The following post is by CAIM member, Eamon Murphy. He gives us his personal, interesting and provocative angle on the Brexit negotiations.

Recent weeks have seen the resumption of the Brexit talks between Michel Barnier and UK Brexit Secretary, David Davis. The EU side seemed exasperated with the absence of reality in the UK proposals, while the ever-chirpy Davis called for a little more creativity and imagination in the process and dismissed the EU’s ‘silly’ approach to the talks. This is all of course a form of public shadow-boxing. Behind it all is a squalid row about money—the size of the cheque that the UK will need to write to rid itself of the troublesome Europeans is starting to look a lot like £50 billion—give or take.

Freedom cheque

The cheque will give the UK, to borrow a phrase from Michael Collins, the ‘freedom to achieve freedom’ in the form of new trade deals with the rest of the world. Freed from EU shackles, Brexiteers believe that there is an abundance of riches to be had in negotiating deals with old colonial friends, and some new ones, who are bursting for the opportunity to form a new 21st century relationship with the UK. We saw a glimpse of this brave new world with the recent visit of Theresa May to Japan. She dutifully admired the tourist sights, posed with the Emperor and Japanese leaders and bravely drank tea from a bowl in in the presence of the world’s media. She didn’t spill a drop. Her Japanese hosts (who may also have had North Korea on their minds) thanked her for stopping by and duly promised to think about new trading relationships—but just as soon as they were finished negotiating a new trade agreement with the EU (minus the UK).

The McGregor effect

Speaking of shadow-boxing, the last month saw another much-hyped, high-stakes battle between the undefeated Floyd Mayweather and the MMA challenger Conor McGregor.  Both fighters walked away with more than $100m each—not bad for a non-title fight. Even without the benefit of hindsight, the outcome of the fight was entirely predictable. A fearless but limited McGregor had a few moments early on but was ultimately outclassed by one of boxing’s classiest-ever fighters. (His classless acts outside the ring are outside the scope of this article.) There was nothing surprising in the fight or the outcome. What was remarkable though was the McGregor effect. How an MMA fighter, with no previous boxing experience, managed to convince punters that he was going to end Mayweather’s unbeaten 49 fight sequence. Remember ‘The Notorious’ pre-fight hype of how he would knock out his opponent inside two rounds. How his doubters had closed minds. This charismatic, abrasive, super-confident Irishman managed to talk his way into the ring with one of boxing’s elite fighters and convinced enough people to part with their pay-per-view money. To believe in the impossible. It was of course pure theatre—a willing suspension of disbelief.

The reality

In many ways, McGregor’s claims are reminiscent of the false promises of the charismatic, big talking Brexiteers before the referendum. Of how they would save all those billions for the NHS and how the Remain side could sense only fear rather than the scale of opportunity.  A year on, the reality is different. We have already started to see the disappearance of the precious financial services jobs, the weak economic growth and the decline in sterling.

As Conor McGregor learned, as will Theresa May and David Davis, pre-fight words are entertaining and give comfort to supporters. But always, always the talking has to stop and make way for the reckoning. Seconds out.

© Eamon Murphy                                                           19 September 2017