mr Abe’s re­marks that the “wish of the whole world’’ to avoid a no-deal Brexit may have back­fired.

Mr Abe’s in­ter­ven­tion was roundly dis­missed, sim­i­lar to the US pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s sup­port of David Cameron for Re­main vote at the 2016 ref­er­en­dum.

“It is the strong will of Ja­pan to fur­ther de­velop this strong part­ner­ship with the UK, to in­vest more into your coun­try and to en­joy fur­ther eco­nomic growth with the UK,” Mr Abe said along­side Mrs May. “That is why we truly hope that a no-deal Brexit will be avoided, and in fact that is the wish of the whole world.”

Mr Abe was in Bri­tain to fur­ther Five Eyes’ co-op­er­a­tion for his “Free and Open Indo-Pa­cific Strat­egy” to counter China’s pres­ence in the South China Sea and dis­rupt North Korean smug­gling. Ja­panese me­dia re­ported Aus­tralia and other Five Eyes coun­tries hold in­tel­li­gence on mil­i­tary ac­tiv­i­ties and Chi­nese hack­ing Ja­pan wants to ac­cess.

Sir Richard and Lord Guthrie told Tory lo­cal chairs of the risk to na­tional se­cu­rity un­der Mrs May’s deal. “Please en­sure your MP does not vote for this bad agree­ment,’’ they wrote. “The first duty of the state above trade, is se­cu­rity, of its cit­i­zens. The with­drawal agree­ment ab­ro­gates this fun­da­men­tal con­tract and would place con­trol of as­pects of your na­tional se­cu­rity in for­eign hands.”

They urged for a Brexit on World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion rules, or no deal, and crit­i­cised the £39bn “ran­som’’ to be paid to the EU.

Tory MP Mar­cus Fysh agreed with them, say­ing the big­gest dan­ger to na­tional se­cu­rity was Mrs May’s deal: it’s “not leav­ing the EU it is sub­ju­ga­tion’’.

Se­cu­rity Min­is­ter Ben Wal­lace said it was “ab­so­lute non­sense” the deal put na­tional se­cu­rity at risk. “When you are out, you are out of the game,’’ Mr Wal­lace said of the for­mer se­cu­rity chiefs.

Star­ing down a loss in the House of Com­mons by more than 200 votes, Mrs May made her first call to the head of the big­gest union, Len McCluskey of Unite, a key sup­porter of Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn. Down­ing Street was en­cour­aged by the re­cep­tion Mrs May re­ceived from Mr McCluskey as she promised to sup­port a Labour mo­tion strength­en­ing worker’s rights af­ter Brexit.

But she was re­buffed by Tim Roache of gas work­ers union GMB. Mr Roache said he was glad the Prime Min­is­ter picked up the phone af­ter three years, but tweeted: “I was crys­tal clear about GMB’s po­si­tion — her deal is a bad deal and flaky as­sur­ances on work­ers’ rights won’t cut it.”

Bri­tish pol­i­tics is fac­ing a shock­ing cri­sis, as com­plex and dan­ger­ous as any­thing the great na­tion has seen since World War II. It will hit one de­ci­sion point next Tues­day, when the House of Com­mons votes on Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s deal for the terms on which Bri­tain leaves the EU — Brexit.

May will prob­a­bly lose the vote. What hap­pens then?

Wil­liam Hague was a gifted for­eign sec­re­tary in David Cameron’s first gov­ern­ment. He has be­come an equally gifted news­pa­per colum­nist. He once re­marked that the EU was a burn­ing house with no exit.

Or, as the Ea­gles once put it some­what less elo­quently, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

Now, Bri­tish pol­i­tics has it­self be­come the burn­ing house from which there is no exit.

One of the griev­ous el­e­ments of Bri­tain’s cri­sis is Brexit fa­tigue. The pub­lic has voted on this is­sue again and again, in a his­toric ref­er­en­dum in 2016 and nu­mer­ous elec­tions be­fore and af­ter that, but the EU pain will never stop.

Here is some more bad news for the Bri­tish pub­lic. It won’t stop next Tues­day ei­ther.

What ef­fect is this hav­ing in the real world? This week Jaguar Land Rover an­nounced the loss of 4000 Bri­tish jobs.

