Evan Stark defined coercive control as a pattern of behaviour which seeks to take away an individual’s liberty and to strip away their sense of self. The Prime Minister’s Brexit negotiations have shown that she has been “subjected to a pattern of domination that includes tactics to isolate, degrade, exploit and control”.
In a recent report for Briefings for Brexit, I discussed four possible views about our enigmatic Prime Minister’s approach to the Brexit negotiations.
Theresa May’s four personas
The first is to take her at her word that she is “just getting on with the job” and simply wants to minimise any disruption to trade after Brexit, having listened to the reasoned views of the CBI and the Institute of Directors. The PM’s world view is simply that there cannot be “no deal”, and so she had to take charge singlehandedly, bypassing the Ministers notionally in control, while refusing to listen to any objections. She acted in exactly the same way over the divorce bill and over the negotiations leading to the Joint Report last December. She agreed to pay £39bn in the hope the EU would be nice to us when it came to trade negotiations – a key aspect of coercive control is to deprive you of financial independence. She also offered the Irish backstop – where the whole of the UK remains subject to EU laws to avoid a hard border – which has now come back to haunt her and us, possibly for ever more.
The second view is that the PM is in reality the “Manchurian Candidate”, a Remainer who is going through the motions of working towards Brexit (“Brexit means Brexit” plus the Lancaster House, Florence, Mansion House and Munich speeches), but has been secretly working to defeat Brexit. Deception is a key companion to this view. Take two examples.
First, she always refuses to answer how she would vote if there was another referendum. Second, the Chequers White Paper on the UK’s future relationship with the EU must have been months in the making in complete secret with dozens of civil servants involved – in total deception of the civil servants at the Brexit Department. Mrs Merkel was shown the White Paper before the British Cabinet.
The third view is that she is suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome and has developed an empathy for her EU “captors” and wants to please them. They occasionally let her out in public to give the pretence of normality. But you can see the discomfort on her face whenever this happens. And always lurking in the background is the creepy Jean-Claude Juncker, ever ready to pounce and slobber all over her whenever it looks as though she is going to say something out of line.
The fourth view is that she is simply incompetent and out of her depth as Lord King, former governor of the Bank of England, implies.
Nothing that Theresa May says about the Withdrawal Agreement is true
Bear these possibilities in mind when it comes to examining the PM’s claims that the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) and Political Declaration approved by EU leaders on 25 November 2018:
- Take back control of our laws
- End European Court of Justice (ECJ) jurisdiction in the UK
- End vast sums of money going to the EU
- End free movement
- Allow the UK to leave the Single Market
- Allow the UK to leave the Customs Union
- Guarantee control of our agricultural policy
- Guarantee control of our fisheries policy
- Allow new independent trade deals for goods and services
- Guarantee the existing defence and security arrangements with our international allies, and
- Keep all parts of our “precious” country united.
But none of this is true – none of it – as the PM’s own Attorney General (EU Exit: Legal position on the Withdrawal Agreement and the Legal Effect of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland) and the House of Commons EU Legislation Team (The Withdrawal Agreement: Legal and Governance Aspects) have made abundantly clear.
Take just one key point in the WA: it makes Great Britain a “third country” when it comes to trade with Northern Ireland.
How is it possible that the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland – which has been the subject of sensitive bi-lateral discussions between the Irish Republic and the UK since 1922 – has been allowed to become an issue in which countries as far away as Cyprus – itself on a divided island – can have a unilateral veto on its future? What monumental failure of British statecraft is this!
Even more shocking is what has been secretly agreed on defence and security. According to an article in Briefings for Brexit by Sir Richard Dearlove and Major-General Julian Thompson (The Prime Minister is misleading the country on defence and security – A rebuttal of a Downing Street ‘reprimand’), the Prime Minister has agreed to subordinate our armed forces to the “full scope of EU defence policy” without having any “decision making role”. The clear implication is that we could be required by the EU to engage in armed conflict without seeking our consent.
Deception and self-delusion
Then there is even more deception of her own Cabinet. Ministers were given just an hour or so to read the WA (which is 585 pages long with no table of contents and no index) before they had to approve it. Further, as David Allen Green pointed out in the Financial Times, the Attorney General’s letter on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland was written after the issue was discussed at Cabinet. David Starkey calls the PM “dishonest and duplicitous”, while Mervyn King calls the WA a “betrayal”.
