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Bernard Ingham: Get real and drop empty threats – what Theresa May should tell EU over Brexit

Prime Minister Theresa May greets President of the European Council Donald Tusk outside No 10 Downing Street, London, ahead of this week's EU summit.
Prime Minister Theresa May greets President of the European Council Donald Tusk outside No 10 Downing Street, London, ahead of this week's EU summit.
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THIS is the speech I commend to Theresa May at the opening of tomorrow’s European summit.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Prime Minister Theresa May leaves after attending a church service near to her Maidenhead constituency.

Prime Minister Theresa May leaves after attending a church service near to her Maidenhead constituency.

It must now be obvious to the densest Europhile that Britain is in its last months as a member of the EU. With our Withdrawal Bill now on the Statute Book, we shall be leaving at the end of March next year. Only the terms on which we depart remain to be settled.

Let me remind you that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. In other words – and I want there to be no doubt about this – you will not get a penny from the UK unless I feel I can commend a settlement to the United Kingdom.

Whatever happens, we shall, however, recover our ability to govern ourselves and thereby reinvigorate our democracy. Many Britons ask what is the point of voting in national elections if their Government is not in charge

Let me also be frank about the current situation. I do not assume that all objection to our leaving the EU has now evaporated in the UK. But the force of that objection is over. British voters will not demand ever more insistently that we – and that means you as well as my Government – get on with sealing our departure. You know, however much some of you may protest, that we have always negotiated constructively and in a spirit of compromise and good faith. I wish I could say the same about the EU.

Instead, we have formed the impression that we must be served with exemplary punishment for having the temerity to think of leaving, if only to discourage les 27 autres from having such rebellious thoughts. Perhaps I should say the other 25, since Germany and France seem to run the show.

We have faced a whole series of threats of our exile from European projects from nuclear power to satellite technology, from security co-operation to the weakening of the pre-eminence of our financial expertise through the City of London, and from the grounding of our airlines to the latest ploy – our exclusion from the Airbus project. So, who is going to make the wings for the plane?

Why, you even want to break up the UK against the will of the people of Northern Ireland, because of problems which are more imagined than real over policing cross-border trade. I sometimes wonder whether your negotiators have ever heard of modern technology or stopped to think how the Port of Felixstowe handles millions of tonnes of exports and imports the world over year in and year out.

The time has come for the EU to get real: to recognise that we are leaving soon and respond positively to pressure from EU industry for a settlement that secures their continued access to the UK market. After all, the EU exports far more to us than we do to you. Do you really want to cut off your nose to spite your face?

I say that not in a threatening manner – we seek a sensible settlement – but just to remind your negotiators, since they seem to think they hold all the aces, that two can play the protectionist game. It is not what we want to do. We are free traders, unlike some elements on the continent.

In short, the ball is now in your court. Do you want to preserve a good, open relationship with us or are you so consumed with the great European project – ever closer union – that we are to be treated like a pariah state for rejecting it?

Let me assure you that our leaving the European club does not mean we are taking our bat home. We shall continue to play our substantial part in the defence of the West through Nato and our engagement with the wider world. We know our duty.

I have one hope as the closure of a 45-year chapter in our history looms. It is that the EU will seriously re-examine its project of creating a federal Europe and opt for the looser, wider relationship between nation states advocated as long ago as 1988 in Bruges by my predecessor, Margaret Thatcher.

The time has come for the unelected Brussels bureaucracy to recognise, especially when national fervour is on daily display at the World Cup in Russia, that nobody has yet voted to abandon their identity for some European label.

So, ladies and gentlemen, let’s get to work constructively on Britain’s impending exit.