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THIS weekend may well indicate whether a post-Brexit deal with the EU is going to be reached this year or not. Time is rapidly running out for new economic arrangements to be put in place for January 1, when the transition period expires.
The legend peddled by Britain’s most pro-EU zealots is that the EU negotiators led by failed right-wing politician Michel Barnier are people of the highest moral calibre, consistent and honest in all their endeavours. Sitting on the opposite side of the table, so the story goes, is Britain's team of scheming incompetents backed by a government hell-bent on delivering a “No Deal” Brexit.
The reality is rather different. One person’s “consistency” may be another person’s intransigence. Certainly, the EU side has consistently demanded that any agreement must include a mechanism to enforce, if only retroactively, EU rules banning state aid to industry in all but the most devastating, short-term or exceptional circumstances.
EU political and bureaucratic leaders also want to retain fishing rights to around four-fifths of the catch in British territorial waters, having rejected compromises offered so far.
It appears that no agreement has yet been reached on the first of these, upon which would hinge a settlement of trade terms across the north-south Irish border. Alongside this are EU fears — whether bogus or not — that Britain could engage in unfair competition in the European single market by lowering labour, consumer or environmental standards.
The first of these fears is a bit rich, considering that the EU — unlike Britain — has no legislation of its own to set a minimum wage, provide for compulsory trade union recognition or outlaw the dismissal of workers for taking part in industrial action (if only for the first 12 weeks).
As it is, all EU labour, consumer and environmental minimum standards have already been incorporated into UK law.
Obviously, there can be no guarantee that a Tory government will not legislate in future to lower various standards, whatever their origin. But that should be a matter for the electors in Britain to deal with. The EU, too, would have the right to respond as it sees fit, although the views of European electors are not usually a factor in the deliberations of the Council of Ministers, the Commission or the European Central Bank.
Since 1980, we have known from experience that the EU is unlikely to act against anti-union and anti-worker laws passed by right-wing British governments.
Nonetheless, the reality is that Boris Johnson is not ideologically anti-EU, let alone pro-”No Deal.” There is every likelihood that he would sell fishing rights to France and Spain in order to ensure the City of London’s continuing unfettered access to Europe’s financial markets.
He is even less ideologically committed to large-scale state aid for industry, unless it is to bail big business and its Tory Party out of a crisis such as the one we now face.
He shares the EU’s devotion to “free markets” in which the big capitalist monopolies hold sway. In tune with this mindset, corporate money from around the world being pumped into companies is normal and acceptable, whereas public investment by the state is an unacceptable distortion of the market, soiling the mythical “level playing field.”
In that respect, Boris Johnson is no different from Michel Barnier, but with added Latin and less gravitas.
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