Brexit: Theresa May’s Gordian knot?

The Gordian Knot is a myth surrounding that great conqueror of early history, Alexander of Macedon who when faced with a rope so knotted that it could not be unwound by the most skilful of champions took out his sword and cut the knot into pieces: thus solving the problem and providing the first demonstration in lateral thinking.

Flash forward three thousand years, and UK Prime Minister Theresa May finds herself faced with her own Gordian knot in negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union. In each turn of the knot, she finds herself further and further entangled within its shackles. Each knot has its own strand each with its own objectives and impact on the UK and indeed the EU at large.

Strand one: The divorce bill

£27bn, £40bn, £57bn. The price of Britain’s exit seems to increase week to week, certainly in the newspaper headlines anyway. Things are often spun in such a way as to make the EU’s demands overtly punitive, and yes to some degree they are in terms of actual cost. The problem is this: We signed up to these agreements which placed a cost on our membership and now we have to honour those agreements.

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What will the final cost of Brexit be and will the UK pay it?

The issue now is that this bill is being used in a game of brinkmanship by the EU. To get the trade deal we must first pay the piper, and the EU is calling the tune. The problem is, if we refuse to pay we can’t legally leave and we risk engendering the bad feeling of future trading partners. However if we pay an overtly large settlement in order to achieve the next step in the process, the Prime Minister loses all credibility in the British parliament and media.

Strand two: What is a soft border anyway?

Historically, the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland has always been a ‘soft’ border than a ‘hard’ one going back to the founding of the Irish free state in 1919.  However with Ireland being a member of the EU and the UK in the future not being a member, the question becomes what to do with Northern Ireland.

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Is this the future for the Northern Irish border?

If we leave the border as a soft one, then we open a backdoor into the UK which could be exploited by thousands of economic migrants both legally and illegally as they would be able to become citizens of Northern Ireland and vicariously the UK.

The problem is if we have a hard border, we risk endangering over 30 years of improved relations between Northern and Southern Ireland, going all the way back to the Good Friday agreement, which ended the Irish troubles. The EU knows this and have given the Irish a veto on any border negotiations between ourselves and the EU.

A border needs to be maintained, there needs to be a clear distinction between what is now EU territory and what is UK territory, with the channel it is easy, with Ireland it will be harder.

Strand three: Proving the EU to be right

The European Union was designed to be an organisation of equal rights where everyone would be happy and everyone’s concerns would be listened to. No one is supposed to want to leave political paradise. Now that we have thrown that dream out of the window in asking to leave, the EU is entering damage control.

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Should Mrs May ignore her fellow European leaders as they look to preserve the EU?

Part of that damage control is enforcing an exit that is punitive so as to discourage others from seeking the same exit that we are seeking. Another part is that an exit was never envisioned by the people writing the EU so this is new territory, both politically and sociologically and in any new territory there are going to be bumps in the road.

By pursuing a hard Brexit we achieve our aims but we engender an undercurrent of hostility over our exit from the EU. Other nations, emboldened by our exit may seek to renegotiate their deals and if these negotiations fail, then more and more nations will leave.

Strand Four: Party politics

No party can be seen to go against the will of the British people, especially where the EU referendum is concerned, however the Labour party has been largely indifferent in its Brexit stance, not deciding between a hard Brexit (which would appease the Brexiteers) and a so called soft Brexit (which would appease the remainers, who don’t want to leave the EU).

The more concessions Theresa May makes, the more she loses the support of her own party and now following the disastrous general election in May, Mrs May now has to balance the support of her own party with her new coalition partners: The Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP is a party which has a profoundly religious background of somewhat radical ideas.

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The power behind the throne? With ten hugely important seats in parliament, the DUP is in a position to exert enormous influence on the British political system

Their brand of unionism and their proximity to the Irish question makes them a key player in the EU negotiations add to that their ability to collapse the May government by withdrawing their support and the difficulty that the Conservative government under Theresa May faces is self-evident.

Strand Five: Home problems

When faced with a choice, 52% of voters in this country voted to leave the EU. Regardless of the politics involved we said we wanted to leave and now the government is charged with making that happen.

But politics in this country didn’t suddenly stop, the problems in this country didn’t suddenly cease functioning and they will continue to do so even when we leave the EU. The problem is, finding the right time to address these long standing problems when we have more immediate concerns.

We have two years to leave the EU, as mandated by our treaty with them and we have to make it work within that time. The problem is that parts of the negotiation there affect problems here.

If we pull out of the single market without an effective substitute then our economy suffers, if we lose the European court of human rights without an effective judiciary authority to replace it then the legal system suffers and so on and so forth. So we can’t ignore the negotiations and we can’t address our own long standing problems without addressing short term concerns.

Cutting the knot

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Is there a lateral solution to the Brexit problem?

Alexander demonstrated lateral thinking in cutting the knot with his sword. Theresa May can do the same, but she needs to display the same confidence in her thinking to do so.

Brexit is going to happen and no second referendum is going to change that, however what may be needed is the ability to act definitively: to pay the bill, to sort out the border, to change the language and bring the EU back to positivity in these negotiations, to build a political consensus and to support our own country.

Can she do so? Potentially yes. Will she do so and remain in charge? No. Decisiveness and democracy don’t always get along and I think the first casualty of Brexit will be Mrs May.

The Party Line is……….Insurrection

People often have differences of opinion, it’s a fact of life. One person says one course of action is good and another says something different. If your anything like me an argument usually ensues.

But fundamentally, differences of opinion are vital for humanity to succeed, promoting agents of change and societal progress. They provoke debate, with each person seeking to prove the legitimacy of their argument.

Politically, we’ve just had a massive debate prompted by a difference of opinion: The EU referendum. Ultimately, one side triumphed over the other and regardless of the tactics used a debate was had and settled in a vote.

