According to The Independent, during the second instalment of the Brexit ‘Meaningful vote’ debate, Downing Street has agreed to let the Commons pick and choose around the crucial Backstop articles in the agreement Theresa May and Brussels reached. The agreement is legally binding, an official agreement or treaty between London and the EU.
On the Institute of Government website last December, former IoG expert Simon Hogarth said such an option could mean Downing Street violating its international obligations it freely entered into. That’s what the Hugo Swire Amendment is proposing.
If the Brexiteers in Downing Street or the Commons think this is going to wash in international politics, they are completely bonkers and political ignoramuses.
The Dutch know from bitter experience how swift, tough and compelling the international reaction will be if any country, Great Britain or small Netherlands, tries to opportunistically tinker with such a legally binding international agreement.
In the bloody guerrilla war (1945-’49) surrounding the decolonisation of the Dutch East Indies (which evolved into Indonesia), the Dutch government had, according to messages from the British ambassador, from the start a totally unreal view of the situation, and an idiosyncratic view of how much power and influence the Dutch could hold on to in Indonesia (sounds familiar?). The British were the first western military forces which liberated the Japanese internment camps on Java and Sumatra (big islands at the heart of the Indonesian revolutionary “republic”). Dutch military power there remained fragmentary in 1945-7.
British (and growing American) pressure resulted in rounds of Dutch-Indonesian negotiations and interim agreements, which culminated in the Linggadjati agreement of November 1946. In this, we recognised the rule of Sukarno’s ‘Republik Indonesia’ over the islands of Java, Madura and Sumatra, although these were the heartlands of Dutch colonial rule over all Indonesia.
The Dutch parliament and politics refused to see military (we were weak, recovering from war) and economic realities (our economic blockade of the Republik meant scarcity of important resources and products), and in a special Tweede Kamer (=our Commons) debate we “put some civilized clothes” on the Linggadjati agreement. This was the second time a Dutch-Indonesian agreement was being re-interpreted and altered. The Tweede Kamer only ratified Linggadjati if everybody (Indonesia, the United Nations, London, Washington) subscribed to a unilateral, self-serving ‘Addendum’ – an annex written by Dutch authorities. Mainstay of the Addendum was the creation on other Indonesian islands of separate states, and the aim was to force Sukarno’s Republik to become one of many member states of an Indonesian confederation. And the Hague insisted on holding on to Western (Papua) New Guinea, a breach of Linggadjati.
This and further Dutch colonial intransigence resulted in a threatened condemnation by the UN Security Council, which could, nay would, lead to exclusion from Marshall Plan American reconstruction aid for the Netherlands. That threat finally forced the Dutch government to start real negotiations with the Sukarno government, and to grant the Republik, encompassing most of the Dutch East Indies, independence.
So trying to “put British clothes” on the Brexit Backstop is is an excessively self-centered, introspective way of destroying British credibility as a serious power in international politics. Don’t even try it.
* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames and is a member of Federal Conference Committee.