Richard North, 02/12/2017  

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Charles Moore is in full flow this weekend, writing up in his column that: "Theresa May's fearful Brexit is leading us towards a Declaration of Dependence" (no paywall).

Fisking Moore just for the sake of it, although entertaining enough, is a complete waste of time. But since he seems to have appointed himself spokesman for the "Ultras", his columns increasingly give us some insight into what might loosely be called the "thinking processes" of the Tory claque which is devoting itself to bringing about a "hard Brexit".

From his current column, we can see that Moore's great lament is that having, effectively, committed £50 billion in payments to the EU, we are not getting anything substantial in return.

Certainly, he says, we have gained "no concession about future trade" and "no sympathy for the 'imaginative' trade approach we have called for". The process set by Michel Barnier and meekly accepted by our negotiators, Moore complains, "has always been deliberately unimaginative".

All we are getting is an acknowledgement (leaving aside Ireland and the expats) that paying the money brings us "sufficient progress" in the talks to allow us to start discussing trade. It does not buy us acceptance of any British views on the subject.

The EU, he says, "will insist on Britain retaining the 'European model' of regulation if it wants a trade deal". All we jettison is rights – a judge at the ECJ, a place among the Council of Ministers, representation in the European Parliament. What we keep is the rules and obligations.

From this we can infer (and we have to infer, because he does not make the case openly) is that Moore thinks we should be entering a grand bargain: our money in return for special favours in the manner of bartering for a Turkish carpet in a souk. The more money we pay, the better the carpet we should be getting.

However, whether you agree with the detail of the EU's stance or not, it is pretty plain that the "colleagues" see the money question as meeting past commitments. It is not a "divorce bill" as the media so often paints it – it is simply paying outstanding bills. In the nature of things, that does not confer any rights or create any privileges. That Moor should want "favours for cash" illustrates how little depth to his work, on which basis one can scarcely credit how superficial his (and by inference the Ultras') case really is. But only if we are prepared to wade through his polemics can we really understand what he's after.

In this column, we're nearly at the end before we see the case summed up – and then only in two short sentences. In the first, he says, "The purpose of our EU membership was to converge" and in the second, he declares: "We decided to diverge".

You have to give it to the man – this is a beguilingly simply analysis. But then, as we have so often observed, the "Ultras" don't do detail. What they prefer – as illustrated by Moore – is mantras. The whole of our experience of the last 44 years of EU membership is collected together in one word: "convergence". And since we are now leaving the EU, our single purpose – our sole objective – is "divergence".

Therein we can find the entire thrust of the Ultra objections to any process of managed withdrawal, and all that goes with such a process. We are leaving in order to be different so, when we leave, we should be devoting ourselves to being different. And now, Moore wails, "we are not being allowed to. Our Government is ruled by fear, and clings to its jailer even though the prison doors are open at last". He then writes:
How different Mrs May's narrative could be. National independence is a language of possibility. She could seize on this week's dramatic drop in the net migration figures from the EU to suggest the benefits of controlling our own borders. She could state that our offer of so much money is strictly tied to a reciprocal no-tariff trade deal. She could announce that, with time so short, we shall prepare fully for the possibility (actually the likelihood) that the EU will not agree to any special, bespoke agreement for Britain, and therefore get ready to trade on WTO terms. Instead she is almost making a Declaration of Dependence.
At the heart of this little squib is the reliance on the WTO option and the evident belief that WTO terms would be anything but a disaster. Last week, we had the Telegraph's Liam Halligan trying to make the case, recruiting WTO boss Roberto Azevedo to say that it was "not the end of the world".

This week, though, freed from the Halligan spin, he adds: "But it's not going to be a walk in the park. It's not like nothing happened, there will be an impact. It will be a very bumpy road, and maybe long as well". Further knocking Halligan into the dust, he then says: "Now, the question is how bumpy and how long - and that depends a lot on the terms of the agreement that will be reached between the UK and the EU, I have no way of knowing at this point in time".

Confronting this "long" and "very bumpy road", anyone sensible slows down and takes extra care to avoid the potholes, thus sparing the suspension. But the "Ultras" want to ramp up the speed to a reckless level, convincing themselves that no harm will come from their action.

And then there is the Irish border question, something that Moore avoids, on the grounds that " nobody seems clear what on earth is happening". Yet Moore's column comes after the publication of the Brexit Committee report (which had four Tory abstentions). This had MPs telling us that:
We do not currently see how it will be possible to reconcile there being no border with the Government’s policy of leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union, which will inevitably make the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland the EU's customs border with the UK.
And while Moore bleats about money in return for a trade deal of our choice, European Council President Donald Tusk has met Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, telling him that the EU is fully behind him and the Irish people and their "request that there should be no hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit". Says tusk, "The Irish request is the EU's request". He adds:
It is the UK that started Brexit and now it is their responsibility to propose a credible commitment to do what is necessary to avoid a hard border. It is clear that we cannot reach a full agreement on every single detail at this stage, especially that the final outcome will be linked to the future relations between the EU as a whole and the UK.

As you know, I asked Prime Minister May to put a final offer on the table by 4th of December so that we can assess whether sufficient progress can be made at the upcoming European Council. And we have agreed today that before proposing guidelines on transition and future relations to the leaders, I will consult the Taoiseach if the UK's offer is sufficient for the Irish government. Let me say very clearly: if the UK's offer is unacceptable for Ireland, it will also be unacceptable for the EU. I realise that for some British politicians this may be hard to understand. But such is the logic behind the fact that Ireland is an EU member while the UK is leaving. This is why the key to the UK's future lies - in some ways - in Dublin, at least as long as Brexit negotiations continue.
Clearly, this is not only hard for some British politicians to understand. The "Ultras", as represented by Charles Moore, are having difficulty understanding this as well. As I have remarked elsewhere, they seem to lack the intellectual architecture to make sense of what they see and hear. They are beyond our reach.

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