Theresa May’s current Brexit deal will tie the UK more closely to Brussels than if it had stayed in the EU. The agreement, which is supposed to take back control and restore British sovereignty, will actually have the opposite effect. This is bad news for Britain – and bad news, too, for Europeans like myself who are desperate to see the EU reformed for the better.
Jo Johnson was right to claim, when he resigned as a minister, that the choice now facing the UK is between ‘vassalage’ and ‘chaos’. On both sides of the debate, among Brexit supporters and those who want Britain to remain in the EU, the fact that Britain will have to adopt EU legislation on a wide range of issues for an undefined period has sunk in.
What has not been fully appreciated yet are the consequences of this dire situation. However it is presented, the EU’s influence in Britain will only grow. A joint dispute resolution between the UK and the European court of justice will not change the fact that Britain will first have to adopt the rules coming from Brussels, whether it likes them or not. And with no say in the making of these rules, the diktats coming Britain’s way will be made unsurprisingly without any consideration for British concerns.
It is now clear that the UK will be aligned to single market rules in large areas of crucial policy, including agriculture, environment, state aid and social standards. The UK would not only have to stick to all current EU legislation in these fields but also adopt all relevant future EU legislation. This means that, after Brexit, the UK will have to cut and paste EU regulations as they come. Of course, from the EU’s perspective this makes sense. Any other arrangement would be unworkable as it is otherwise simply impossible over time to maintain the ‘level playing field’ of alignment between the UK and the EU single market. But without Britain’s say-so in the making of these rules, it is certain that they will not all be to the UK’s liking.
It isn’t only Britain that suffers from this new arrangement, however. The consequences of an absent UK in the EU decision making process will soon be felt more widely. Certain legislation that would otherwise not pass, will sail through. Without Britain at the table, the influence of the EPP and ALDE, the European groupings of Merkel and Macron’s parties, will grow significantly. This isn’t because of an increase in overall popular support for these groups. But simply a consequence of the lack of a strong political counterbalance that Britain would previously have provided. Together, these groups will now almost certainly be able to eke out a majority after the European Parliament elections in 2019. Those who already think France and Germany wield too much clout should get used to the fact that their influence will only grow. Even with severely diminished numbers for Merkel’s CDU, the party will still command the EPP. Macron will be the leading force in ALDE, even though Le Pen’s party may well beat his La République en Marche (LREM) in the EP elections.
The tragedy of this is that a strong showing for the Tories in the European parliament elections would mean the prospect of a change in the EU for the better. The ECR (the Conservative Group in the European Parliament) could become an increasingly influential home for MEPs who want less Europe but are ‘locked’ in the EPP or ALDE by lack of a viable alternative. A powerful ECR could easily become the second largest group in the European Parliament. This would mean more influence, too, in the European Council – and a big say over the future direction of the European Commission, meaning that the possibility of moving the EU in the right direction could be a reality. But Brexit means that this will no longer happen. As a result, Britain loses its voice at the table. And the EU shifts in a direction that many of us Europeans are not happy with.
Johannes de Jong is director of Sallux, the think tank of the European Christian and Political Movement