The voracity of the debate polarised the UK, splitting the people in two. It was as though some great force had woken up the populous from their political slumber, provoking a furious response. Once this issue was settled, you could sense that the UK had become a more extreme place to live. This manifested itself in an upsurge in racist attacks on immigrants and online abuse of many individuals on both sides.

With so many winners and losers, it’s becoming harder in the UK to find common ground. Political opportunism is becoming the language of the day.

But what if someone decided that they didn’t like the result? Someone with the means, motive and method to effect an insurgency against this political settlement.

It sounds fantastical I know, but it all stems from a difference of opinion.

Let’s play this little scenario out, shall we?

An insurgency or coup relies on an unpopular decision being made and the popular will to oppose it. If the individuals are rebelling against a popular decision, individual or government then the coup will struggle to achieve the sort of popular support required to legitimise it because they have already lost the battle for public opinion.

Anyone planning this sort of insurgency would have to have large scale support and important allies.

The first being a prominent public figure, someone to serve as a legitimate figurehead to the insurgency. This would most likely be a politician, someone serving on the counter side to the prevailing argument and a well-respected individual.

The second important ally would be the military as they would provide the platform to create the coup, leading the insurgency and once it has achieved its objectives allowing it to stay in power.

There would have to be sufficient military support to both lead the insurgency and then to ensure its long term success, anything other than this and you risk the failure of the coup, as you saw in Turkey.

Speed of movement is essential to the success of the coup, because as soon as you trigger the process mechanisms will work against you to counter your plans almost immediately.

The awareness and preparedness of the opposing forces determines the speed of their response, an unaware opposition being ill prepared to counter and vice versa.

Only if you had a combination of these elements, would your insurgency have some fighting chance of success. But what would a practical coup in the UK look like?

Step one would have to be the securing of London. As its capital city and central hub, London is integral to the UK and would have to be captured and secured before the coup could move forward.

Securing a city like London is no mean feat and would require the cooperation of local authorities, but if these authorities are not privy to the plot, how would you ensure their compliance?

The simple answer is a phony terror plot or state of emergency. This would allow the free movement of the Army through the city under the pretext of preventing loss of life. It would mobilise the metropolitan police, keeping them busy and occupied until the principal targets had been taken.

An additional benefit of utilising the terror plot is the ability to place army personnel close to high value individuals, allowing them to use subterfuge to complete step two.

Step Two involves the capture and forced detention of the Royal family, the Prime Minister and any other high value members of parliament who are otherwise uninvolved in the coup.

By securing these individuals early on in the insurgency, the insurgents would have crucial leverage against any opposition forces that may instigate a counterinsurgency.  They could also be used for blackmail and ransoming should the insurgency fail.

Crucially, securing the Prime Minister would allow them temporary access to the nuclear launch codes that he possesses. I say temporary, because there are redundancies which prevent these from being used in the event of involuntary imprisonment or coercion (Yes, I’ve seen the movies).

Step Three would involve the securing of all the transport hubs in and out of the country, the airports, train stations, ferry ports and most importantly the Channel Tunnel. As the primary entry and exit points, they provide an escape for any high value individual fleeing the country and an entry point for any counter insurgency forces. These must be secured to avoid either eventuality, with the Channel Tunnel being the most likely candidate for destruction.

If steps one through three are achieved, then they will have gone 50% of the way to achieving their aim of taking over the UK.

The remaining 50% of this process is step four: the securing and holding of the UK.

Any individual or group in opposition to the insurgency, not captured or detained by it would immediately become a threat and must be dealt with. The wholesale detention and potentially execution of these individuals becomes a crucial part of enforcing the insurgency on the UK.

Likewise, there must be a concerted effort to prevent external interference from any foreign power, most likely the European Union, who inversely would have the most to gain from a pro-EU insurgency. The difficult thing is utilising already overstretched military forces to combat this while maintaining control of the UK as a whole.

Would the EU welcome a new regime in the UK? Ideologically no, the idea of a coup in a civilised nation such as ours is a complete antithesis to the co-operative community spirit of the EU. However in reality, the interdependency of the nation states of the EU on each other and the UK makes provision for a middle ground/areas of compromise.

This is where the second part of step four comes into play: utilising political means to provide legitimacy to the new regime, while giving the required time for it to bed in and for the people of the UK to adjust.

By providing a public face and voice to the insurgency, the insurgents stop the regime from being considered a rebellion and open up the lines of diplomacy with other nations.

It also allows for that crucial thing: Political continuity. No power vacuum, no alternative means of government just a transition between the previous government and the new. This makes it possible for the completion of step five:  Onward political progress.

I say onward political progress, because as important as it is to conduct the coup and see it done, it is just as important to reinstate the status quo as quickly as possible. The only difference being that the insurgents now sitting at the top of the pile rather than being the unheard minority.

Steps One through Three could be achieved in as little as 5 days, with the right preparation and timing.  It naturally follows that the greatest chance of success would be a coup effected at the weekend as this would maximise the chance of catching the enemy unprepared.

Steps Four and Five would take significantly longer to achieve, but are possible within six months to a year. Longer term success being down to the aforementioned populous and the stability of the new regime. A collection of disorganised and warring individuals is far more likely to collapse than a well-disciplined regime centred around a political figurehead.

At the end of the day, this is speculation and it couldn’t possibly happen in a civilised country such as the UK, could it?

I imagine that the Stuart monarchy felt the same when faced with opposition from Parliament unaware of the civil war that awaited them. Almost 400 years later we are the beneficiaries of that unexpected coup, just as the Stuarts were the casualties almost bringing to an end their short reign.  Things can change just that quickly in the world.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.