The pirate bounty

 In Economy

Is the pirate strategy, which Boris Johnson is draging the UK into, worth it?

International and trade relations have never been a ‘gala dinner’[1], that is a fact. But the bill, approved by the House of Commons last week, has rang out like a warning shot in the UK, Europe and beyond. While claiming its bill as a guarantee for the preservation of peace in Ireland, the British government is in fact going back on the exit agreements signed less than a year ago. It thus reveals its firm intention to free itself from any European constraints, especially regarding ​​public subsidies.

Pushed by the most radical “Brexiters”, believers in a “no-deal” which would leave their hands completely free, Boris Johnson does not hesitate to resort to threats and blackmail. The tactical decision is quite clear: obtain from the European Union the concessions and the accommodations desired in the current negotiations, while getting rid of any control from Brussels over the upholding of a level playing field.

With the Covid crisis, it is not absurd to think that this doctrine will have become an urgent necessity for British leaders. The underwhelming results of sanitary and economic policies require to implement as quickly as possible a policy of attractiveness, by allowing all subsidy measures – in terms of tax cuts, changes of the labor code etc – suitable for seducing the most daring… or the less scrupulous investors.

The Johnson government is not giving up on setting an example outside, and hopes to rally some to its cause.

In this multi-directional tactics, how can one resist the temptation to oppose the “freedom and the call of the open seas” of England, a model of free trade, to the unfair, technocratic and arbitrary rigidity of the European Union? Sir Francis Drake, the Queen’s privateer, was he not in his time the winner of the Invincible Armada? There must be a great temptation to hide this dodge behind the romantic appearances of a romantic adventurer.

Furthermore, in doing so, the Johnson government is not giving up on setting an example outside, and hopes to rally some to its cause. Risking the break-up to obtain concessions, or gaining support from the nation and future trading partners, isn’t it the best bet for a Prime Minister losing momentum in public opinion?

This offer is nonetheless twofold, and even multi-edged. Domestically, Northern Ireland’s de facto split from the EU, the risk of Scotland rebelling against London constraints and the dismantling of social protection, could lead to more divisions, if not partitions. Will replacing continental ties with massive foreign investment and more or less forced cooperation guarantee the desired independence and sovereignty? Externally, by allowing itself to break the rule of law and its word, the British government can only increase the mistrust of its potential partners or even worse, encourage them to use the same methods against it. In doing so, Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the Nation, symbol of the defense of the rule of law, contributes to move international trade relations a little further away from the cooperative mode and to put them exclusively on the level of a power struggle.

What about investors? Many will be tempted to find alluring opportunities in a new “free zone”. But at what cost, and for what guarantees? The world of floating capital is by definition volatile.

Turning “Singapore on the Thames” into Turtle Island is surely not the best way to ensure a nation’s long-term prosperity.

1 Referring to  «La diplomatie n’est pas un dîner de gala, mémoires d’un ambassadeur» Claude Martin ed L’aube


©Article published in on Sep22, 2020  ®Cartoon Barret

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