The Brexit mess is start­ing to ex­act its toll. But wait a minute. So far, Brexit has not re­sulted in any change to any tar­iff or reg­u­la­tory con­di­tion. It turns out these job losses come about be­cause of the bad bet the com­pany made on diesel en­gines, and on a slow­down in key mar­kets, es­pe­cially China.

None­the­less, in­dus­try has a right to com­plain about the ag­o­nis­ing uncer­tainty of Brexit. In less than three months — March 29 — Bri­tain is sched­uled to leave the EU and so far no one has any idea whether this will ac­tu­ally hap­pen and, if it does, what will be the terms on which Bri­tain leaves.

This col­umn could hardly be ac­cused of hav­ing a sur­feit of sym­pa­thy for the EU. But when you look at how opaque, con­fused, tardy, di­vided and frankly in­co­her­ent the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment has been even in sort­ing out its own ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion, you al­most have a trace — no more than a trace — of sym­pa­thy for the EU ne­go­tia­tors.

Both the Con­ser­va­tives and the Labour Party are deeply di­vided in­ter­nally on Brexit. Labour can mostly hide its di­vi­sions, sub­sume them un­der gen­eral op­po­si­tion to ev­ery­thing the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment does.

May leads a mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment, re­ly­ing on sup­port from North­ern Ire­land’s Demo­cratic Union­ist Party. As a re­sult there is no House of Com­mons ma­jor­ity avail­able for

Bri­tish pol­i­tics has it­self be­come the burn­ing house from which there is no exit

any way for­ward for the gov­ern­ment. There is a clear par­lia­men­tary block­ing ma­jor­ity against any path May chooses.

The po­lar­i­sa­tions — within the par­ties and be­tween the par­ties — have be­come ex­tremely bit­ter. So far no one is will­ing to com­pro­mise. En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary Michael Gove char­ac­terises it as the po­lit­i­cal fac­tions be­hav­ing like 50-year-old swingers who turn down every of­fer they get, con­vinced that Scar­lett Jo­hans­son is wait­ing for them just around the cor­ner.

This sit­u­a­tion is so com­plex that any con­fi­dent pre­dic­tion is heroic. But some­thing has to hap­pen by March 29. Every out­come has a wide range of pos­si­ble ver­sions, but there are ba­si­cally five generic sce­nar­ios, one of which has to hap­pen by March 29.

They are: 1. No-deal Brexit. 2. May’s deal. 3. A path is laid for a Brexit re­verse. 4. A gen­eral elec­tion. 5. A new com­mit­ment to yet more end­less de­lay.

Each one of these wildly dif­fer­ent out­comes is pos­si­ble. Let’s con­sider them one by one.

First, a no-deal Brexit. This de­scribes what hap­pens if Bri­tain leaves the EU with­out a com­pre­hen­sive, for­mal trade

agree­ment. Bri­tain would trade with the EU un­der World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion rules, just as the US and Aus­tralia do. But there would need to be a lot of tech­ni­cal work done be­cause EU-wide reg­u­la­tions cover even rou­tine things such as re­cip­ro­cal land­ing rights for aero­planes, in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion for driv­ers’ li­cences and so on.

There is a whole the­ol­ogy of de­bate about what a no-deal Brexit would mean. I have in­ter­viewed many of the proBrexit lead­ers — Boris John­son, Ja­cob Rees-Mogg, Dan Han­nan and econ­o­mists such as Liam Hal­li­gan. They all ar­gue, per­sua­sively, that the dis­lo­ca­tion that would be caused by a nodeal Brexit is wildly ex­ag­ger­ated.

May is talk­ing up this po­ten­tial dis­lo­ca­tion to scare MPs into vot­ing for her deal, lest they stum­ble into a no-deal Brexit. How­ever, in a re­veal­ing com­ment, she told cabi­net min­is­ters: “We are still suf­fer­ing from Ge­orge.” This re­ferred to Ge­orge Os­borne, who was chan­cel­lor of the ex­che­quer when the Brexit ref­er­en­dum was held in 2016.

