Friday, 31 March 2017
And so it starts. There is to be an interregnum between our invocation of Article 50 on Wednesday and negotiations commencing. The EU must talk amongst themselves for a while with us shut out of the room. They do so in full knowledge that the clock is now ticking and that, after delaying for so long while we found ourselves a government, got all of the preparatory work done and then went through the small matter of court challenges and parliamentary procedures, we are now ready but have handed the advantage to them. They now mean to be as bloody-minded and awkward as possible. They could have started the process of deciding what their approach would be at the same time that we were doing so of course and probably have if truth be told, but they mean to make us wait. And sweat.
Well we shouldn't give them the satisfaction. Take your time. How very European to insist on sticking to the letter of the law when it suits you. And you wonder why we are getting out.
This is going to be an instructive few weeks. The noises coming from Brussels and European capitals is that they are determined to present a united front. Well we shall see. For now they are sticking to their line that we must discuss money before anything to do with trade. Well that will be a short discussion because there will be no money. We don't owe them a penny other than for the pensions of British officials entitled to EU pensions. Even that is debatable. We might be prepared to pay for certain schemes into which we may wish to opt on a case by case basis. But that is the approach we ought to take. We are leaving the EU precisely because we no longer wish to be a part of its one-size-fits-all approach to everything. We are leaving for self determination. Why would we do so and then agree to carry on paying into a common pot from which we have derived so little benefit and so little thanks just because the EU thinks it has us where it wants us?
On this issue we should let them chunter away for a few weeks. That will make them feel better. No doubt diplomatic channels are open and discussions are already taking place. We may already be having some success at dividing and ruling. But they should be left in no doubt whatsoever: Britain voted to leave to regain control of our borders, our trading relations, our regulations and our money.
The demand for a divorce payment makes no sense anyway and they know it. It is probably calculated to irritate. At that at least it has succeeded. If there is to be a bill to be paid then logically there should also be a division of assets. So what do we get back? Which buildings? We must have paid for a good proportion of those grandiose and faintly ridiculous buildings around Brussels and the EU. So do we get some of that back? How do you calculate the worth of a white elephant? And, as this blog has pointed out before, if a net contributor to the EU budget, one that has paid in over half a trillion pounds since we joined has to continue to pay even after we have left does that mean that a net beneficiary of EU funds like France or Poland would receive annual cheques even after leaving? Is that a precedent they really want to advertise?
If the EU is really insistent upon this before we get around to talking about trade then it is clear that there really isn't anything to talk about and we should walk away. Indeed not only should we walk away we should end the process of leaving and announce that we are leaving early and taking our money with us with immediate effect. Indeed we should start the process of extrication straight away, announce that we are opening free trade talks with a host of countries around the world and that the EU may soon have to go to the back of the queue. We should announce that we are taking control of our fisheries immediately, that we will take over responsibility for British agriculture and subsidy payments meaning that money will be kept here for that purpose and that we see no reason to continue to pay any sums to the EU for it to be sent back to the UK with an EU flag on it. As to the other £10 billion a year we pay for the right to be a member of the EU and of the Single Market? Well, if they are saying that we are not even allowed to talk about that then why should we continue to pay for the privilege? We'll keep that money here too.
The EU is clearly of a mind to show any other countries thinking of leaving that to do so is folly. Britain should be equally determined to show that it is actually a sensible and pragmatic decision in the face of such arrogance and purblind stupidity. Britain wants to remain friends with our European neighbours. But this is not a marriage we are dissolving it is a contractual relationship that we are severing. We wish to discuss like grown-ups a new relationship. We will not do so with a gun to our heads. Quite apart from anything else, our guns are bigger than theirs and they need them.