Ignore Project Fear and hold your nerve – the clock is ticking for the EU

Ignore Project Fear and hold your nerve – the clock is ticking for the EU

Project Fear has reached fever pitch; it is a sign of desperation. Not a day goes by without the Guardian, the BBC and other media outlets warning us of the dire consequences of leaving the EU. And there has not been a shortage of luminaries to warn us of the folly of our decision.

The latest to be wheeled out was Lord Kerr, the former UK Ambassador to the EU, who opined last week that the British people are in danger of being “misled” by the Government’s claims that Brexit cannot be reversed and that he should know, being one of Article 50’s authors. “Article 50 can be reversed,” he said triumphantly, not for one moment entertaining the possibility that we are happy with our decision and do not wish to change course.

Far from wishing to recant, a far greater number of people than those who voted to leave the EU now want the Government to get on with it, while – according to official figures – the UK has become a happier place since the Brexit vote. Then there was the Guardian front page headline :”British and EU business leaders tell May to get Brexit deal fast”. Not once did the report ask why is it that only the British Prime Minister is told to speed things up and not the other side. Newsnight went for the threat of a veto by the Republic of Ireland if the current border arrangements between the north and the south are changed and never questioned how credible such a threat is, given that an Irish veto would result in no deal and the hardest possible border – the very thing the Republic wishes to avoid.

Meanwhile, the media continue to present the EU as all-knowing and all-powerful with Merlin-like qualities. This was re-enforced by the former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis who, in his eagerness to cover up his naivety of the nature of the EU and his failure to stand up to it, exaggerates their cunning and strength, much like a mountaineer blaming the mountain for his failure to conquer its summit. It was not so much a case of the EU’s strength as Greece’s weakness. But the UK is not Greece; it is the fifth largest economy in the world.

In truth, and irrespective of Sir Keir Starmer’s laughable red lines which he hopes will reset Labour policy towards a course that was foiled at the Labour Party Conference in September, both Labour and Tory policy on Brexit remain fundamentally the same. Ideally there should be cooperation between the two main parties. But such cooperation has become toxic ever since the two parties joined forces to campaign for a No vote in the Scottish independence referendum. Labour lost almost all its seats at the subsequent general election because they were seen as cosying up to the Tories.

At the end of the day, Labour has to deliver at the crucial moments of the Brexit process, be that the EU Withdrawal Bill or the subsequent outcome of negotiations, as it did on Article 50. This is why, unlike the hapless leader of the SNP in Westminster, Jeremy Corbyn has wisely avoided using PMQs to harangue Theresa May on Brexit. He knows that the public are behind the Government in its negotiations with the EU as they would be for any government that is negotiating on their behalf. The Labour leadership knows that workers, who gave them the benefit of the doubt at the last general election, are watching every move they make and so far they have not been disappointed. But if there is any evidence of Labour obstructing the progress of leaving the EU by March 2019, they will abandon that party in droves.

In this muddle, even the need to prepare for any eventuality has been questioned. The Government is right to prepare for the possibility of a breakdown of negotiations and ending up without a Brexit deal. In fact, it is its duty to do so – even if some Cabinet ministers think such an outcome is “unthinkable”. But the unthinkable is precisely what a responsible government must think and prepare for. History is littered with unthinkables: there are more unthinkables turning into reality than predictions coming true. The Second World War was unthinkable, the 2008 financial crash was unthinkable, the Trump presidency was unthinkable and closer to home, a vote to Leave the EU was unthinkable.

The clock is ticking – and it is ticking for the EU. The absence of a deal would punch a huge hole in its finances. Such a hole would either have to be filled with extra contributions from Germany and/or France, money neither can afford, or by cutting down on the funds for future projects, something equally unpalatable. There may come a time, if negotiations drag on and the EU remain obstinate, when David Davis will have to say that if the EU’s aim is to isolate the UK, then we may have to retrench and bring back all our resources from abroad to protect and rebuild our country, including bringing back our troops from EU member states.