So you begin with an overworked, incompetent and confused PM who would really prefer to remain in the EU. You add in her self-delusion that she is “strong and stable” and a “bloody difficult woman”: “I have spent two years negotiating this” and “I am determined to get this deal through”. Top it off with the Stockholm Syndrome and you can see how the EU’s skilful psychological profiling of the PM has paid off and allowed it to start to exercise coercive control.
How the EU breaks it enemies
Let’s not forget, the EU are experts in this and always begin with a detailed analysis of their enemies’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as their own. Then they very cleverly turn their main weakness – the Irish border which the EU would instruct the Irish Republic to build a Berlin Wall along in the event of “no deal” in order to protect the integrity of the Single Market – into a strength and our main strengths – the negotiating power of the £39bn, the City of London and our goods trade deficit with them – into weaknesses.
They are currently slowly strangulating the Italian government for daring to defy Brussels by introducing an expansionary fiscal policy to get the Italian economy out of the recession it has been in since it joined the euro in 1999. Similarly, it took them just four days in 2015 to break Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister: having been almost kissed to death by Jean-Claude Juncker, while simultaneously being threatened with having his ATMs cut off, he would agree to anything. In both cases, it involves the public humiliation of democratically elected national governments.
It took them a little longer with Mrs May. They began by telling her – and the rest of us – precisely how they would break her. She would come as a supplicant to the negotiating table and she would be given a deal that was far worse than EU membership. The EU would protect their £95bn trade surplus in goods with us, but leave our £28bn trade surplus in services with them under constant threat, since they would refuse to consider any deal on services trade until after we left the EU, when 27 Member States would need to unanimously approve the deal. And so it has turned out. They probably started drafting the WA shortly after the referendum, well before Mrs May triggered Article 50.
It is quite remarkable how we have allowed Theresa May and a small group of Remain-supporting civil servants – who are far more sympathetic to the EU’s position than to the referendum result – to “negotiate” our exit from the EU, without any monitoring or discussion of what they have been doing over the last two years. The PM even dropped Crawford Falconer, the experienced New Zealand trade negotiator appointed by the Department for International Trade, in favour of Olly Robbins, a career civil servant with no business experience, as her lead negotiator with Brussels. Together, they have walked slowly backwards into the very corner the EU told everyone they would end up in. The consequence is – unambiguously – the worst deal in British history, yet the PM repeatedly assures us that “this is the only deal that the EU will accept, therefore it is the best deal that I have been able to negotiate”. As Hilary Benn MP confirmed on BBC’s Any Questions? on 15 December 2018, it was Theresa May who proposed the backstop and she has now been skewered by it. He also confirmed that it would be the EU that imposed the hard border in Ireland to protect the integrity of the Single Market.
If MPs vote for the Withdrawal Agreement, they are not fit to have any role in determining the laws that the rest of us have to obey
If Members of Parliament read the above legal advice and Martin Howe QC’s Withdrawal Agreement: the Northern Irish “Backstop” and the constitution of the United Kingdom, together with May’s road to economic serfdom and Selling a sellout: the truth about the PM’s “deal” with Brussels, both from Briefings for Brexit, and still vote for this Withdrawal Agreement, then they are not fit to have any role in determining the laws that the rest of us have to obey. This is because it would mean that they did not understand how the WA condemns the entire British people to the EU’s coercive control for many years to come – long after Theresa May has disappeared from the scene.
As Mr Howe points out: “Once the Protocol [relating to the Irish backstop] is in force, the UK cannot leave it except by ‘joint’ decision of the UK and the EU. This gives the EU a right of veto over the UK’s exit. …An obligation ‘to use best endeavours to agree’ [as outlined in the Political Declaration] could [not] be enforced by arbitration. …The EU could carry on proposing terms which are unacceptable to the UK and/or spin out these complicated negotiations for years without it being possible to demonstrate that the EU is in breach of any obligation of best endeavours”. To back this up, the Irish Ambassador has made absolutely clear in a letter to The Spectator on 1 December 2018 that Ireland will always exercise the veto on the EU’s behalf since it will never accept that “existing technology and administrative facilitation can remove the need for any border infrastructure or controls”. This is undoubtedly true and the PM knows this because her own Attorney General has told her that: “The Protocol would endure indefinitely”. But she does not listen.
