The former UK Ambassador to the EU has delivered a withering judgement on the UK’s approach to negotiating with the EU, in which he argues that the PM simply did not, and still does not, understand how the EU works, assuming (like Cameron before her) that the real negotiations were with the heads of government of the 27 member states, not with their appointed representatives in the EU institutions. As a description of the mess in which we now find ourselves, it’s a helpful insight from someone who’s been there and knows how things work. I wonder, though, whether it gets right to the bottom of the underlying problem.
There was another story over the weekend about the former Foreign Secretary’s complaint that ‘we don’t really know who’s running the EU or how to kick them out’, which, leaving aside his usual colourful and unhelpful language, struck me as being another side of the same coin. In truth, it isn’t about not knowing who runs the EU, nor about knowing how to kick them out, it’s more about not liking the answer to those questions. What he really seems to be hinting at is that there is no way for the UK electorate, acting alone, to change the people at the top of the EU. For Johnson, as with May, the problem starts and ends with their own ideological perspective about what the ‘right’ way to do things is, and utter incomprehension that anyone else might take a different view.
From their perspective, the ‘right’ place – indeed, the only place – for power to lie is with what they choose to call the ‘nation state’ (although it’s actually more a question of which set of lines on the map was in place when the fighting stopped – a debate for another day). From that point of view, it makes eminent sense that May would expect to be dealing with other nation states, just as it makes eminent sense for the nation state (well, for ‘our’ nation state at least) to be able to remove its leaders at any level. It’s a position which has more holes in it than a colander though, when looked at from any perspective other than theirs. They find it easy enough to dismiss the counter argument that the same rule should apply to Wales or Scotland, neither of which can change the UK Government unilaterally – after all, they’re not ‘nation states’ are they? They’re merely regions of the only nation state which counts, with comparatively small populations. And being able to change the people who rule over us doesn’t include the head of state (obviously – her power was given to her by God, not through any electoral process) nor the membership of the largest house of parliament (tradition and ‘the way we do things’ being more important than considerations of democracy).
It’s just as well that they keep reminding us that they’re not nationalists (apparently, only other people can be nationalists) because otherwise it would be very tempting to describe their view as being extremely nationalistic.