He pre­dicted, and dis­grace­fully got many gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions to pre­dict, that there would be a big, sud­den, sav­age re­ces­sion if Bri­tain voted to leave the EU. But Bri­tain did vote to leave and ab­so­lutely none of the things he and his fel­low trav­ellers pred­i­cated ac­tu­ally came to pass.

The Tory cabi­net is greatly di­vided on this. The Busi­ness Sec­re­tary through the week said a no-deal Brexit would be an ab­so­lute dis­as­ter; the De­fence Sec­re­tary said Bri­tain would thrive what­ever the out­come.

How­ever, here is a dev­as­tat­ing new el­e­ment. Labour and the other op­po­si­tion par­ties got about 20 Con­ser­va­tive MPs to join in pass­ing in the House of Com­mons an amend­ment to a fi­nance bill that will pre­vent the gov­ern­ment from us­ing cer­tain tax pow­ers to fa­cil­i­tate, work to­wards or in any way pre­pare for a no-deal Brexit. This means if no-deal Brexit does hap­pen, Bri­tain will be less pre­pared for it than it oth­er­wise would be.

No one need doubt the es­sen­tial good faith of the politi­cians who voted that way. But they il­lus­trate the present de­bil­i­tat­ing syn­drome of Bri­tish pol­i­tics. Not only is each fac­tion re­fus­ing to coun­te­nance the out­comes it doesn’t want, it is ac­tively do­ing ev­ery­thing it can to make such out­comes much worse if they do come about.

And if at some point a no-deal Brexit re­ally looks likely, there is every chance many more proRe­main Con­ser­va­tives, in­clud­ing sev­eral cabi­net min­is­ters, would re­sign and vote in the House of Com­mons to stop it how­ever they could.

The sec­ond sce­nario is that May’s deal passes af­ter all. This looks un­likely right now but a strat­egy for it to hap­pen is dis­cernible in May’s ac­tions. I think May has han­dled the whole Brexit saga as­ton­ish­ingly badly. But there is no deny­ing her core po­lit­i­cal at­tributes — ex­treme stub­born­ness, ex­treme stamina, a re­fusal to change her mind and an in­dif­fer­ence to hu­mil­i­a­tion and set­back along the way.

Peo­ple ask — the Com­mons has asked — what is May’s plan B if her deal is de­feated in par­lia­ment? It may be that her plan B is just to keep pre­sent­ing her deal, over and over, every cou­ple of weeks as the clock ticks down to March 29, per­haps with some new tiny pre­tend con­ces­sion from Brus­sels, and then to fi­nally scare enough MPs into vot­ing for it so it gets across the line just be­fore Brexit Day.

May’s deal is ex­cep­tion­ally bad, al­most com­i­cally so, be­cause it ties Bri­tain prob­a­bly for­ever to EU rules and ju­ris­dic­tions but re­moves even the in­flu­ence it now has as an EU mem­ber. Nat­u­rally the Brex­i­teers hate it. But so do most Re­main­ers, be­cause they can see that it is vastly worse than cur­rent ar­range­ments and would con­tinue, and over time in­crease, the bit­ter, poi­sonous ha­tred of the EU among a sig­nif­i­cant mi­nor­ity of Brits. Jo John­son, a strong Re­mainer in dis­agree­ment with his brother, Boris, re­signed from cabi­net in protest against the May deal.

None­the­less, May and her deal could yet pre­vail.

Sce­nario No 3 is that Bri­tain en­ters a path ex­plic­itly to re­verse Brexit, to stay per­ma­nently in the EU af­ter all. The EU would ex­tend the ne­go­ti­at­ing pe­riod if there were go­ing to be a new ref­er­en­dum with the pos­si­bil­ity that Bri­tain, by a sub­stan­tial dis­tance Europe’s most suc­cess­ful na­tion, would stay in the EU. Faced with the se­ri­ous like­li­hood of a no-deal Brexit, the Com­mons could vote to leg­is­late for this. That would re­quire gov­ern­ment agree­ment. May, de­spite her stub­born­ness, does on oc­ca­sion em­brace a com­plete volte-face. With her mag­nif­i­cent im­per­vi­ous­ness to set­back and hu­mil­i­a­tion, May could say she was im­ple­ment­ing the will of the par­lia­ment to give the pub­lic a fi­nal say.

