“No deal is better than a bad deal,” Theresa May threatened as she made her Brexit position clear this week. It also made clear how she plans to handle the negotiations, aggressively and use of threats. When you consider that just 8% of EU exports are to the UK, while the UK sends 44% of its exports to the EU, it is unsurprising that using the few negotiation cards the UK has with a strong hand is the strategy Theresa May has chosen.
However with this substantial mismatching of reliance and need which necessitates the tough negotiating stance, British politicians and British public will be forced to confront many morally questionable positions. The first was made clear in Theresa May’s speech. “No deal is better than a bad deal,” which can be read as give the UK a good deal or face an offshore tax haven.
Theresa May will be fully aware of how important the single market, or access to it, is for business in the UK. If the UK did walk away from negotiations, the only way many businesses would stay put would be if the UK offered other attractions.
Vitally important for the banking sector, the single market allows easy trade to be done across borders in 27 other countries. HSBC was one of a number of banks who revealed jobs could be relocated when single market access disappears. Any exporting business in the UK does not have to make goods to 27 different standards or complete paper work for each individual country because of the single market which has played a large role in developing the British and European economy.
Multi-national companies with the ability to relocate will be investigating new options should single market access not be agreed for their sector. And, realistically, considerable discounts on tax rates may be the only way that the government can persuade them to stay. Is this a palatable option for politicians or the public? Is it something that the nation is comfortable with even threatening to do? This is just the first morally shaky ground Theresa May will find herself on.
Another area of morally questionable practice is on the question of EU citizens currently living and working in the UK. They appear to be a bargaining chip for Theresa May but tens of thousands of NHS staff are included in this group who no longer have a secure future because of Brexit. The very first threat of the negotiations was played long before we heard Theresa May’s Brexit plan, we won’t guarantee EU nationals can stay until you guarantee UK nationals can stay in their chosen European home.
The futures of hundreds of thousands of people who have chosen to make Britain their home seems to be an acceptable blackmail tool. Morally questionable to some but apparently just part of the negotiations after Brexit, it is just a hint of the situations we as a public will have to become accustomed to.
Security and Defence
Potentially the one area where the UK does have a strong hand to play, security and defence is however a potentially dangerous area to play tough with. The UK’s thousands of intelligence officers and strong military presence will be important chips in the negotiations especially given the threat of terror and Trump’s dislike of NATO. However, how far are we as a public prepared to let this be used as a threat against Europe? Do we withhold information we receive on potential terror targets or events because the EU doesn’t want to give us as much single market access as we want.
Would we hold back military support if a European ally is put under pressure, perhaps even invaded, as happened in Ukraine. How far would politicians, military leaders and the public go with the threat and would we ever be looked upon favourably by outside nations, who we need trade deals with, if we stood back? This is possibly the biggest moral quandary which could be facing us by the end of the year if Brexit negotiations continue down the path Theresa May has cleared.
One final piece of blackmail which the country appears to be lining up should negotiations get desperate is the possibility of a trade deal with Trump’s United States of America. Michael Gove came back from his meeting with the President-elect trumpeting the fact a deal could be signed almost as soon as we exit the EU but let’s look at how Donald Trump does business.
The soon to be President has already threatened many businesses, even countries, with huge tariffs should they ‘steal’ or move jobs away from America and during his election campaign he took the side of corporations and big business, promising large tax cuts. He also repeatedly stated that it would be "America first" in his inauguration speech yesterday.
What sort of trade deal could be signed within two years, a very short period of time for a major deal, which would be acceptable to someone operating in this way? Large companies would almost certainly have carte blanche, tax incentives and access all areas of the British economy including the NHS, a kind of TTIP deal on steroids. This point is argued by former business secretary Vince Cable in his Backbench article.
It may be possible to complete a trade deal in two years but it will not be an equal or a fair one from a British perspective. It poses another moral question over whether the UK is prepared to give up on rights and fair trade in order to simply stay merely close to our current economic situation.
By March of 2019, if all goes to plan, Britain will be leaving the European Union. It may be possible to achieve a future fairly stagnant and similar to where the country finds itself now but it will require a loosening of morals and a considerable amount of ‘looking the other way’ to achieve. Theresa May, it would appear from her speech this week, is prepared to do just that.