Who will trust a UK that walks away from its debts?

Posted September 17, 2017

In the disingenuous bluster that for Boris Johnson constitutes a speech there are, despite appearances, some carefully chosen words. Aside from creating a NEW LIE, the repetition of the BIG LIE of £350m a week for the NHS is, when closely scrutinized, an attempt to re-write history. To qualify the lie, he pre-fixes his repetition with “once we have settled accounts” and states “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS, provided we use that cash injection to modernise and make the most of new technology”

No easy ways to wriggle out of that down the line then! He doesn’t say how, when or from what pot. The implication, should he need to revise history yet again, being that he never actually meant it in the first place. If you have been caught lying as often as Boris then it is best to muddy the waters as much as possible.

Mr Johnson knows fine well that the UK and the EU will need to reach a financial settlement if there is any hope of an exit from the EU that holds the prospect of anything other than short term ruin. He also knows that he and his leave advocating friends have painted themselves into a political corner and he knows it isn’t clever. Boris Johnson may enjoy being the fool but stupid he is not.

Agreeing a financial settlement is, as expected, proving a major sticking point in the first phase of the UK-EU negotiations.  Until agreement is reached on that issue, it is highly unlikely that the Council will agree in October that 'sufficient progress' has been made in order to move onto discussions of the new UK-EU relationship.

The longer it takes to agree a financial settlement, the less time will remain to agree a future relationship that delivers for, and protects, British people, their jobs and their rights - and the longer the period of uncertainty for British businesses and foreign-owned businesses based in the UK. Continued uncertainty contributes to those business considering their options for the future, one of which is certainly moving their key functions (and tax contributions) from the UK.

So wise heads need to prevail, and we need to stop the ludicrous posturing that we have seen, not just from the usual suspect Tory backbenchers, but from Cabinet ministers whose idea of a productive contribution is to tell 27 sovereign countries to "go whistle".

The UK government has said it wants to go through financial settlement proposals “line by line”. Labour would take this approach too were it in Government. The EU and elected politicians there will also go through any proposals from the UK ‘line by line’. Why would they not? As elected politicians we have a duty to ensure any public funds spent are in the best interests of taxpayers and deliver value for money. There are a number of areas where the UK has outstanding commitments to the EU but equally there are also many EU assets the UK has paid into. We need to ensure a fair deal which reflects both assets and liabilities and our continued cooperation in many important areas. The Commission and the Council will want to get a fair deal for their citizens, and the UK government will want to do the same for Brits.  That is only right.

But that cannot, and should not, mean trying to walk away from our obligations.  It is undeniable that we have signed up to certain EU projects which do not neatly end on the arbitrary date of 29 March 2019 as well as our long term commitments over the term of our membership. Only spivs and charlatans would suggest that we walk away from our nearest neighbours and longstanding allies without paying a penny towards those projects from which we have benefitted and can continue to benefit.

So the UK Government will need to consider what best serves the ‘interests’ of the country, and rather than simply consider what’s ‘legal’ or ‘contractual’.

The UK is a responsible, grown-up democracy that has a proud history of upholding the global rule of law and meeting its international commitments. The EU27 will still be our neighbours and democratic allies after we leave. They will still be our friends, our partners in security and trade at the very least. In these negotiations, the UK must show itself to be the fair-minded and responsible country that we have always been in the past.

So please, let's end the nonsense of "we don't owe them anything" and the idea that we can act like amoral directors of a bankrupt company and walk off into the sunset leaving someone else to pick up the pieces.  Because I can guarantee that it will be ordinary British people who suffer the consequences of that kind of behaviour. In any case, how will it take us closer to an agreement, how will we gain an advantageous deal by at the first question effectively refusing to negotiate?

It's time to grow up, stop posturing and start negotiating seriously.  Yes, we need to make sure that we pay a sum that is justified, one with a sound evidence base and one that is rooted in law.  But the UK will have to pay a sum and from doing so we will gain a benefit. And the sooner those in and around Number 10 stop posturing and accept the reality that you don’t build a ‘deep and special relationship’ by walking away from your debts.