If the EU plays hardball, so must we

If the EU plays hardball, so must we

Theresa May was wrong to say Brexit means Brexit. It doesn’t. It means sitting in a trap, forced to bid against ourselves, while recalcitrant Remainers encourage the EU to make departure so difficult that we crumble and give up – that’s their two pronged game.

Article 50 was designed by Lord Kerr, a Foreign Office fool gone native in Brussels. He claims it was intended to discipline dictators, not Britons – because he thinks we’re”too bloody stupid” to leave. So he didn’t make it easy.

Then the Commission, which will be hit hard by the loss of the UK’s contribution, made it even tougher by seizing control of the process, appointing a former French agriculture minister (and CAP lover) to “negotiate” for them. They demand that Britain jumps through three hoops before they’ll talk turkey, and every time we offer to meet their unreasonable demands they’ll say “Not enough, give us more”. Barnier is the ever raising bar man…

It’s the best trick since the invention of the mousetrap. It’s also against the EU’s own rules. Article 50 gives the power of decision to the European Council, not the Commission. Negotiations on the relationship after departure should go on pari passu with agreement on the cash and conditions. Indeed, conditions – like money and borders – can’t be agreed until we know what kind of deal we’re getting.

Yet the Commission not only insists that we should accept their conditions sight unseen, but gives the EU’s joke of a parliament a say as well, providing a platform to Guy Verhofstadt, a failed Prime Minister of Belgium, to ponce around lecturing us.

We’re asked to accept the poke before we can see the pig. Unless we’re to be stuck on this flypaper and humiliated, we need to insist on seeing what we’re getting to decide how much it’s worth paying for. Having already made an overgenerous offer, Theresa May must now say “thus far and no further” until we agree on terms. Unless we do that, we embark on an endless process of bidding against ourselves, while our recalcitrant Remainers encourage the Commission to make everything so difficult that Britain is locked into a never-never process.

While that goes on, Labour will attack whatever the Government does to conceal its own disunity, the Tories will fratch over theirs’ and all the vested interests will witter on about the terrors of Brexit and demand extended transitional arrangements they hope will last forever. Or until the Ides of Blair, whichever comes soonest.

That’s a daunting prospect. Even mice have a choice of whether to walk into a mousetrap. Theresa May’s generous instinct to be nice to Europeans is irrelevant. If the EU plays hardball, so must we. That means being prepared and ready to walk away. Every trade union negotiator knows that’s essential in tough deals.

Get negotiations out of the hands of a Commission with its vested interest in keeping our cash, and into the Council’s. Talk to the adults in the room, not their office boys. To keep faith with our people, Britain must assert its national interests and stop the drain of money, jobs and assets to a European monolith we neither need nor want.