Monday, 13 March 2017

50 Ways to Leave the EU

There have been numerous stories over the weekend about a 'war' between Number 10 and Number 11 over the shambolic Budget of Philip Hammond. Its not a war of course, but certainly the relationship has become more testy. They should sort it out. They should sort it out at the insistence of their own MPs by abandoning their ill considered and spectacularly impolitic NICS measure. It's not that it is about a lot of money, it is that it is about a philosophy and a direction of travel. For too long now Tories have accepted the baleful legacy of New Labour and of Gordon Brown. Now is the time, given the state of the Labour Party, to govern like proper Tories, cut taxes, slim the state, reform the public services, get radical. For this reason the NICS increase should be abandoned completely by simply acknowledging a mistake or a breakdown of communication. An apology would be nice. The public does not expect its governments to be free of mistakes. It would reward honesty and humility.

More importantly there are bigger fish to fry this week and in coming months than quibbling over a few hundred million quid.

This week, in all likelihood, we reach the end of the road, or possibly a fork in the road, we started down last June. The Government will get its bill to invoke Article 50 and shortly thereafter Mrs May will send the letter to the Commission beginning a long and often fraught process of negotiation.

There has been a phoney war from both sides thus far, including ludicrous assertions from the Commission and parliament, that we somehow owe them up to £60 billion for the sin of leaving. This has no basis in law whatever, even if the figures are correct. Quite apart from anything else it fails to take into account that we must, logically, also be owed a share in various assets we have helped buy and pay for, although how we should value the various monstrosities and architectural follies that pass for office buildings in Brussels is moot.

I wonder, in passing, what would happen were a country that is not a net contributor to the EU budget to decide to leave. Would they be presented with a large cheque from the Commission and healthy annual payments in lieu of what they would have received had they decided to stay? Feel free to use that argument in your negotiations, prime minister.

But this does just illustrate how other worldly the supporters of the EU can be. Take the increasingly dotty Michael Heseltine who was summarily dismissed from the government's legions of advisers last week. Heseltine calls those of us who are proponents of Brexit fanatics. Maybe we are, although in general we subscribe to the principles of democracy, accountability and sovereignty that he waves away as an irrelevance. But what are he and the likes of Ken Clarke if not fanatics for the EU cause and all things European?

Heseltine stomped out of Mrs Thatcher's cabinet a generation ago now because of her admittedly high-handed approach to an arcane matter of helicopters. He wanted the European option. She preferred the American one. For Heseltine Europe and all things European seemed to be a winning argument which saved him the bother of actually making one. Ken Clarke, thoughout his dull, boastful and tendentious recent memoir, wrote repeatedly of his fondness for all things European without ever troubling himself to explain what it was that had prompted this all consuming political philosophy. Remainers persist with the complaint that the leave operation was dishonest last year as if their own claims of economic ruin and punishment were the height of veracity. But where was their positive argument for Europe? It was absent as a rationale for the political careers of Heseltine and Clarke.

And that ultimately is why we are where we are and Britain is about to start the process of extracting itself from this at best tolerated club for politicians and bureaucrats practically designed to keep the electorate at a safe and remote distance. There is no reason at all why a good and equitable deal cannot be done between Britain and the EU, one that will enable people to move around our continent freely but not to work without some restrictions, one that will preserve the rights of those already in situ to remain and one that will see free trade on more or less present terms be continued. The EU is negotiating long drawn out free trade deals with other countries around the world. It already has one in place with the UK. So there really ought to be no problem. The much vaunted Article 50 specifically states that a free trade deal between a leaving member and the rest of the EU be negotiated. There is much to discuss, much to argue over, but the British situation vis a vis our soon to be former partners is actually a strong one. It is in our mutual interest to do a deal. Only European pig-headedness and a vain hope that by bullying us and holding out against a deal they will persuade us to stay might prevent such a deal. That is why the tactics of remainers are so frustrating and wrong-headed. We can win a deal but only if we leave Mrs May to get on with it without further interference.

As many of us argued during the campaign last year, Britain will not be leaving Europe, just the EU. We will still be an island at the edge of a continent with historical and cultural ties between us. That is not going to change and neither should it. We have much we have in common, many interests and goals to unite us. It was never necessary for us to work towards a common political future for us to share and cooperate and work together. When Mrs May sends that letter either this week or later this month she should perhaps remind our EU partners of these very obvious truths. The allies of world war 2 managed to fight a vicious and bloody world war without the paraphernalia of a common government, yet somehow a pervasive myth arose that peace could only be maintained by ever closer union. Britain leaving is about to demonstrate the falseness of that idea. Not for the first time the politicians of Europe and the likes of Ken Clarke and Michael Heseltine will be shown to be wrong.

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