By Geraint Talfan Davies
Yesterday I received an unsolicited email from “Theresa May” setting out her Government’s 12 negotiating objectives for leaving the European Union. She asked me to tell her what I thought about her plan. Never one to disappoint a searcher after truth, I thought I would oblige. I have a feeling this was not a private communication, so I am sure she will not mind if I share those thoughts with you.
- Certainty. You say you will provide certainty whenever you can and that any final deal will be put to a vote in both Houses of Parliament. You may have provided a little more clarity, but the uncertainty is going to persist well beyond the next two years during which we will be negotiating the terms of exit, not the details of a future deal.
As for the vote in Parliament, this is hardly going to be a free choice. It is more than likely that Pariament will be presented with a draft treaty that you will ask Parliament to accept or reject in its entirety. Aren’t you going to be tempted to bully Parliament, too, into accepting the deal with the threat of no deal and an even worse outcome?
- Control of our own laws. It is clear that you have prioritised the shibboleth of an old-fashoned, illusory sovereignty over the retention of real influence in a complex world. Britain would be better served by arguing – from the inside – for new procedures to enhance the role of national Parliaments within the EU.
- Strengthening the union. Putting aside the referendum results in Scotland and Northern Ireland I was comforted, for a moment, by your reassurance that “the right powers”, when repatriated, will be passed to the devolved administrations. That is, until I remembered Whitehall’s mean-spirited approach to reserved powers, as expressed in the Wales Bill. Not a happy precedent. You won’t find it easy to build unity in a poorer country.
- Maintain the Common Travel Area with Ireland. Why do you take such a reductionist view of the dangers in Ireland – and at the very time that power-sharing in the North is going through a crisis. The truth is that the economies of the north and south are growing together and posterity will curse you if you make that more difficult.
- Control of immigration. You say that you want to continue to attract ‘the brightest and best’ to work or study in Britain. You had a funny way of going about that as Home Secretary, refusing to take international students out of your immigration figures. It would be nice if you could bring yourself to mention the contribution of migrants to our public services.
- Rights for EU nationals in Britain and British nationals in the EU. This is one area in which you could have made a positive gesture up front, and eased the pain of so many EU nationals in this country who have made their lives here and are deeply embedded in our communitiies. People should not be bargaining chips.
- Protect workers’ rights. I was glad that you said that workers’ rights would be fully protected and maintained, but are you sure the rest of your party are with you on that? Everything that I have heard from your more rabid Brexiter colleagues talks about ‘scrapping regulations’. Some, I am sure, would like a bonfire of them. I hope you will understand my scepticism.
- Free trade with European markets. Interesting that you put this at number 8 in your list of priorities. Does that not tell us something? This really is the big “cake and eat it” clause. I thought you said you did not want to be ‘half in and half out’, but you seem to want the free access we have now, plus bits of the customs union, as well as deals that look after the interests of the City, and the car industry, and aerospace – I could go on. Makes you wonder why we are leaving?
- New trade agreements with other countries. I’m jolly glad you say you have “an open mind on how we achieve this end”. You are going to need it. Seeing that Britain represents only 0.8% of the world’s population, it takes some guts to walk out of a trading block that represents 7%, not to mention the trade deals that the EU already has with 50 countries across the world.
I know you are trying to cosy up to President Trump, but beware. One of his slogans was “Americanism not globalism”. He is not going to do us any favours, much as he would like to annoy the EU. Take my advice, he will eat Liam Fox for breakfast.
- The best place for science and innovation. It’s clear that in this area you do want to be ‘half in’. I suppose we should be grateful for that, considering what is at stake for our universities and the knowledge base of our industries. You would be amazed at just what the EU has meant for Welsh universities, both academics and students. I will write you again on that.
- Cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism. Yes, of course, but by now I’m beginning to think you want to be three-quarters in, not half in. Is there anything else you’ve missed? I’m confused.
- A smooth, orderly Brexit. Apparently, you want agreement on our fiuture partnership with Europe by the end of the Article 50 process, i.e. within the next two years. Given your shopping list, don’t you think this is just a tad unreal. Have you forgotten the upcoming elections in the Netherland, France and Germany. That will mop up six months.
I know you consider any advice from Wales really carefully, so just a last word. As a serial optimist myself, I can spot another. We have a tendency to minimise difficulties. I know you want “a global Britain”, but Britain has not been very good at engineering economic miracles. Since we have done our best to dismantle our manufacturing capacities over the last 30 years, we are going to struggle to rebalance our economy. Leaving ain’t going to help.
It strikes me you prioritise political objectives over the economy. Don’t be surprised if the rest of Europe wants to do the same. With Trump to the west and Putin to the east the whole of Europe has a lot at stake.
Best wishes. Sleep well.