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24 February 2018
It is of existential importance to the European Union that the secession of the United Kingdom should fail.
If Britain leaves the EU and remains economically viable standing on its own two feet, then other disgruntled members among the 27 remaining EU states – Hungary and Poland, perhaps, even austerity-battered Greece – might follow suit and the whole megalomaniac enterprise intended to lead to a United States of Europe could collapse like a set of dominos – just as the Soviet Union did after 1989. There is no iron law which states that political entities will last forever. Quite the contrary, as history teaches us.
This is why the EU is desperate that Britain should fail to make a go of it and, eventually, sooner or later, see the errors of its ways, come back into the fold and allow the whole bang shooting match to lurch on as before.
In a referendum on 23 June 2016, the British people voted by 51.9 % to 48.1 % to leave the EU.
Since then the EU has wasted no opportunity to thwart this democratic decision. As the recent German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble once memorably said, “elections change nothing”.
The EU strategy since the election has been three-fold:
- Use of the stick. This is the primary weapon in the EU arsenal. They have bent over backwards to make the secession negotiations between the UK and the EU as difficult as possible. Threatening Britain with economic collapse, Brussels has insisted that any economic deal must be on the EU’s terms. The EU will lay down the conditions and the UK can take it or leave it. No question of a genuine negotiation on an amicable basis with give-and-take on both sides. If the UK wants continued economic relations with the EU after Brexit it will have to be on terms set unilaterally by Brussels. Those conditions, as the EU has repeatedly stressed, must involve continued acceptance of the rules of the EU’s single market and customs union under the supervision of the European Court of Justice together with continued contributions to the EU budget but no say in decisions taken by the EU authorities – the European Council, the European Commission or the European Parliament. This is what, in negotiations, is called a “non-negotiable demand”. It is presented to the other party in the full knowledge that they cannot accept it. Since the single market and the customs union constitute the EU’s core, Britain would be bound by all its current EU obligations but would have no say in future EU decision-taking. By definition its position would be worse than at present: all the responsibilities but no share of the power. Far from leaving the EU, the position for which a majority of UK voters opted, to all intents and purposes the UK would remain within the core EU structures but no longer as a member but rather as a vassal state. Moreover, it would still be subject to EU court decisions while having no UK judges in the EU court to represent it.
We had a good example of this hardline approach yesterday, as reported by both the BBC and the Guardian.
Speaking on the occasion of an informal meeting of EU heads of state and government, Mr Donald Tusk, the current Polish President of the EU Council, appeared to reject outright the British preference for a unique custom-built special relationship between the UK and the EU, taking into account the interests of both parties as sovereign bodies.
Mr Tusk is quoted as saying that media reports suggested that a “have your cake and eat it” approach was still alive in the UK. “If these reports are correct, I am afraid that the UK position today is based on pure illusion,” he is quoted as saying. He is said to have ruled out any notion that the UK will be allowed to “cherry-pick” aspects of its future relationship with the EU or that it will be able to join the single market “à la carte” .
The UK government is currently thought to want to exit from the current customs union with the EU – but to mirror EU rules in some industries in an attempt to achieve “frictionless trade”. A senior UK minister, Jeremy Hunt, is quoted as saying that the regulations covering some UK sectors could be aligned with those that apply to their European counterparts. “But it will be on a voluntary basis. We will, as a sovereign power, have the right to choose to diverge.” In other sectors regulations might diverge from those in the EU in order to give the UK a competitive advantage in the international marketplace.
2. Use of the carrot. Hardly a week goes by without one senior EU figure or another suggesting to the UK government that it should ignore the democratically expressed wishes of the British people and turn a blind eye to the referendum. The patter is always the same and is always accompanied by an ingratiating smile: “If you were to decide, after all, to stay in the EU, we would, of course, welcome you back in with open arms.”
3. However, just in case the carrot-and-stick approach is not sufficiently effective to achieve their objectives, they are conspiring day-in-day out with a fifth column of UK Brexit opponents across the party political divide and throughout the media establishment to sway public opinion against leaving the EU by stoking fears that to leave the EU would inevitably provoke an economic Armageddon. Remember, these guys can foretell the future. Like Nostradamus, they “know” what is going to happen. They must be the first people in history with such “knowledge”. As we have often said to self-styled prophets, why don’t they hightail it to a betting shop and do themselves some good?
Oh dear. It has not turned out as it was supposed to, neither for those opposed to Brexit or for the Brexiteers.
For those opposed to Brexit, particularly the cosmopolitan metropolitan elite, who had generally assumed that, after 43 years of EU membership, the country would vote to press ahead on the road to a United States of Europe, the referendum result was a catastrophe with which they are still struggling to come to terms.
Those in favour of Brexit were naturally chuffed by the result. However, many of them naively expected an easy ride from the EU when it came to developing an economic modus vivendi post-Brexit. After all, they thought, rightly in our view, that it was in the interests of both parties to negotiate a mutually beneficial divorce – a win-win deal – given that both sides benefit enormously from their mutual economic and financial relations. This position is put most optimistically in the polemic, “Why vote leave”, a very readable summary of the arguments for Brexit written by UK MEP Daniel Hannan and published before the referendum in 2016 by Head Zeus. After all, Britain has traded successfully with the Continent since King Offa of Mercia signed the first recorded commercial treaty in English history with the Emperor Charlemagne in 796. Why stop now?
However, this optimism has been comprehensively dashed by the hardline approach adopted by the EU in the aftermath of the referendum.
At this stage, it is not possible to predict the outcome. A watered-down version of Brexit may be adopted which will satisfy neither Remainers nor Brexiteers. Moreover, even if Britain does leave the EU, it will still presumably be eligible to re-apply for membership if life outside becomes intolerable. Besides, it is also quite possible that the UK’s Conservative Government, which does not have an overall majority in Parliament without support from outside its own party, will be unable to persuade MPs to adopt the legislation needed for Brexit to take place at all: a minority of Conservative MPs are opposed to Brexit and these could join forces with the increasingly popular Labour Party to outvote the government. The Labour Party has been ambivalent towards Brexit so far but it appears to be moving in the direction of supporting continued membership of the EU. If Brexit does not get through Parliament, a general election is inevitable – a general election which the Labour Party is currently in pole position to win. Since getting into power is the main objective of a political party, it is more than likely that the Labour Party will, in any case, put expediency before principle and oppose Brexit in Parliament – if only on the grounds that this is the swiftest way for it to get into power.
Kicking off with this post, we propose to publish further occasional posts on the Brexit saga.
For a fuller background to Brexit, readers can check out four of our earlier posts:
- Our magnum opus stating a case for Brexit: Contra Unionem Europaeam
- The result of the UK referendum on Brexit, which took place on 23 June 2016: The peasants have revolted
- A short resumé of our case for Brexit, being a summary of the 10 key arguments: Why the UK does not need the EU crutch
- An in-depth analysis of immigration, which plays a major role on the Brexit stage: Immigration