Nothing, it seems, except the European Union cast, has changed since I hung up my EC bovver boots as Margaret Thatcher’s spokesman in Rome almost exactly 30 years ago.
Still the same old scenario: avoidance of issues, endless delay, disregard of deadlines, interminable talks and a last minute kerfuffle which usually produces a settlement at the 59th minute of the 11th hour – or near midnight of the 23rd hour if they are really on form.
And so the Brexit pantomime fits a long-established pattern as the talks again go into extra time as Boris Johnson prepares to go to Brussels in a last ditch effort to try to get them to see sense.
Don’t forget that even Mrs Thatcher in her demanding fish-wife role took well over four years to cut our excessive contribution to the EC – and then only by two-thirds. I suppose we are just about on schedule.
It is true that the French clinched the 1984 deal at Fontainebleu but probably only because they wanted a summit “victory” on their soil. This time they are the naughty boys primarily because President Emmanuel Macron has an election on the horizon as his citizens riot over Covid restrictions, his fishermen demand unrestricted access to British waters and some opposition politicians canvass Frexit. Even the German Chancellor Angela Merkel is getting a bit fed up with Macron who is no doubt also driven by his nation’s inferiority complex vis-à-vis Britain.
British EU negotiators have always paid a price in lost sleep for our restoring French sovereignty in two world wars. Who would believe that now the French are doing their best to end sovereignty in 27 nations by sinking them, without so much as by your leave, in a United States of Europe? How ironical can you get? And to think that the French are the most nationalistic country in the entire continent.
I still think there will be a settlement of sorts before December 31, especially if the remaining 25 member-states follow Mrs Merkel’s lead and tell the French to put a sock in it.
It may not satisfy our Eurosceptic purists. But provided it restores our national sovereignty, including borders, territorial waters, economic management, laws and their enforcement and an unfettered internal market – with perhaps a transitional period over fishing quotas – we should accept it. If it doesn’t, then Boris is dead in the water in the very week that a Covid vaccine arrives to bring hope of a gradual return to normal life.
I suspect Boris will survive. That is more than I dare hazard for the EU. Brexit and Covid-19 have demonstrated its utter pretension and irresponsibility in a world arguably more dangerous to Western interests than since the 1962 Cuba crisis.
For all the federal direction of travel the EU has probably never been more disunited. The single currency has split the institution between the north and south. Then it was every man for himself when Covid-19 struck for only national governments, dependent on votes within their borders, could respond. Just imagine what would have happened if bureaucratic Brussels had responsibility for fighting the pandemic. After all, they are now complaining we rushed the testing of a vaccine.
Europe is now fracturing, with various nationalist parties openly advocating following Britain’s lead out of the door. It could all have been avoided if anybody on the Continent had listened to – and inwardly digested – Mrs Thatcher’s warning in Bruges in 1988 that it was on the wrong track down the federal route. Had they acted on it, Europe would now be a far healthier and more potent alliance of freely co-operating and competing member states.
Nobody can be proud it has come to this – not John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown (though he kept us out of the euro), nor David Cameron (though he gave us the referendum). As for Nicola Sturgeon, how more contemptibly inconsistent can you get in seeking Scottish independence from the English and subservience to Brussels?
Meanwhile, Europe is fiddling while the EU burns – just when common sense requires it to make its peace with Britain in its own economic and defence interests. Let us hope that British realism is again the saviour of a wayward Europe that at long last recognises the federal error of its ways.
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