You and whose army?
Update: See bottom for some relevant idiocy by EU President Jean-Claude
When I was an inky schoolboy playground arguments commonly escalated something like this:
A: Gimme X
A: If you don’t, I’ll hit you
B: Yeah right, you and whose army?
Depending on the martial capabilities of A and B, and their friends/allies this was where the rubber hit the road and there was either a fight or A backed down and shouted insults while tactically retreating.
We’re getting to that point in the Brexit negotiations. Brussels and Germany are lining up their demands to the UK, including the UK paying for various liabilities, British exports being subject to tariffs etc. The UK has of course started laying out its position too, though that has fewer direct demands and more subtle threats.
According to the Wapping Liar, the UK is not taking the demands for money lying down. Instead it is pointing out that the UK has paid for rather a lot of EU assets, and maybe it could get them back or have that contribution counted against the liabilities. It all sounds a bit like a marital divorce in fact:
Sir Desmond Swayne, the Conservative MP, said that the issue was “clearly something that was going to be at the top of the government’s agenda”. He added: “Before you get round to talking about the future relationship you have to talk about who gets the home.”
Since the UK has been the second largest net contributor for the last 40 years, it presumably has a very large interest in those assets. The UK also points out that the City of London is the second or third largest financial center in the world and massively larger than all the various continental European centers put together. EU nations need access to that and, despite some noises, realistically the financial institutions and trading markets based in London are not going to move to Paris or Frankfurt (or Dublin for that matter), there’s far too much infrastructure, including intangible basics like UK contract law, that would have to be replaced. Of course EU nations don’t just want access to that market for their companies and governments, they also want access to information about it so as to stop highly taxed EU citizens salting their savings away there and not notifying the local taxman of their existence. The Swiss authorities, and the Swiss banks could be threatened into data sharing. The UK is big enough that it probably can’t, at least not by the EU.
If the UK were to pass a law that UK financial institutions did not need to share customer account data with EU member tax authorities they could a) make this stick and 2) watch an enormous capital sucking sound as Hans, Mario, Pierre and their various pals ship money and assets to the UK to shield them from the taxman. Short of introducing capital controls, and thereby seeing their economies crater as foreign investment stops dead and the Euro becomes a non-tradeable currency, there’s no way to block this.
Especially given President Trump appears to like Brexit, the UK seems to be in a very strong position.
Moreover the EU can’t credibly threaten a military response because in the question of “you and whose army” the UK has one and, as noted by the new US Secretary of State, it spends 2.2% of its GDP on its defenses. This is rather more than most of its NATO allies do. Moreover, despite all sorts of cuts and dysfunction at the MoD, the UK military actually knows how to fight and has done so continuously since the first gulf war. With the partial exception of the French, the EU militaries have little or no recent combat experience.
The Times article I quoted from above ends with this:
Theresa May will not attend the EU’s 60th anniversary celebrations that are due to take place around the time that she triggers Article 50. European leaders will gather on Capitoline Hill in Rome on March 25 to remember the day in 1957 when France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg signed the Treaty of Rome. A senior government source in London said it was felt that it would not be appropriate for Mrs May to attend.
Many of us Brexiteers have felt that March 25th might be a most appropriate day to send the official Article 50 notification. Or possibly, since that’s a Saturday, the day before.
Update: Reuters reports that Jean-Claude Drunker, former PM of Luxembourg (defense spending approx 0/year) and current EU Commission President, is upset at Gen Mattis’ pointing out of the paucity of European defense spending:
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Thursday that Europe must not cave in to U.S demands to raise military spending, arguing that development and humanitarian aid could also count as security.
“I don’t like our American friends narrowing down this concept of security to the military,” he said, arguing it would be sensible to look at a “modern stability policy” made up of several components.
“If you look at what Europe is doing in defense, plus development aid, plus humanitarian aid, the comparison with the United States looks rather different. Modern politics cannot just be about raising defense spending,” he said.
Right if you compare spending on apples, oranges and pineapples in the EU with spending on apples in the USA you discover that the EU spends more. Oddly enough it seems unclear how spending on “development aid, plus humanitarian aid” helps deter or stop determined invaders. Indeed a cynic might suggest it just serves as a hint that “there’s rich people to mooch off there” to the hordes of migrants now entering Europe.
I think that, despite the lecturing from on high by Tony Blair, the British public sees comments like that and hardens its resolution to be shot of the idiots in charge of the EU ASAP.
The Shadow of the Olive Tree