May’s Day

by Chris Patten

Chris Patten is a former EU Commissioner for External Relations, Chairman of the British Conservative Party, and was the last British Governor of Hong Kong. He is currently Chancellor of Oxford University and a member of the British House of Lords.

LONDON – Britain’s new prime minister, Theresa May, has a monumental task ahead of her: fulfilling British – or, more accurately, English and Welsh – voters’ demand to “Brexit” the European Union, and managing the far-reaching consequences of that effort. Her challenge dwarfs those faced by her recent predecessors. But she may well be up to it.

No one should underestimate May. Like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has proved her mettle in successive crises, May has all the tools she needs to get things done. She is clever and tough, with little patience for nonsense. She has a strong sense of public service, and an equally strong set of values. She carries little ideological baggage, and is adept at staying in control, operating within self-imposed boundaries that keep her on familiar terrain.

May wins most of the battles she fights, and shows little mercy to those who have used underhanded tactics against her. Yet she has few known enemies within her party and is popular with its rank and file. It is a robust combination – one that she will need to use fully as she attempts to lead Britain out of the EU.

And make no mistake: Britain is on its way out. May has repeatedly stated that there can be no going back on the vote to leave, even though Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay. “Brexit means Brexit,” she insists, with her ministers echoing her refrain.

But May has yet to elucidate precisely how she defines Brexit. That’s the hard part.

Imagine if someone told you, “Breakfast means breakfast,” and then headed off to prepare your meal. You would have little idea what you were actually going to eat. A Northern Irish “Ulster fry-up” – eggs, bacon, pork sausage, black pudding, potato and soda bread, and a fried tomato – with a cup of tea? Coffee and a pastry? Depending on your circumstances and preferences, you would probably feel very differently about the various possibilities.

The same goes for Brexit. Some are concerned primarily with stopping EU labor from entering the United Kingdom. Others are focused on maintaining access to the single market. But, unlike a breakfast, Britain can’t just demand everything on the menu.

The reality, so often ignored by the Brexiteers, is that the EU is not going to offer something for nothing. That is not because its leaders want to score points, or punish the UK for rejecting the EU (sometimes with inflammatory rhetoric, as when Britain’s new foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, referred to its “Hitlerian imperialism”). Rather, as we British tend to forget, everyone – including the EU and each of its member states – has their own political or commercial interests, which they are committed to protect.

For May, a central challenge over the next few months will be to determine what, realistically, Britain should be seeking when it begins the laborious negotiations on its relationship with Europe (and, on the trade front, with the world). Given the scope of the agenda (I can think of at least six major topics that will demand their own negotiations), the process could take several years. (My 11-year-old granddaughter could be starting university by the time they conclude!) Clear priorities will be essential to keep them from dragging on even longer.

The goal, of course, must be to strike a balance between ensuring access to the rest of Europe for British exporters of goods and services (especially financial services) and limiting the movement of EU citizens into Britain. The more the negotiators secure in one area, the more they will have to compromise elsewhere.

May will have to muster all of her considerable knowledge, skill, and political capital to negotiate a reasonable deal. But even if she succeeds, she may find that not just some people are dissatisfied – an unavoidable outcome – but that everyone is. That would compound another major challenge facing May’s government: narrowing the yawning divide in British society that the Brexit campaign exposed.

The Brexit vote was driven by the blue-collar workers of England’s North and Midlands, who have long felt alienated from their political leaders, left behind by globalization, and marginalized by its perceived agent, the EU. Metropolitan England – especially London – may have benefited, but they did not.

Lacking faith in a Labour Party that is melting down under its left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn, many members of this group fell prey to the populist promises of the Brexiteers. “We will reverse globalization,” they declared. “We will turn away the migrants who are suppressing your wages, and redirect millions of pounds from the EU to public services.” Brexit, they pledged, would return Britain to a safer and more prosperous past.

The promises were false. Globalization cannot be undone, and migration from the EU cannot be cut off. Any attempt to do so would devastate UK businesses. Even if a faltering economy leads to falling immigration, the workers who voted for Brexit will probably find, frustratingly, that low-paid jobs are still low paid, and that their public services are still under pressure. This is unlikely to boost social cohesion.

