Wednesday, 6 March 2019

A Deal Too Rich for its Own Good

A couple of days ago our old friend Raedwald put up a short piece on the 1919 Treaty of Versailles:
It is said that if we fail to learn from the errors of history we are forced to repeat them. As I see Selmayr's smug Moonface smiling superciliously as Britain is forced to accept the Robbins-Selmayr Treaty, a cursed document every bit as humiliating for Britain as Versailles was for Germany, my only surprise is that he is not forcing May to sign it in a railway carriage in the forest of Compiegne.
... and another old chum Sackerson commented BTL here that "the EU may be clever tactically but so much so they risk disaster strategically".  These remarks put me in mind of a BBC televison programme last year on the Foreign Office, the (civil servant) head of which adressed his troops as follows (I paraphrase).  There are two events, he said, that I always think are highly germane to the present circumstances:  1815, and 1919.  On both occasions, a Treaty was thrashed out to settle a situation where a large European country was causing trouble for its neighbours.  The difference was that at Vienna, Metternich and his peers came up with a generous deal that more or less brought peace for a century.  By contrast, Versailles was so one-sided, it broke down in only two decades.  We should urge the EC to bear this in mind, he concluded, a tad tentatively.

My own anecdote (which has probably been told here before) is more prosaic.  I once worked for a company that, in a moment of commercial weakness, had been royally taken to the cleaners in a huge deal - billions -  by its counterparties who had mercilessly and indeed smugly exploited their advantage to a grotesque degree.  (It was so bad that when a new CEO was appointed in my firm and he read the contract for himself, he instigated a secret inquiry using private investigators to establish if the management responsible for the deal on our side had been taking backhanders from the opposition.  But they hadn't.)  We offered constructive renegotiation, but this was gloatingly spurned.

Needless to say, the deal didn't stick.  We had a massive incentive to pick it to pieces and, five years and one mega court case later, it was renegotiated.  We didn't emerge unscathed by any means - but the other side didn't, either.

Back at the level of international dealings, another case worth citing is the settlement at the end of the Boer War.  The UK was in a position to do pretty much whatever it chose - and it chose intelligent magnanimity, committing several millions (a lot of money in them days) to reconstruction in the Boer areas.  The result of this enlightened policy was striking.  The Afrikaaners, many of whom were a lot closer in temperament and background to Germany than to Britain, provided some of our most loyal and effective troops in the two World Wars that followed, not least of which was Field Marshal Jan Smuts, a Boer commander during the Second Boer War, and outstanding servant of the Empire thereafter.

Everyone hereabouts is probably agreed on the lessons to be learned.  Well, on this side of Channel, anyhow.  But the gloating is probably set to continue in Brussels.

ND 

14 comments:

E-K said...

Except we haven't invaded anywhere or lost a war.

There are no parallels.

Nick Drew said...

'No parallels' ...

that's fighting talk around here Kev, we like our parallels and analogies

and metaphors

Sackerson said...

Via Zac Goldsmith:

"Former EU President Herman van Rompuy:

"“...with their backs against the wall, the abyss in front of their eyes and a knife on their throat. We are nearly there. If some time is needed after the end of March then that will not be a problem for the 27.”"

https://twitter.com/zacgoldsmith/status/1100441759669198848?lang=en

The language is not one of "friendly struggle".

Sackerson said...

Following "Tiger" Rompuy's metaphor, it's worth noting that if our backs are to the wall, then the EU's back is towards the abyss...

JJJ said...

Sun Tzu has attributed to him, probably incorrectly, the build a golden bridge for your enemies, quote.
The idea being to always allow your enemy to retreat while saving face.
Used very successfully in Syria to get rid of ISIS without mass casualties.

Isis kept retreating across each golden bridge, losing a little each time, but not defeated, until none were left.

The Eu has left no golden bridges. Has shut down any meaningful talks by being disinterested in the results of any negotiations.
Any leader other than May would have walked out long ago. Walked and told the world “ this is what is coming. This is how it will be. No deal. These are the tariffs we will apply. Trump would have done that. And then some golden bridges would have miraculously appeared.

E-K said...

A terrible PM.

The EU gave her a golden shower on more than one occasion.

andrew said...



We are the ones who started out claiming we could have our cake and eat it / it will be easy and they will just roll over.

We claimed we owe them nothing and then promised 39bn a few months later.

I suppose we should ask the EU negotiators to stop letting us be so incompetant

but ... What is a fair deal? There seems to be no-one who really knows.

Is that may + no Backstop?

Thomas Moore said...

When historians write about this, I hope that they have a section on how May came to power and how flawed the Conservative Party's election process is.

In the future they will look back and wonder how such an important event was left to such an incompetent politician. Granted the alternatives are not much better but the intellectual deficit on our side is astounding.

Malcolm Stevas said...

JJJ has it right: any leader with intellectual acuity, knowledge of negotiation and a smidgin of self-respect (+ national pride) would have walked out long ago. In fact, a proper leader would simply not have started the dismal farrago of failure in 2016, but would have told the EU what was going to happen, how and when.
Thomas Moore is correct, too: something that still leaves me gasping open-mouthed is the Conservative Party's almost surreal lack of judgement in having put May into the top post. Words fail, it's just too bizarre. My dog would make a better PM. It's possibly the most outstanding reason for not trusting the Tories ever again, under any circumstances.

dearieme said...

The problem with Versailles was falling between two stools. If they had rent Germany back into many small states it might have worked out better.

I dare say that fear of the Bolsheviks, and the need to demob our own troops, ruled that out.

On the general subject of the Brexit negotiations - they really have been royally bungled. The advantage was all on our side because we currently pay them baksheesh, they don't pay us.

Anonymous said...

I presume May is playing out time to give MPs a choice between no deal (and no preparation) or surrender to EU on all fronts.

Is democracy dead, as it seems to be in the US (president Trump betraying his base on all fronts, no wall, just tax cuts and "Israel", troops still in Syria)? The turnout for the referendum brought out another 10% of voters who hadn't previously thought it worth voting. Looks like they were right.

Elby the Beserk said...

Given up. They are determined to screw Brexit. Don;t listen to the news. Stopped reading papers. Pretty much past caring. The aftermath of this is going to be gory.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 2:28 - is it Trump betraying his base or is it the RINO's/Uni-party Republicans in the Senate that are ensuring his agenda is blocked and doesn't get through congress?

I believe the end result for Tories being the same as what will happen to the Republicans but for opposite reasons.

I see it as Trump is trying to enact the agenda of the memebers, but the party is preventing it.
With May you have a leader enacting an agenda which is at odds with most of the party and the members.


E-K said...

Elby - +1

They haven't factored in what is really going to happen which is:

Remain/Brino but with the commies in charge of Britain. As Peter Hitchens says "What difference anyway ?"

The Tories have been socialist for a long LONG while now.

And that answers Anon at 8.57