Countdown to Brexit betrayal
Update 1 (10 December 2018): Following telephone discussions with key EU Member State leaders, Theresa May cancels the parliamentary vote on the WA due on 11 December. At the same time, the ECJ rules that the UK can, “as a sovereign country”, unilaterally revoke Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, “since it would be inconsistent with the EU treaties’ purpose of creating an ever closer union amongst the peoples of Europe to force the withdrawal of a Member State against its will”. The EU have cleverly used Mrs May to produce a WA that is far worse than remaining in the EU – we have to abide by all the EU’s rules, but have no say in how they are determined – with negligible benefits from leaving: our main trading partners outside the EU have said they are not interested in negotiating trade agreements on the only terms available to us (involving services only, not goods). And hey presto, along comes the ECJ and says “if you don’t like the WA, and we knew you wouldn’t, you can always stay in the EU”. Spoiler alert: Yanis Varoufakis warned us in Adults in the Room in 2017 that the EU, like the Hotel California, is a place you can check out of but can never leave.
Update 2 (11 December 2018): Another day of degrading treatment of the PM by her EU controllers: her whistlestop visits to The Hague, Berlin and Brussels, so she can gain a better understanding of the WA that she’s been negotiating for the last two years, end with the recommendation to “read the text again – more carefully this time. You will then realise that none of what you’ve been telling the British people is true. Still, you’ve signed it and we’re not changing any of it. Now go back and get your Parliament to vote for it”. Meanwhile, former Prime Minister, Sir John Major, calls for the immediate revocation of Article 50 and this is supported by Ken Clarke MP and Tony Blair.
Update 3 (12 December 2018): Theresa May wins a vote of confidence as leader of the Conservative Party with 200 MPs in favour and 117 MPs against – of these 200, 142 are “on the payroll” as government ministers or ministerial aides. In a statement outside Downing St, the PM said: “Following this ballot, we now need to keep on with the job of delivering Brexit for the British people and building a better future for this country. A Brexit that delivers on the vote that people gave, that brings back control of our money, our borders and our laws, that protects jobs, security and the union, that brings the country back together rather than entrenching division. …When I go to the European Council tomorrow, I will be seeking legal and political assurances that will assuage the concerns that Members of Parliament have on [the issue of the backstop]”. Earlier in the day, she said “I have devoted myself unsparingly to these tasks [of completing the Brexit negotiations] ever since I became Prime Minister and I stand ready to finish the job”. Meanwhile, on the continent, both Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Junker said the legally binding WA cannot be changed, while any changes to the Political Declaration that provides the assurances that the PM seeks will not be legally binding. This included proposals – which the EU-side subsequently withdrew – for a “joint interpretive instrument” that would give additional assurance that the backstop would not become permanent. According to Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis, Theresa May has been told: “you can have any deal you like, as long as it’s in your head”.
Update 4 (13 December 2018): Another day of total humiliation for Theresa May at the European Council meeting. Every EU leader interviewed said that they would be happy to explain the WA to her once again, but it cannot be changed. This included Mark Rutte, the Dutch PM, and Angela Merkel. Now Mrs May had been to see both of them two days earlier for a lesson on what the WA means. So to have to go back two days later to see the heads of two European governments for yet another lesson suggests that either they are not good teachers or she is not a good student. Even the schoolboy who runs Austria understands the WA better than Theresa May and has offered to give her extra lessons. If this is how the EU treats a British Prime Minister before the WA is ratified by Parliament, just think how they would treat the rest of us after it was ratified. Even Petr Bystron, AfD chair in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the German Bundestag was amazed by the “fact that Theresa May has to beg the German Chancellor for the sovereignty of her country”.