The Brexit vote has unleashed a storm of populist sentiment that will be difficult to control. Just as Donald Trump will not make his working-class constituents better off in the United States, Brexit will utterly fail to benefit those who chose it – no matter what it looks like. That is the one challenge that May, despite all of her assets, may not be able to overcome. 


Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong and a former EU commissioner for external affairs, is Chancellor of the University of Oxford.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2016.
www.project-syndicate.org

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Added 23.07.2018
How does the current global economic outlook compare to that of a year ago? In 2017, the world economy was undergoing a synchronized expansion, with growth accelerating in both advanced economies and emerging markets. Moreover, despite stronger growth, inflation was tame – if not falling – even in economies like the United States, where goods and labor markets were tightening.
Added 22.07.2018
While the US is busy slipping off of its precipice, many of its best known political figures are beating a rather tired old drum – the new Cold War, Russia, China, North Korea. It is boring, predictable, and dated. In the meantime, Russia and China are proceeding apace to reshape world order – without America.
Added 12.07.2018
The cabinet members who resigned this week apparently feared that politics is taking May toward a “soft Brexit,” their worst of all possible worlds........“soft Brexit,” maintains the status quo, more or less, letting Europeans freely circulate into British labor markets and allowing European firms to operate easily in the UK. The problem with “soft Brexit” is that it raises questions about why the UK is leaving at all, since it will still have the same obligations to Europe as before, it just won’t have a voice when the remaining 27 members of the European Union meet to make decisions.
Added 12.07.2018
One study on the 2010 World Cup found that there was a 37.5% rise in admission rates across 15 accident and emergency departments on England match days........Examining reports of domestic abuse in Lancashire (a county of approximately 1.5m people in Northern England), across the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cup tournaments, we discovered a 26% increase in reports of domestic abuse when England won or drew, and a 38% increase when England lost. Reports were also more frequent on weekends, and reached their peak when England exited the tournament.
Added 10.07.2018
If, back in the 1980s and 1990s, the US government, rather than arguing for Chinese economic opening, had prohibited any US company from investing there, China’s rise would have been significantly delayed, though not permanently prevented. Because that did not happen, China’s rise is now self-sustaining. A huge and increasingly affluent domestic market will make exports less vital to growth.
Added 10.07.2018
Comparing today’s demagogues with Adolf Hitler is almost always unwise. Such alarmism tends to trivialize the actual horrors of the Nazi regime, and distracts attention from our own political problems. But if alarmism is counterproductive, the question remains: At what point are democracies truly in danger? What was unimaginable only a few years ago – a US president insulting democratic allies and praising dictators, or calling the free press “enemies of the people,” or locking up refugees and taking away their children – has become almost normal now. When will it be too late to sound the alarm?
Added 09.07.2018
In view of such actions, expectations for Trump’s behavior at the upcoming summit have gone from prickly to dangerous. The sense of foreboding has been heightened by the announcement that, just four days after the summit ends, Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki. The nightmare scenario is easy to imagine: Trump lays bare NATO’s fractures, including by questioning mutual defense, before selling his allies down the river by publicly embracing Putin. But this does not need to be the outcome.
Added 09.07.2018
After 2027 (or maybe even 2025, only 7 years from now), the number of EVs will rapidly accelerate, as virtually all new vehicles bought will be electric (an effect of rapidly falling battery and other component costs and of the fuel for electric cars being essentially free; you can power one off your rooftop solar array).
Added 03.07.2018
Most pundits interpret Trump’s outbursts as playing to his political base, or preening for the cameras, or blustering for the sake of striking future deals. We take a different view. In line with many of America’s renowned mental-health experts, we believe that Trump suffers from several psychological pathologies that render him a clear and present danger to the world.
Added 03.07.2018
In the United Kingdom, Brexit looms large, with everyone from government ministers to tabloid newspapers frothing daily about the deal that will be struck with the European Union and the effects that it will have. But the EU faces too many pressing challenges to be obsessing about Britain. The UK’s concern is understandable: evidence is mounting of the likely damage a departure from the single market and customs union will do to the UK economy. According to new research from the Centre for European Reform, the UK economy is already 2.1% smaller than it would have been had voters chosen to remain. The hit to public finances totals £440 million ($579 million) per week.
Added 26.06.2018
Nowadays, Britain’s words and actions on the world stage are so at odds with its values that one must wonder what has happened to the country. Since the June 2016 Brexit referendum, British foreign policy seems to have all but collapsed – and even to have disowned its past and its governing ideas. Worse, this has coincided with the emergence of US President Donald Trump’s erratic administration, which is pursuing goals that are completely detached from those of Britain – and of Europe generally. 
Added 26.06.2018
With each passing day, it becomes increasingly evident that US President Donald Trump’s administration cares less about economics and more about the aggressive exercise of political power. This is obviously a source of enormous frustration for those of us who practice the art and science of economics. But by now, the verdict is self-evident: Trump and his team continue to flaunt virtually every principle of conventional economics.
Added 26.06.2018
The sights and sounds of Central American children being ripped from their parents by US Border Patrol officers have, by now, spread across the globe. The experience has been traumatizing to its victims and deeply painful to watch. It has also done incalculable damage to the very idea of America. This is June when we are supposed to be celebrating "Immigrant Heritage Month". Each year, I have taken this opportunity to recall my family's immigrant story - the opportunity and freedom they sought, the hardships they endured, and the remarkable progress they made in just one generation. 
Added 24.06.2018
State terrorism comes in many forms, but one of its most cruel and revolting expressions is when it is aimed at children. Even though U.S. President Donald Trump backed down in the face of a scathing political and public outcry and ended his administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents, make no mistake: His actions were and remain a form of terrorism.
Added 22.06.2018
It is now clear that the twenty-first century is ushering in a new world order. As uncertainty and instability associated with that process spread around the globe, the West has responded with either timidity or nostalgia for older forms of nationalism that failed in the past and certainly will not work now. Even to the most inveterate optimist, the G7 summit in Quebec earlier this month was proof that the geopolitical West is breaking up and losing its global significance, and that the great destroyer of that American-created and American-led order is none other than the US president. To be sure, Donald Trump is more a symptom than a cause of the West’s disintegration. But he is accelerating the process dramatically.
Added 20.06.2018
Sessions quoted a line written by the apostle Paul to a small community of Christians living in Rome around 55AD to defend the Department of Justice’s approach. He said: "I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order." Sessions used the Bible because one of the most vocal opponents of the crackdown on asylum cases has been the Catholic Church. It’s no surprise that Sessions appealed to Romans chapter 13 verse 1 in response: not only did he hope to undermine Catholic authority by using the Bible against them, he cited a statement so broad that one might use it to defend anything a government does, good or bad. Picture below St Paul writing his epistles, by Valentin de Boulogne, via Wikimedia Commons.
Added 19.06.2018
 

