As some of you spotted, yesterday’s post on Theresa May’s negotiating priorities as the UK leaves the EU was rather facetious: everything that I said she should be trying to obtain is something we already have as members. Let’s pick it apart.
Let’s start with the list of nine important goals, before moving on to the four less important — but, for some reason, symbolically significant — issues
- “She must secure the rights of UK citizens in the EU, and of EU citizens in the UK, to live securely in their adopted countries.” Needless to say, we have this in the EU. It’s what makes it possible for doctors and nurses from mainland Europe to staff the NHS, and for British retirees to live in Spain.
- “We must obviously stay in the Single Market.” This is uncontroversially part of EU membership, of course.
- “Ditto the customs union.” Likewise.
- “But there must be no pressure on the UK to join the Euro, now or in future.” We already have a unique position in this respect: the Thatcher government negotiated an opt-out in 1992. In fact, the UK could not join the Euro if it wanted to. We would first need to meet five convergence criteria: we only meet two of them.
- “The UK’s Parliament must remain sovereign in the UK.” As acknowledged in the Government’s own white paper, “Parliament has remained sovereign throughout our membership of the EU”, complaining only that “it has not always felt like that.”
- “The UK must be able to perform passport checks at our borders, and to refuse entry to known criminals.” Because the UK never joined the Schengen passport zone, we presently check the passports of everybody entering the UK, including EU nationals. Even under the EU’s free-movement law, entrance can be, and is, refused “on grounds of public policy, public security or public health“.
- “The UK must retain full access to security co-operation with the EU members.” Of course this is one of the benefits of membership.
- “May must ensure that the UK is still able to attract immigrants.” She obviously agrees: since I wrote yesterday’s post, Theresa May herself has suggested that free movement will continue after Brexit.
- “Ideally, the UK should retain some role in making EU policy.” As things stand, we play a full role in setting EU policy, with nearly 10% of all MEPs (71 of 751), a seat on the European College of Commissioners, strong influence in the EU Council of Ministers, and so on.
Now those symbolically important issues:
- “The UK should have a veto on Turkey joining the EU.” It does — like every other EU member. (In any case, there are 35 criteria that need to be met before a country can join. At the moment, Turkey fulfils one of them. Talks about half of the criteria have not even begun.)
- “The UK should have the right to traditional navy blue passports instead of burgundy ones.” It does: the EU does not mandate a passport colour, as even the Daily Mail admits.
- “UK shops should have the right to stock bendy bananas.” I would think that by now everyone knows what a canard this one is. It has always been fine for shops in the UK and elsewhere in the EU to stock bananas of any shape. They simply can’t be labelled as “extra class”. That’s it. This numpty notwithstanding.
- “UK shopkeepers should have the right to list imperial measurements alongside metric.” They do, of course. Britain began the process of metrication long before it even joined the EU — it was discussed in parliament as early as 1818 — because of the inherent advantages of metric. EU law requires metric measurements to be provided but says nothing against also listing imperial measurements — “Sausages £2.,50 per pound (454g)” for example.
So. May’s best negotiating strategy to get UK citizens the things they actually want — a functioning NHS, a flourishing economy, independent currency, Parliamentary sovereignty, border controls, bendy bananas, blue passports — is simply to remain in the EU.
There may be party-political reasons why she won’t do this. But she knows — she surely knows — that it would be the best thing for the country.