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michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen

The UK’s Brexit misadventure is the result of one man – David Cameron – choosing what is good for his party over what is good for his country

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon
4 April 2017, 7:35am
Everything went haywire with the referendum result in favour of Brexit, a result that Cameron wanted to avoid at all costs. Contrast this with how Angela Merkel works. She would never put the national interest in jeopardy because of the interest of her party
Everything went haywire with the referendum result in favour of Brexit, a result that Cameron wanted to avoid at all costs. Contrast this with how Angela Merkel works. She would never put the national interest in jeopardy because of the interest of her party
So the day when the UK delivered its official request to leave the European Union has come and gone and the much talked about Article 50 has been invoked. In her letter delivered to Donald Tusk, Theresa May called for talks on a future comprehensive trade deal between the EU and UK to take place concurrently with the so-called ‘Article 50’ talks on how Britain will exit the bloc.

The letter that triggered Brexit restated several things that Theresa May is seeking but brought in new intricacies, such as a specific desire to include financial services in any future trade deal, and some not-so-veiled threats over the issue of continued security cooperation.

May, in fact, mentioned “security” 11 times. Both the EU and the UK are now in uncharted – probably stormy – waters. 

Observers have pointed out that the UK seems to be seeking the political version of a friendly divorce. May also wants to conclude a sweeping free trade deal that includes financial services, an important segment of the UK economy.

In her letter Theresa May explicitly said she believed it “is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the European Union”. She mentioned this course of action four times in the document presented to Tusk, who – however – drew a line by insisting that “orderly withdrawal” must be the initial focus. 

Angela Merkel – the EU’s de facto leader – continued on this line by rejecting May’s plan for trade talks to take place at the same time as Article 50 secession negotiations. Ms Merkel has insisted that talks on British divorce terms would take place first, after which talks on a future relationship would “hopefully soon” take place. 

Meanwhile the chief negotiator of the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, explicitly ruled out giving the UK a better trade deal in exchange for better security or defence arrangements – something that was mooted repeatedly by Theresa May in her letter. “Security is far too important to start to bargain it against an economic agreement,” he declared. 

It does seem that the UK would have to accept a transitional arrangement with the EU after it leaves but before a separate trade deal can be negotiated. An arduous road, indeed.

There is no doubt that the 27 EU countries have decided on a particular course of action with regards to what happens after Article 50 was triggered and any hope the UK could have had of tempting some particular EU states to adopt a more sympathetic attitude to the UK’s position was simply an illusion.

The UK’s Brexit misadventure is the result of one man – David Cameron – choosing what is good for his party over what is good for his country. Cameron promised the referendum on EU membership to stall the inroads that UKIP was making into his party’s voter base. The ploy succeeded in the short term as Cameron obtained an even bigger electoral victory than was forecast. But then everything went haywire with the referendum result in favour of Brexit, a result that Cameron wanted to avoid at all costs.

Contrast this with how Angela Merkel works. She would never put the national interest in jeopardy because of the interest of her party. She suffered a temporary loss in popularity over her policy on migrants – a policy that put country before party. 

Now she is obviously recovering as her party showed surprising strength last Sunday against its main socialist opponent in the Saarland state election in south-western Germany. Her Christian Democratic Union won 40.7% of the vote – up from 35.2% in 2012 – and topped the 29.6% won by the Social Democrats led by Martin Schulz.

This is a lesson for politicians all over the world – not least Malta. When the interests of one’s political party do not coincide with the interests of the country, serious politicians opt for the interests of the country.

Charlatans do otherwise.

Sponsoring broadcasts

Last Sunday’s Kulhadd – the Labour Party newspaper – claimed that it had analysed 8,764 pages of In-Nazzjon and 2,912 pages of Il-Mument and did not find one advert of Sky Gourmet, the airline catering company of the db Group that allegedly paid the PN’s commercial arm Media.Link sums of money in donations allegedly masked as adverts. 

If this wild goose chase really did happen – which I doubt – it would have been the most time-consuming, useless investigation launched by any newspaper in Malta’s press history.

The report was a stupid gimmick, of course. More so, because the PN’s commercial arm, also owns a radio and a television station and apparently these were not investigated. Moreover, if – as has been implied – the money was not given as payment for adverts but as sponsorships for programmes, the quest would have been even more difficult, if not impossible.

Which brings me to the point I want to make: an argument that does not concern the requirements of the law that regulates donations to political parties. 

I believe that sponsorship of programmes on the broadcasting media should only be allowed if the listeners and/or televiewers are informed of whoever is sponsoring a particular programme or series of programmes. Many in fact do. I often tune in on Campus FM that have a couple of programmes sponsored by well-known commercial entities with an announcement at the beginning of the programme informs listeners that such a programme is being broadcast with the best wishes of so-and-so.

This is as it should be. Otherwise we could have a car importer secretly sponsoring a programme on driving, giving rise to the possibility of subtle advertising masquerading as objective advice.

The Broadcasting Authority should therefore rule that sponsorships of programmes are to be made public and ‘secret’ sponsorships are not allowed.

As soon as the Broadcasting Authority finds its feet again – from the shambles that remain after the chairperson resigned last Tuesday – it should look into this issue.

Hopefully the merits of the next chairperson will be related to broadcasting and not to other attributes. 

Meritocracy is one thing… sponsorship is another: acting as if the two are equivalent is a recipe for disaster. 

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon is a former government minister who served under several Nationalist admini...
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