Michael St George’s take on four of the week’s key Brexit-related headlines.
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Despite being content to sit in a Welsh Assembly which owes its existence to a devolution referendum won by a margin of only 0.6 per cent, Welsh-Labour, whose 29 Assembly Members form all but two of the current 31-member ruling coalition, has never really accepted the decision of the Welsh electorate to leave the EU by a margin ten times greater. The call by First Minister Mark Drakeford for a Brexit delay needs to be seen in that context.
In any event, this has absolutely nothing to do with the Welsh Government, which, on this issue, arguably does not even reflect the decision of the people of Wales who voted 53:47 in favour of Leave, much less represent them. UK-wide constitutional matters are totally outwith the devolved competencies of the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Government.
In all likelihood, either this is a smokescreen for Drakeford trying to deflect attention from the dire state of the Labour-run Welsh NHS, particularly with Gwent being a Covid-19 hotspot matching Italy in infection rates, or he is adding his voice to those hoping to stop Brexit by using the coronavirus outbreak as an excuse to demand its deferral.
EU coronavirus summit exposes fundamental divisions – Global Vision
As if the EU’s hesitant response to the Europe-wide coronavirus crisis – posturing but dithering impotently while sovereign nation-states’ democratically elected governments moved swiftly and unilaterally to meet the need to protect their own citizens – wasn’t bad enough, the third EU coronavirus summit predictably revealed more discord than harmony.
Rather than micro-improvements such as facilitating the easier exchange of medical information or the freeing of supply-chains from bureaucracy, the EU Council instead proposed yet another comprehensive centralisation package, predicated on a common debt instrument, which has created the usual friction between the fiscally more conservative EU countries and its more fragile economies. The crisis is exposing how little nation-states can depend on an EU so often found wanting when it comes to action, despite all the talk of unity.
Brexit in Hindsight: Historial Reflections – Briefings for Britain
Another magisterial contribution from Professor Robert Tombs, separating two distinct questions which are often conflated: why, generally, did Britain vote to leave the EU, but also why specifically did it vote to do so in 2016? Professor Tombs has little hesitation in locating the answer to the first of these questions firmly within the very different experience of Britain compared with Continental Europe in the first half of the twentieth century, having neither succumbed internally to totalitarianism nor been militarily defeated and subsequently occupied by it, and therefore not seeing pan-Europeanism in terms of almost existential survival.
The second he sees as lying within the contrast between the pessimistic, lacking-in-confidence Britain of the 1960s which saw European integration as the remedy for economic decline, and the near-reversal of this perception by the early 2010s, in the face of visible and growing evidence of the bloc’s economic sclerosis and pursuit of political integration at the expense of democratic legitimacy.
What this suggests is that the popular determination among 2016 Leave-voters to leave the EU in fulfilment of the 2016 mandate persists at a deeper, more atavistic level than the purely transactional considerations which Unreconciled Remainers condescendingly assume to be the main drivers of public opinion. On this basis, the latters’ siren calls for an extension of the Brexit transition ‘because of coronavirus’, in the secret hope that Brexit can somehow thereby be diluted or prevented, are destined for failure, making any delay superfluous. We should leave on schedule anyway.
Downgrade warnings raise fears of European bank nationalisations – Telegraph (£)
Moody’s downgrade alert for banks in no fewer than six EU member-states, based on an anticipated slump in profits but a surge in bad debts linked to the coronavirus-induced recession, comes on top of the burgeoning credit crunch from the eurozone’s bank-debt overhang. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has been reporting this week on the cracks appearing in the eurozone’s institutions, now rapidly coming to a head with a stark choice between strengthening monetary union with fiscal union, and all that would entail, or risking EMU as a whole unravelling.
The danger here for the UK is of an extension to the Brexit transition leaving us still on the hook for a massive contribution if necessary to stave off a eurozone banking collapse. There are numerous bad reasons for delaying our exit because of the coronavirus emergency, and few, if any, good ones.