Boris Johnson must avoid being overconfident and prepare to play hardball with the tricky EU negotiators

Boris Johnson must avoid being overconfident and prepare to play hardball with the tricky EU negotiators

Be boosted by the election and the rout of Remain – but don’t get too confident. It ain’t over yet. Prime Ministerial honeymoons are shorter these days and the rampant Remainers will regroup and revive; the most difficult bit is still to come and negotiating with the EU is like getting cows not to fart. They’re the slipperiest, most inflexible, trickiest bunch in the world.

Stop saying it’ll be as easy as popping a dish in the microwave. It’s more like Rorke’s Drift: attacked on every side by euro-fanatics foreign and domestic. It won’t be over even when the fat lady sings. Mrs Merkel may be weaker but Macron’s no Anglophile and several others want a slice of British pie before they’ll back a unanimous decision to let us out of the cage. Passing the Withdrawal Bill is the easy bit. Remember how Alexis Tsipras got the ringing endorsement of a Greek referendum against the EU’s terms, only to be bullied into a humiliating settlement? The EU has already illegally put us in a trap by insisting (against the terms of Article 50) that we negotiate the terms of trade only after we’re out and more vulnerable.

The main EU tactic, already emerged, is attrition. They’ll argue that an agreement before Boris’s deadline is impossible. Trade agreements with the EU take years, because agricultural protection for France has to be included. This dilatoriness hides their inflexibility. The EU is held together by the four basics of free movement for business, people, agricultural produce and services. End any one and the structure falls apart. So no outsider can be allowed unrestricted access to its protective market without accepting the principles. That’s their Catch 22. No free access, unless we accept their huddled masses yearning to be free of EU deflation, allow businesses here to pay lighter taxes in Dublin, don’t help our businesses and wear EU shackles.

They’ll play hardball at keeping our cash and our market. Which makes it a game of bluff. So Boris must keep feeding red meat to the ERG, avoid premature cries of betrayal, and cut out the nonsense about close relationships to concentrate on our basic demands. These are to control immigration, build better trade deals and aid industry and the regions. Ignore the social nonsense with which the EU disguises its overwhelming neo-liberalism. We can do better on our own.

It’s going to be tough. So Boris must be tougher. Take negotiations out of the hands of Europe, disallowing civil servants, particularly the Foreign Office, from being involved. Their hearts aren’t in it. Use hard-headed realists who’ll pursue the national interest and know our industrial and commercial needs. Concentrate on Britain’s basic needs and put the blame for any rejection squarely on the EU to keep British public opinion solid and angry.

There will be the usual moans. Remainers will revive. So will the second referendum softies, although in fact the election was a referendum which has gone against them. Yet the EU now knows how unrepresentative and politically weak they are. The election has shown that Britain is a nation again with a deep, instinctive national feeling. It won’t be the servile servant of a shambolic superstate. The country which passed this electoral verdict doesn’t want to be messed about.

Disbelieving this re-assertion of national pride, the fifth column will certainly try to revive the old fears of “no deal”, though the Government must keep that option open as a negotiating pressure. So put the blame for any possibility on the EU where it belongs and demonstrate that it’s nothing to be feared anyway as the EU declines, lagging behind better markets and becoming old-fashioned in a world of enlightened self-interest by independent nations. Don’t worry about fear of decline in the value of the pound. It’s got to come down anyway to close our gaping trade gap. Just blame speculators, but don’t say anything about “ the pound in your pocket”.

Fiddled compromises will no longer do. It’s shit or bust now. Brexit opens the door to growth by enlightened self-interest and closes it on an old-fashioned protectionist bloc, serving the interests of France and Germany at the expense of all the other members. Particularly us.