It’s time for the Government to be tough and defy the rules

It’s time for the Government to be tough and defy the rules

We’ve wasted so much time arguing among ourselves, about hard Brexit, soft Brexit, non-Brexit Brexit or slinking back into the cage as many so-called Remainers really want, that we’ve wrecked our position and narrowed our options in the real negotiations which are now beginning. Fake economics, scare tactics and the nervous timidity of our capitalism have added their contribution to undermining the Government’s resolve.

It’s all a misunderstanding of what’s to come. Michel Barnier isn’t there to negotiate but to say “non” on behalf of a Commission which not only can’t afford to lose our money but is desperate to hold its rickety “union” together against the real threats: that the euro is a disaster and that most members won’t accept burden-sharing to cope with the refugee flood.

The basic mistake has been to assume that Britain is negotiating with a rational entity capable of reasonable deals. The EU isn’t that. It’s a collection of vested interests (in which ours is the weakest, Germany’s the strongest) bound by rules which have to be inflexible to stop the rickety structure falling apart.

Brexit threatens that. So their every answer has to be not “can we come to a deal?” but “we can’t do anything which breaks the rules because if we do the whole structure will tumble down”. They can’t allow deals with other countries because it would undermine EU protectionist rules, hit French agriculture and German industry. Can’t do this, can’t do that because it would cut the rules and others will want it. So it goes on in a dialogue of the deaf.

One way to get round it is to go over the head of the nay-saying Commission to the dominant leaders, particularly France which has its own barrows to push and Merkel who’s now preoccupied by other insecurities. She did nothing to help David Cameron and is now too weak and abstracted to help us. No wonder they’d prefer a transition period to put Brexit into their crowded pending file with refugees and the euro. In Europe “rien ne dure comme le provisoire” (nothing lasts like the temporary).

How then do we make headway? Not by going in humble and playing it nice, but by being tough, cancelling the negotiations and defying the rules. Our two basic objectives are to control immigration and to trade with other countries. Both will be refused, which leaves us no alternative but to come to deals with the old Commonwealth and Trump and to impose entry restrictions on unskilled immigrants, then wait to see what happens.

The French broke the rules when they warehoused imported VCRs in Poitiers or exceeded the borrowing limits. Why shouldn’t we ban German cars on pollution grounds? France wasn’t expelled and now that countries like Hungary and Poland merit sanctions, the EU is unlikely to expel us for being naughty. Even if they do, they’re even less likely to invoke the full panoply of punishments envisaged for leaving voluntarily. See what we can get away with rather than invite them to tell us.

Independent action will be met by threats such as stopping sending their cars and butter, suspending flights, imposing customs barriers in Ireland (theirs not ours) but that only cuts off Europe’s nose to spite Britain’s face. A trade war harms the surplus country not the deficit runner. Cheaper food is widely available. So they lose out. Excluding our services threatens their dodgier financial structures and under-capitalised banks, particularly in Italy. If Germany insists on running huge surpluses, don’t buy their products.

The biggest boot is on our foot. But only if we have the nerve and the guts to use it. No amount of nattering and worriting among ourselves can disguise that.