Johannes de Jong is Director of Sallux, an association that acts as the political foundation for the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM).
Strange as it may sound, the proposed deal between the UK and the EU will make the former more ‘European’ than if it had stayed a member of the latter. For the draft agreement, intending to “restore” British sovereignty, will actually have the opposite effect. So much is already clear from the deal that Theresa May has presented to the Cabinet and is now pressing on her country.
On resigning, Jo Johnson pointed out that the UK will face a choice between ‘vassalage’ and ‘chaos’ when the Prime Minister shortly presents her Brexit deal to the Commons for a vote. The fact that UK will have to adopt Brussels-made legislation on a wide range of issues for an undefined period has sunk in on both sides of the debate.
What has not done so yet, however, are the consequences. That is, that the UK will be subject to more Brussels influence than now. A joint UK/ECJ dispute resolution will not change the fact that the UK will first have to adopt rules coming from Brussels. Large swaths of policy areas will become ‘more European’ than when the UK was a member state. That has much to do with the political nature of the Single Market. To put it simply: it matters who is at the table when these rules are made. The UK not being there means more Brussels influence post-Brexit in the UK under the draft arrangement then currently is the case.
This sounds incredibly contradictory to Brexit’s intent, and it deserves a more elaborate explanation.
It is now crystal clear that the UK will be aligned to Single Market rules in huge swathes of policy fields including the environment, state aid and social standards. Under the deal’s terms, the UK would not only have to stick to all current EU legislation in these fields, but also adopt all relevant future EU legislation. Essentially, the UK will have to cut and paste EU regulations as they come post-Brexit.
This makes perfect sense from the EU 27’s point of view, since otherwise it’s simply impossible to maintain the ‘level playing field’ (meaning alignment with the EU single market). If the UK wouldn’t adopt the relevant new EU rules, this would no longer remain the case.
But there is a catch. The catch is that the UK and all its political influence will no longer be there when these rules are being made. This is obvious, but there is an alarming, deeper issue here. Already we, as a European political foundation, have felt and seen the consequences of a ‘more absent’ UK in the EU decision- making process. When the UK is not present at the decision-making table, certain legislation that would otherwise not pass, passes. Under the current political constellation of the European Parliament and European Commission, in many cases, new European legislation simply means ‘more power to Brussels for those who are powerful in Brussels’.
Fast forward to post-Brexit, and the U.K. will not only have to copy and paste European legislation, but crucially, this future legislation will significantly vary from what we see today. It will be legislation that is heavily influenced by the EPP and ALDE, the European groupings of Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron. Not because they can command overall popular support, but simply by lack of a strong political counterbalance. Together, they will most likely be able to eke out a majority after the European Parliament elections in 2019. This increase in influence will be felt in all institutions. Many parties and countries will not be happy about it, but this will become the political reality. Even with severely diminished numbers for Merkel’s CDU, it 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.
This most likely means the rubberstamping of legislation that will give more power to Brussels. And this legislation will have to be adopted by the UK post-Brexit under the current deal. This means that both during the transition and under the subsequent customs union (which will be actually a lot more than that), the UK will adopt increasingly significant legislation that will inevitably increase the grip of Brussels. Future legislation that would never pass were the UK in the Council, and Conservative MEPs still present in the European Parliament, will be governing significant policy output.
Further still, given the actual weakness of the parties of Merkel and Macron, we face an absurd situation. Were the Conservative Party to contest the next set of European Parliamentary elections, it would likely become the political powerhouse, with a larger delegation than the CDU and LREM. This would make the ECR (the Conservative Group in the European Parliament) a highly attractive group for MEPs from many countries who want less Europe but are ‘locked’ in the EPP or ALDE by lack of a viable alternative (as they see it).
A strong ECR could become the second largest group (at least) in the European Parliament, and it would have a strong voting weight in the European Council. It would be able to have real influence over the composition and thus future direction of the European Commission. Given the wider probable composition of the European Parliament and the Council, it would become a real possibility to reform the EU in the right direction – something seen as impossible in modern Britain. In my opinion this is far better than crashing out of the EU without a deal and into a completely uncertain future.
To me as an ‘informed outsider’ it seems therefore that the UK and the Conservative Party face an interesting choice. Either the UK will be heavily influenced by Brussels without influence in the EU…or be less influenced by Brussels because of having influence within the EU.