ONE month down, eleven to go. That is the reality of Brexit. We are neither in nor out of the European Union, just working out how we relate to each other when we finally flit, as they used to say in Hebden Bridge, on December 31.
Before the parleying starts, we need to face facts. First, the EU never learns. Already the pathetic Leo Varadkar, the Irish PM, is belittling us. The French are demanding our fish in perpetuity. And Michel Barnier, the EU negotiator, is like a stuck gramophone in insisting we live by their rules.
Brussels and its satraps seem utterly incapable of understanding that their sneers, provocations and general behaviour just strengthen our resolve behind Boris Johnson’s commanding Parliamentary majority.
Second, we know how they negotiate when you try to be reasonable and lack a working majority in the Commons. They make your life impossible, as Theresa May discovered.
We shall soon find out whether a working Commons majority – and the certainty of our departure – have made any difference to their approach.
It is a more open question whether the forces of Remain at home will stay intransigent. If they do, they will damn themselves in the eyes of the majority of their fellow countrymen who will say that, if they worship the EU so much, they should go and live there.
In short, we face an uncomfortable fourth year of Brexit until, one way or the other, we finally shake the suffocating Brussels dust off our feet.
Boris Johnson has been making the right noises domestically.
Now he has to give the EU the facts of life. I suggest he simply says this when face to face negotiations formally open:
“Mr President (whichever EU president it may be), it now falls to us in the next 10 months to work out a modus vivendi from January 1, 2021. We are not leaving Europe – only the EU which has inexorably developed in a way that a majority of Britons find intolerable. That means we seek a sensible and amicable parting. With goodwill and restraint we can secure that.
A failure to do so would be damaging to all of us in a dangerous world and would not help the EU to ease the tensions which its federal path has created in other member states.
I would urge you to recognise at the outset four undeniable factors:
1 – The British Government now has a commanding majority in the House of Commons and every Tory MP is committed to Brexit by the end of the year. This means that the old EU tactic of “stopping the clock” on unfinished business is simply not available. December 31 is our departure date.
2 – The UK is in a stronger economic position than many EU members. We should do nothing to weaken it because it would damage EU economies.
3 – The outside world will simply not understand any vindictiveness in negotiations towards the UK. It will merely advertise the EU’s weakness in being unable to cope with one of its members leaving for fear that will encourage others to go the same way. The EU is not playing to an admiring gallery. Your federal project is now seen to be divisive. Don’t make it worse.
4 – There is absolutely no point, as during the last three years, in constantly complaining that you do not know what the UK wants. We know what we want and we shall either get it or the EU will end up in a deeper crisis of its own making.
Our objective of recovering sovereignty means just that: responsibility for making our own laws and their interpretation; control over our borders, replacing freedom of movement with a points-based immigration system; no interference with the integrity of the UK, notably in Northern Ireland; control over our trade policy, fish stocks and agriculture; and a willingness to co-operate with the EU in mutually beneficial areas such as criminal intelligence and scientific development.
Let us now get down to sorting out our future relationship with a will and constructive intent. You will not find us lacking in energy and application against this background. We aim not just to leave the EU but to fashion a new, productive relationship.”
Offering an iron fist in a velvet glove is not duplicitous. After all President Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy was encapsulated in the words: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
We must start as we mean to go on. Let firmness be our friend.