Sunday 3 March 2019

Former ambassadors criticise British handling of Brexit

Lord Renwick of Clifton was British ambassador to South Africa 1987-91, when apartheid came to an end, and to America in the presidencies of George Bush the Elder and Bill Clinton. When he received his peerage he sat on the Labour benches, which is an odd thing for a retired diplomat or civil servant to do, but now sits as an independent. He helped negotiate Margaret Thatcher’s budget rebate from the EU and is plugging his memoirs in the Sunday Times today.

He says in the Sunday Times:
“What concerns me is that we used to be regarded as highly competent negotiators. Nothing could be more incompetent than, first, to trigger article 50 with no pre-negotiation and no idea where we might end up. Second, for the PM to sign up for an agreement that endorsed the Irish backstop and no exit from the customs union without the permission of the EU, then try to get it changed, which it won’t be in any meaningful way. Third, to discuss the negotiating position in a Brussels bar.”
Sir Ivan Rogers, British ambassador to the European Union from 2013 until he flounced off on 3rd January 2017, has told Spiegel that he is surprised that four weeks before the Brexit deadline the British political class is unable to come to any serious conclusion about what kind of Brexit they want.

An excerpt:
DER SPIEGEL: Would a different prime minister have done better than Theresa May?

Rogers: They would have had different priorities. Immigration and the free movement of people is the central question for Theresa May. She wants to reduce the numbers of people coming into the UK both from inside and outside the EU. The consequence was always obvious: Once you end that, you can't have free movement of goods, services and capital. So you have to leave the single market. And if you want a fully autonomous trade policy, you cannot stay in the customs union either.

DER SPIEGEL: The Europeans didn't expect that.

Rogers: They found that quite shocking. The way Theresa May prioritized that very early on indicated to the Europeans that we would be going much further out of the European Union than Norway and Switzerland, or even Turkey, which has a customs union agreement with the EU. In all honesty, I don't think she fully understood what a dramatic rupture that would have been. Since then, she has tried to edge things back. But her problem is: Having started with a hardline position, every time she's moved a little bit back, the right wing of her party cries betrayal. I think other prime ministers could have done it in a different fashion. 

DER SPIEGEL: How long will it take to sort out the future relationship? 
Rogers: Much longer than many people think. The planned trade deal is not "the easiest in human history," as Liam Fox has claimed. It's not easy to solve for one simple reason: This is the first trade deal in history where partners are seeking to get further apart. All trade deals I've ever worked on were about getting closer together and dismantling barriers to trade. We are now deliberately re-erecting barriers, seeking a thinner relationship than the one we have. We like the free trade with Europe, but not the European institutions. Well, that's not on offer. That's why the next step of the negotiations will be conflictual again. The Europeans will say: There must be a reason why you wanted to leave and diverge from our model, please tell us what degree of divergency you want and why. You only need to say it that way to realize that this will not take months, but years.
The problem is in large part Theresa May. Britain is led by a Leaver who, as her former Svengali Nick Timothy said, sees Brexit as an exercise in damage limitation. A Leaver as Prime Minister could have provided what is needed - a vision of why we were leaving and how we want to leave and why. 

What will happen? 

My money is on Theresa May's disastrous non-deal. 

What should happen? 

Oh Lord, don't ask me any more. 

Leaving with no deal, I suppose. But there is a vanishingly small chance of that.

1 comment:

  1. Tom Gallagher @cultfree54 commented on Twitter:
    Lord Renwick is an experienced ambassador (USA, South Africa). His criticisms are devastating. May is the kind of leader who, in countries less stable than Britain, manage to ignite full-scale revolution.