Update 5 (14 December 2018): By the end of the second and final day of the European Council meeting, it is clear to everyone, except Theresa May, that she has been completely cornered. The EU says it will offer further “clarification” of the WA, but will not change it. Mrs May responds by saying: “We will be holding talks in the coming days about how to obtain the further assurances that the UK Parliament needs in order to be able to approve the deal. …[F]urther clarification…following the Council’s conclusion is in fact possible”. To increase pressure on Mrs May, the EU also announces that it is stepping up preparations for a “no deal” Brexit (assuming the withdrawal agreement will not be signed, so there will be no transition (implementation) period and no framework for future relations). On the UK side, the strongly pro-Remain Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has always refused to provide sufficient resources to prepare for a “no deal”. The National Audit Office’s recent report (The UK border: Preparedness for EU exit) shows that 11 out of 12 critical IT systems needed at the UK border are at risk of not being ready by 29 March 2019. This has now created a political crisis in the UK just as the EU has been planning – and follows the recommendations of Jean Monnet, founding father of the EU: “I have always believed that Europe would be built through crises, and that it would be the sum of their solutions. But the solutions had to be proposed and applied”. In this case, it is through exercising coercive control over a British Prime Minister.
Update 6 (17 December 2018): The EU make it clear that there are no further clarifications to give our Prime Minister and they will not be holding any further meetings with her. The communiqué closing the European Council meeting states clearly: “The European Council reconfirms its conclusions of 25 November 2018, in which it endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement and approved the Political Declaration. The Union stands by this agreement and intends to proceed with its ratification. It is not open for renegotiation”. Sabine Weyand, Michel Barnier’s deputy, has confirmed that the WA means that the UK “must align its rules, but the EU will retain all the controls”. Sir Ivan Rogers, our former ambassador to the EU, says this means that the EU will “have the UK against the wall” any time it wants. Despite this, the PM comes to the House and insists that Parliament must pass the WA or there will be “no deal”. The meaningful vote is delayed until the week of 14 January. The final date possible for ratification is 21 January. The PM also rules out a second referendum or a parliamentary vote on alternatives to the WA. Some Cabinet members are toying with the idea of a “managed no deal”, but the EU says it will not co-operate with this. So it’s the WA or “no deal” and the PM knows that the Parliament will not vote for “no deal”. Labour table a vote of no confidence in the PM, but even Tory Brexiteers and the Democratic Unionist Party, the PM’s coalition partners, have said they will not support this. The EU have very cleverly cornered both Mrs May and the UK Parliament. They have read her far more successfully than anyone in the UK.
Update 7 (14 January 2019): Over the Christmas period, EU sources confirm that Olly Robbins “failed to move the ball”. He is unable to persuade the EU to turn the permanent backstop into a time-limited insurance policy. Martin Selmayr, the European Commission’s Secretary General, confirms that the EU had “achieved their aim” and the WA “doesn’t work” for the UK. It would result in “losing Northern Ireland [as] the price the UK would pay”. Sabine Weyand adds that the UK “would have to swallow a link between access to products and fisheries in future agreements. …We should be in the best negotiation position for the future relationship. This requires the customs union as the basis of the future relationship. …The UK wants a lot more from a future relationship, so the EU retains its leverage”. No wonder we are known as “Inselaffen” (“island monkeys”) on the continent.
The longer term consequences
There will be at least three longer term consequences if the strategy of using Mrs May to strangle Brexit is successful. First, this country will become a permanent global laughing stock, seen as being afraid of its own shadow as it succumbs to the carefully orchestrated campaign of Project Fear – calling trading on WTO rules “falling off a cliff edge” and “leaping into the unknown” is so absurd that it beggars belief that anyone could fall for this nonsense. The vast bulk of world trade takes place under WTO rules. Second, there will be forces here that will start to exploit the fact that we can be so easily manipulated and this will further divide the country. It won’t take long for Northern Ireland to be absorbed into the Irish Republic, as Martin Selmayr has made perfectly clear. Since this would end the need for the Irish backstop, the Scots will push for a second independence referendum while the UK is closely tied to the Customs Union and Single Market, thereby creating the “Scottish backstop” if successful. Third, the European Commission will use this as an opportunity to speed up the process of creating an unconstrained European super state with imperial ambitions to take on the US, Russia and China. Remainers may well gloat at how easily Brexit could be overturned by the open collaboration between the British and European establishments, but they should be careful what they wish for.
If you think any of this is exaggeration, just read this shocking article from an unnamed British civil servant: Don’t be fooled- this Brexit deal creates a triple lock to shackle the UK to Brussels forever.
Professor David Blake is at Cass Business School