11 December 2017
Rushed prime ministerial visits to the Continent in search of “agreement” tend not to end well. “I have it. I have the paper. Mr Juncker and I …” Pray that Theresa May has enough sense of history not to utter anything remotely resembling Neville Chamberlain’s words, either now or later.
If you are in any doubt about how badly the Government has handled these negotiations, you should note that last week we heard that Jean-Claude Juncker was keen for Mrs May to get some sort of agreement in order to prevent the fall of her Government. He feared that she could be replaced by a eurosceptic prime minister, prepared to leave the EU without a deal. Hey presto, there’s an agreement. Now, it’s on to the next phase.
But this is going to be tortuous. As Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, warned would happen, we have been steamrollered by the EU establishment through their adept use of timetables and procedures. Although Mrs May was right to aspire to a “deep and special partnership”, her key mistake was to bank on achieving this. Once it became clear that the EU was going to play hardball, she should have immediately embarked on a no-deal strategy. This crucial error has landed us where we are, with the clock ticking.
The UK’s current difficulties are not primarily economic but political. A majority of MPs want to stay in the EU or, failing that, to construct an arrangement sufficiently close to membership that there is not much difference. Many things are still up in the air. They could yet succeed. Indeed, there is a serious danger that the UK is set to pay a huge amount of money for an arrangement that is worse than the current one. We could end up with something close to membership of the customs union and the single market but without a voice in EU decision-making, while still being subject to the European Court of Justice in important matters.
Mind you, even then there would, I suppose, be one significant gain. Martin Schulz, leader of Germany’s SPD, said last week that his price for putting the SPD into a grand coalition with Angela Merkel would be agreement on achieving a United States of Europe by 2025. Even in the softest of soft Brexits, we would presumably be saved from that fate.
To read Roger Bootle’s piece for the Daily Telegraph in full, click here.