The dan­gers of this ap­proach are, of course, end­less. It would drive the Bri­tish pub­lic mad. The Brexit saga would lurch on and which­ever side lost would be filled with re­sent­ment. None­the­less, with a new co­hort of young peo­ple vot­ing, and with the ab­so­lute sham­bles the gov­ern­ment has made of Brexit dur­ing the past cou­ple of years, peo­ple might vote this time to re­main in the EU.

It is un­likely that Brex­i­teers in the Con­ser­va­tive Party would eas­ily al­low May to em­brace a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum. The ex­treme di­vi­sions within the Con­ser­va­tive Party could thus eas­ily lead to sce­nario No 4 — a gen­eral elec­tion. Jeremy Cor­byn is the most rad­i­cal and ex­treme leader the Bri­tish Labour Party has ever had. Many econ­o­mists ar­gue that the money that is leav­ing Bri­tain is driven less out of fear of Brexit than fear of a Cor­byn gov­ern­ment, with its com­mit­ment to a pro­gram of “rad­i­cal so­cial­ism”.

Be­fore May’s dis­as­trous per­for­mance at the 2017 gen­eral elec­tion, she used to say “no deal is bet­ter than a bad deal” and she would add that if Bri­tain left the EU with­out a deal it would un­der­take strong eco­nomic re­forms that would make it much more com­pet­i­tive, and much more at­trac­tive to in­ter­na­tional busi­ness, than any Euro­pean na­tion.

Cor­byn of­fers Bri­tain the re­verse. He has tra­di­tion­ally op­posed the EU — though he now leads a party where ma­jor­ity sen­ti­ment is pro-EU — be­cause

The Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice has said Bri­tain could uni­lat­er­ally re­verse its de­ci­sion to leave the EU

he thought the EU was too cap­i­tal­ist, free mar­ket and ne­olib­eral. The rest of the world sees the EU as the em­bod­i­ment of stul­ti­fy­ing reg­u­la­tion, Cor­byn sees it as the last word in naked cap­i­tal­ism.

There­fore, per­haps if you re­ally wish Bri­tain ill, you would hope for the most chaotic nodeal Brexit pos­si­ble com­bined with a Cor­byn gov­ern­ment set­ting about end­ing cap­i­tal­ism. That com­bi­na­tion would be some­thing like Bri­tain ec­cen­tri­cally em­bark­ing on the Venezue­lan road.

Which brings us to pos­si­ble sce­nario No 5, which is prob­a­bly, though only marginally, the like­li­est out­come. The May gov­ern­ment could beg the EU to de­lay the im­ple­men­ta­tion of Brexit while it ne­go­ti­ates a more sys­tem­atic sur­ren­der.

The Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice has of­fered a strong opin­ion that Bri­tain could uni­lat­er­ally re­verse its de­ci­sion to leave the EU.

How­ever, to get an ex­ten­sion of time for fur­ther ne­go­ti­a­tion, Bri­tain would need EU agree­ment. There­fore the EU could en­gage in brinkman­ship and refuse to grant the ex­ten­sion, or do so only on con­di­tion that Bri­tain is hav­ing a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum or is com­mit­ted to some ver­sion of the May deal.

It is also at least pos­si­ble that the EU could agree to de­lay with­out re­stric­tive con­di­tions at­tached, though that seems un­likely.

De­lay cer­tainly would suit May’s po­lit­i­cal tem­per­a­ment. Bri­tain is in this mess sub­stan­tially be­cause of May’s ter­ri­ble ad­dic­tion to de­lay, to put off as near as for­ever as pos­si­ble any dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion and, sim­i­larly, to put off any vote she might lose.

So poor fel­low, Bri­tain. We like to make jokes about the Brits, as in­ti­mate fam­ily mem­bers do with each other. But we se­ri­ously wish them hu­mil­i­a­tion and mis­for­tune only on the cricket and rugby fields. When vis­it­ing Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe told May the whole world wants to avoid a no-deal Brexit, what he re­ally meant was that every civilised per­son wants Bri­tain to find a way through this mess and re­sume its nor­mal role as a lead­ing, demo­cratic, mixede­con­omy, Western na­tion.

Good luck with that.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.