February 2, 2023

The David Cameron Syndrome

The Brexit debate has gone mad. It has lost focus and direction.

Politicians in their obsession of oversimplification often call the EU withdrawal agreement:

  • Theresa May’s deal
  • The prime minister’s deal
  • The Brexit deal

Nothing is further from the truth and could be more misleading. Everybody involved surely must know:

Brexit was always meant to be a two-step process

This had been agreed early on between the UK government and the EU: First will be negotiated the EU withdrawal agreement, then the agreement on the future relationship.

If anything, the agreement on the future relationship will be the “Brexit deal”.

Was the EU withdrawal agreement badly negotiated?

Negotiation is a strong word and misrepresents the reality.

With the UK being member of the EU for 45 years, everyone should know that the EU is based on rules and regulations. It is also based on consensus. The EU withdrawal agreement is a necessary step to leave the EU. But, there was never much leeway for neither the EU nor the UK with regards of its content.

The EU withdrawal agreement is not a negotiation between the UK and 27 countries but rather 28 countries including the UK who all established the rules over many years. Hence, it is also impossible for the EU to “punish” the UK.

If Westminster votes down the withdrawal agreement, can it be re-negotiated?

Theoretically, anything can be negotiated and re-negotiated. In reality though, the EU stated no such desire, the time is running out, and the nature of the agreement is such that there is not much that can be changed (see above).

It was David Cameron who bravely stated before the referendum that he can get better conditions for the UK by discussing with the EU Commission. He was ignoring that the EU is rule-based and consensus-driven. Fundamental changes are above the paygrade of the EU Commission. Some would even require the agreement of EU governments including the Prime Minister of the UK.

Westminster seems to be affected by the same syndrome. Not much can be altered in the current EU withdrawal agreement.

Nor should be.

Any negative vote increases the risk for a disorderly exit also known as Hard Brexit. Or it will delay the exit.

Westminster is affected by the David Cameron Syndrome

The EU withdrawal agreement has some legalistic drawbacks and politicians focus all their attention on them. Despite all criticisms, no one proposes any tangible improvements and changes to the document.

Why then vote it down? And then re-negotiate?

What outcome would find a majority in Westminster?

The EU withdrawal agreement is only the first step of the Brexit process. Its content is quite static. Its duration is only for 2 years or so, with a possible extension.

Many politicians ignore that it does not cover the future relationship with the EU: It is not the final deal. Politicians keep quiet that while in the withdrawal agreement not much is negotiable, in the future relationship almost everything is.

Quite a few politicians consider voting down the EU withdrawal agreement, but they still have not proposed any detailed plans for the future relationship with the EU.

Brexit fatigue has set in and the Brexit debate has not even started

Especially Brexiteers must now come forward with detailed plans. Plans that are longer than a slogan or a newspaper article. Plans that can be debated. Consequences that can be quantified.

Because there are no plans, the Brexit debate has not even started.

Without a debate, there cannot be a consensus. There cannot be a solution to a deeply divided society. There cannot be another referendum with a significantly different outcome. There cannot be a solution to Brexit. There cannot be a Brexit that sees the UK leaving the EU.