The EU is terrified by Britain's new strategy for Brexit talks

John Longworth
Prime Minister Boris Johnson greets EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen ahead of a meeting in Downing Street, London. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday January 8, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire -  PA/Stefan Rousseau

We are approaching the moment when the UK and EU will lock antlers to work through their future relationship. The “rules” of the game are supposedly set out in the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) and the Political Declaration (PD), except very sensibly, both sides will play big picture diplomacy in order to re-interpret, re-cast and re-negotiate, and are already redefining the rules of the game. It is still a game of Monopoly but the street names have changed and we need to make sure that there is no possibility whatsoever of going to jail rather than passing Go! Which definitely means no role for the European Court of Justice

The government seem to be making the right noises so far. HMG have been clear that we do not want an incestuous relationship but instead a much looser free trade agreement. Why wouldn’t we? After all, exports to the EU represent just 8 per cent of our GDP and we can get better quality and cheaper imports from elsewhere. At the same time relieving our domestic economy, which is 70 per cent of GDP, from the excessive burden of EU rules would not only cut the cost of living but also make our exporters more competitive.

Furthermore having control of our trade policy would result in our being able to remove a significant tax burden – that of tariffs on imports which the EU currently applies, or alternatively re-deploying those taxes to the benefit of Britain. 

There is the rub. This is exactly what the EU doesn’t want. Despite Barnier suggesting from the very beginning of our leaving in 2016, that we can choose between Norway and Canada, the truth is that the EU will do everything possible to stymie the UK’s competitiveness. The hypocrisy of this is astounding, as they claim not to want to compete nor to have a competitor on their doorstep and yet will negotiate viciously to gain advantage, not least by denying ours. 

The terror in the eyes of the thinking EU is down to a number of things. Firstly, that we will hold up a mirror to the bankrupt continental project by being a successful, independent nation. 

Secondly, that as a fleet-of-foot, quick decision-making, medium-sized power playing to our strengths and our niches, we will be able to demonstrate that we have influence in the world outside the putative Continental empire. And who better to demonstrate this than a country blessed with top universities, a time zone, the English language, culture and creativity, the world’s greatest financial centre, a security council seat, the guarantee of a nuclear deterrent and the enduring Commonwealth. 

Finally, that all of this persuades other member states to rethink the project. What then for German hegemony, the captive market and the ability to socialise the massive debt overhang amongst EU taxpayers. 

I say the thinking EU, because many in the La La Land of Brussels and Strasbourg, not to mention the EU capitals, have not yet grasped the enormity of this. 

The UK has a great deal of negotiating power and should not be afraid to simply walk away. No doubt emotive issues such as fisheries and Ireland will be bargaining counters, but substantive matters must be pursued by our negotiators with resolute intent; they must hang tough. Talk is cheap and we are only at the very beginning of the end.

As anyone who has played Monopoly knows it might be a family game but there is no room for sentiment. There is only one winner in reality. 

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