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A red, white and blue Brexit – but which one?

A red, white and blue Brexit – but which one?

🕔08.Dec 2016

Nothing immediately to do with Birmingham, or even the West Midlands – but that never stopped the Files’ late blogmeister, Paul Dale. Besides, Brexit affects every one of us, doesn’t it – especially after the PM’s surely already regretted revelation that it’s going to be an exciting “red, white and blue’ one, writes Chris Game

‘Brexit Means Brexit’ sounds intrinsically meaningless, but it wasn’t when Theresa May first announced it. It conveyed precisely the political message she wished it to – about her interpretation of the referendum verdict, notwithstanding her previous views and personal vote; about its irreversibility; and about the tough stance she could be relied upon taking in the eventual negotiations.

After the first week or so, though, it did become meaningless, irritating, and merely a transparent cover for her Government’s increasingly obvious lack of any coherent withdrawal strategy.

So, after a mere five months, she or her scriptwriters came up with the RW&B strategy – this time meaningless and ludicrous from the get-go, as the social media were predictably swift to note. Its sole virtue is that it gives us more to work with, and mock, than B=B.

Here, then, is my small contribution, based on the observation made by many that seven other EU countries (if you’ve read six, it’s because the authors were looking at the EU 27 and overlooking 2013 arrival, Croatia) also happen to have RW&B flags – though mostly rather different, if often more clear-cut, perspectives on Brexit from May’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FRANCE – French reaction to the referendum vote was initially quite benign. President Hollande was one of the first EU leaders to host May, they chatted in French, and the only pressure seemed to be to get negotiations underway as soon as possible.

Which for Hollande made sense, as even then it looked unlikely he’d be around for very much of them – and he won’t be, having decided to improve his record low popularity ratings by not seeking re-election.

The second round election run-off next May looks like being between far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, and the now favourite and Thatcher fan, François Fillon, who, like the lady herself would have been, is already more specific than May about a UK RW&B Brexit.

It must be fast, negotiations completed by September 30th, 2018. Meanwhile British MEPs lose their votes in the Strasbourg Parliament, and British officials their rights to participate in decision making.

AND, most damaging, no lucrative British ‘banking passport’, giving access to the EU 27’s financial services, without signing up to all rules of the single market. And there’s more: as Wednesday’s BBC Newsnight reported, Paris is one of no fewer than eight European financial centres already competing to attract the business of currently London-based companies and banks (five of the eight, by happy coincidence, in countries with RW&B flags).

NETHERLANDS – Nexiteers started campaigning even before the June referendum result was known. Mainstream politicians point out that even a Nexit referendum requires a change in Dutch law, but, with the Eurosceptic Freedom Party currently leading in the polls, and its populist chairman, Geert Wilders – probably notwithstanding his guilty verdict this week for inciting discrimination against Dutch Moroccans – in the running to become PM after next Spring’s elections, that’s not nearly as inconceivable as it seemed back in the summer.

In less turbulent times, Netherlands would support a very soft Brexit and the maintenance of as close relations with the UK as possible – albeit partly because it would be one of the main countries called upon to make up the budget gap left by our complete exit from the single market.

LUXEMBOURG – Small, but, as a Common Market founder member and like the incomparable Edith Piaf, the voice is bigger than the size. And again, as we heard only a couple of weeks ago from Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, it’s an impatient voice.

No transitional arrangement bridging the gap – avoiding the ‘cliff edge’ of which some British businesses are fearful – between the end of Article 50 talks and the signature of a comprehensive new free trade agreement. “Either you’re a member or you’re not a member of the EU … there is no in-between status, no hybrid status, between the two.”

Like Paris and Amsterdam, it’s another of those aiming at becoming a major global financial centre – “the only country left that still loves bankers”, as its Head of Financial Development put it when investment giant M & G announced it would be opening funds in the Grand Duchy.

CZECH REPUBLIC – Initially the talk was of Brexit increasing the chances of Czexit (or, as I personally preferred, ‘Czech-out’) in a country whose residents have never become exactly Euro-fans and have been further disenchanted with Brussels’ policy of refugee quotas.

More recently concern has switched to the verbal and physical attacks on Czech residents here, following the brutal and apparently casual murder in East London of businessman Zdenĕk Makar.

Its politicians are almost certainly less concerned with the details of Brexit than with the likelihood of Britain’s departure strengthening Germany’s position in the EU, which they’d see as bad, and strengthening Russia’s position in Central Europe, which is worse.

SLOVAKIA – Like the Czech Republic and most of the Central and Eastern European member countries, Slovakia’s primary concern is to protect the rights of its citizens to live and work in the UK.  The V4 or Visegrad group – Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – has said it’s prepared to veto any Brexit trade deal that threatened the EU principle of free movement of workers.

Slovakia’s PM, Robert Fico, has been probably the most unequivocal about making an RW&B Brexit seriously painful: “It will be very difficult for the UK, very difficult. The EU will take this opportunity to show the public: ‘listen, guys, now you will see why it’s important to stay in the EU’. This will be the position.”

SLOVENIA – Main reason for the “most” in the first sentence of the Slovakia summary is Slovenia, which has maintained closer and more cordial links with Russia, and isn’t a Visegrad member.

It has also been inclined, even before the June referendum, to view Brexit through the prism of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, from which Slovenia was one of the first to break away from in the early 1990s and which subsequently, and violently, tore itself apart.

Yugoslavia was a heterogeneous multinational state and the EU is more so. Disintegration, therefore, is always a possibility, but any move towards closer federation must, certainly in Slovenian eyes, also be doomed. So closer co-operation short of federation is its stance.  With a population of just 2 million, it won’t be defining negotiating positions, but strongly backing the line of the core Western countries.

CROATIA – As the EU’s newest member – almost passing us in the revolving door – Croatia probably won’t be a leading negotiator either, though, as it happens, it could offer some pertinent experience to one of them: Ireland. Hard borders: don’t even think about them.

One of the biggest headaches of Croatia’s joining the EU was that its borders with Herzegovina and Bosnia became ‘hard’ borders overnight, requiring passport checks and much else besides. If a UK ‘hard Brexit’ involved ‘taking back control of its borders’ and ending freedom of movement across the 300 mile-plus frontier between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, a similar situation could arise. There are problems with either option, but most travelling Croatians know what their advice would be.

As for my personal advice – to the PM: If you’re so desperate as to have to make up slogans based on flags, get yourself a vexillologist.

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