It’s time for Britain to toughen up in the Brexit negotiations

It’s time for Britain to toughen up in the Brexit negotiations

The release of Darkest Hour coincides with Theresa May’s attempt at a new evacuation from Europe. Churchill’s was tough but triumphant. Hers is looking tougher and messier.

Our political system can’t handle Europe. Both parties have stood on their heads on the issue and are bitterly split. Neither can say what relationship they really want. The vested interests fill the air with gloomy predictions of disaster to come. Blair’s fifth column agitate confidently against it and Europhile Remainers are colluding with the EU to stop it and undermine her negotiating position.

Weighed down by all this, Theresa May has opted for being nice – which is rather like handing a bank robber the keys to the safe. There are clear rules for successful negotiation:

  • Decide clearly what you want and employ the cleverest and toughest team to get it
  • Demand the maximum and look determined to get it
  • Exploit your opponent’s weaknesses and conceal your own
  • Threaten (and mean it) to walk out unless the other side is reasonable.

Theresa has ignored them all, allowing the EU to seize the initiative by demanding that the UK jump high hurdles and hand over dosh before they’ll even talk about what they’ll agree to. If anything.

She’s trying to negotiate with an entity which can’t negotiate. 27 nations all have different views and interests. So it’s easier to keep them out and just say “no”, something which, as a French civil servant, Michel Barnier is very good at: no concessions on free movement of people, no special deals (because everyone else will want one), no separate agreements with other countries and no concessions to the City, on agricultural protectionism or on the wretched Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Juncker know well that concessions will open up the Pandora’s box of demands from other disgruntled members. Therefore their strategy, coordinated with Britain’s rampant Remoaners, is to drag things out so eventually the Brits – baffled, divided and dismayed – will just give up and crawl back to sit on the naughty step, allowing the EU to get on with Macron’s plan for ever closer economic and military union.

All of which means it is time for Britain to toughen up.

First, insist that the overgenerous deals we’ve already made on contributions, the Irish border and citizenship are subject to satisfactory trade arrangements. Some of it depends on all of it.

Second, issue the same threats to EU companies exporting to Britain and to EU projects in Britain and nations outside funded by Britain, that the EU is sending to British counterparts. Hint that we will opt for anti-German protectionism and an immediate block on payments unless we get a reasonable deal.

Third, announce that we will immediately opt out of the CFP and the Common Agricultural Policy and that under no circumstances will we accept the EU’s new form of protectionism in any demand that we should pay to trade. When we leave the political institutions we won’t pay for marble palaces in Brussels.

Lastly, it’s surely time to make the British economy Brexit-proof by introducing state and regional aid to correct the lop-sided imbalance to Financial Services, redirecting our EU payments to British purposes and boosting Keynesian expansion policies so that the natural dynamics of the economy can offset any adverse consequences from Brexit.

Britain’s choice is whether to fight back or be palsied by fear into becoming a servile satellite to a failing union. The latter would mean an unhappy frustrated electorate forced to endure a relationship it doesn’t like. The former would require the reversal of the neo-liberal economic policies which pushed the electorate into voting for Brexit in the first place, by rebuilding a stronger and better balanced economy to compete rather than slumping into Europe. This is the year to choose.