I find it exceptionally irritating when I hear liberals worry about whether Israel will be able to remain a "Jewish and Democratic State" if it retains control of occupied Palestinian lands.

Added 18.06.2018
Daniel Wagner: "My prediction Korean War will be formally ended, the peninsula will be denuclearised, and a lasting peace will be the result."
Added 14.06.2018
Extract: PiS [ the ruling Law and Justice party] has established the most significant addition to the Polish social safety net since 1989: the Family 500+ program. Launched in 2016, Family 500+ embodies the nationalism, traditional family values, and social consciousness that the PiS seeks to promote. The program pays families 500 złoty ($144) per month to provide care for a second or subsequent child...........The program has been enormously popular. Some 2.4 million families took advantage of it in the first two years. The benefit, equivalent to 40% of the minimum wage, has almost wiped out extreme poverty for children in Poland, reducing it by an estimated 70-80%........... Liberal pro-European politicians and policymakers are not convinced. They complain that such a generous family benefit will weaken work incentives and blow up the government budget. But initial evidence suggests that Family 500+ has actually increased economic activity. It has also reversed the post-communist decline in fertility, increased wages (particularly for women), and enabled families to buy school materials, take vacations, buy more clothes for their kids, and rely less on high-priced credit for basic household needs. And, thanks to rapid economic growth, the government deficit has steadily fallen, not grown.