Just to clarify, what Philip Hammond is talking about is an extra “transitional period”. Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty allows for a two year transitional period. We are in that transitional period now. It expires at the end of March 2019.
Hammond is talking about an extension to the transitional period. While assiduously avoiding calling it that. And, for all he speaks with the arrogant sense of entitlement that we have long associated with the British political elite, that extension is not an option that is simply there for the British state to choose. You would never guess it from listening to Hammond, but if the British government wants an extension to the transitional period allowed by Article 50, it will have to go cap-in-hand to the EU and ask very nicely. Nicely enough to persuade all 27 real member nations to grant this concession.
As Hammond and his witless colleagues are only now beginning to discover, the world doesn’t owe the British state any favours. Particularly not that part of it which comprises the European Union. In this world of grown-up politics, none of those 27 nations is going to agree to a three year extension to a two year transition period without demanding something in return. The concession will have to be bought. And it is unlikely to come cheap.
The Brits will whine and bawl, of course. To the extent that they are unable to cover up the cost of the extension – assuming it is granted at all – they will cry foul. That ‘powerhouse Britain’ bestriding the globe with its arsenal of innovative jams will be transformed into a blubbing brat bleating about how unfair it is that the delicate and gracious Lady Britannia is being treated so callously by the vile Johnny Foreigner.
All of which will elicit even less sympathy from a European Union that has spent decades pandering to a UK which was always more of an irritating presence than a participating member. A European Union which, in any case, might be seriously disinclined to allow Hammond and his feckless colleagues further time given the way in which they are squandering what they have. At least some in the EU will be bound to wonder whether even five years is enough for Theresa May’s clueless crew to get their clumsy clown act together.
Weren’t we all told that two years was plenty? Just how long might the UK Government try to spin this out? And for what? The longer the process goes on, the more the ‘deal’ towards which it seems to be ponderously but inexorably trundling comes to resemble what the UK already had.
And what of Scotland? Needless to say, neither we nor any of the other ‘peripheral’ parts of the UK figure in the British establishment’s calculations – if that’s an appropriate term for what looks like the political equivalent of head-butting an abacus in the hope of getting the beads to form a pleasing pattern.
Yet again, we are forcefully reminded that when British politicians speak of Britain they refer, not to a union of disparate parts, each with its own needs and priorities, but to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which serve the few at the expense of the many.
Dr Kirsty Hughes, director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations may be correct in supposing that a “bespoke, standstill UK transition” could simplify the matter of independent Scotland’s continuing EU membership. But there is no way that this “bespoke” arrangement would be tailored to fit Scotland’s purposes. Far from it.
To the extent that it might be influenced by the UK Government rather than dictated by the EU, the extended transitional period would inevitably be informed, in lesser part by the imperative to lock Scotland into the union, and in greater part by the imperative to protect the interests of the City and safeguard those structures of power, privilege and patronage.
We simply cannot afford to be complacent. Quite apart from the protracted uncertainty and the impact that this would have on Scotland’s economy, we cannot afford to just sit back and hope for the best. We most assuredly cannot afford to assume that the British state might look after Scotland’s interests. If we are to prevent Scotland being forcibly subsumed in some newly-defined British state on terms that we are not even informed of, far less consulted on, then we must take action now.
Should this extension to the Brexit process actually come about, let us not be lulled into supposing there is no longer any urgency. It remains absolutely crucial that we affirm and defend Scotland’s right of self-determination. And that we do so now! It is absolutely essential that we demand a new referendum on Scotland’s constitutional status well before the official Brexit transitional period expires in March 2019. It is absolutely vital that we secure a Yes vote in that referendum.
In a very real sense, the ‘deal’ being negotiated with the EU is a distraction. What we should be most concerned about is the constitutional settlement within the UK post-Brexit. The prolonged Brexit process now being spoken of by Philip Hammond has no bearing whatever on the fact that this settlement, should we allow it to take effect, will be greatly to Scotland’s disadvantage.
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