Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg via Getty Images
It is time to stop using the misleading term “Brexit negotiations”. Britain’s exit from the European Union is not subject to negotiation: it has been determined by the British people, the sole legitimate authority on this issue. One negotiates to enter an institution, not to leave it. We are simply checking out of the EU hotel; we paid our bill long ago and we are free to leave. We are merely saying a courteous farewell.
The weasel term “negotiations” – too uncritically accepted by Leavers – suggests we can only leave the EU by gracious permission of the Brussels apparatchiks, that they will decide whether a partial break with the EU is permitted and how many laws, regulations and even payments into the EU budget will still be imposed on Britain. Unhappily, many British civil servants who will be involved in the “negotiations” share this absurd mindset.
The mentality of these people, marinated in the habit of deference to the EU, is that Britain is an offender petitioning the parole board for early release. The Government’s pretence that Article 50 cannot be triggered until next year typifies this delusion. Why should hundreds of British officials toil unnecessarily to prepare for complex and protracted “negotiations” with an entity we are abandoning to its increasingly ominous fate?
When EU apparatchiks place voluminous documents for “negotiation” on the table, they should simply be swept onto the floor as irrelevant. Since voting for Brexit, the United Kingdom is no longer subject to one sentence or comma of the monumental acquis communautaire. British “negotiators” are only creating imaginary obstacles to our departure. Trade agreements – the only area in which the term “negotiation” is relevant – can be conducted separately from the brief formalities of departure and concluded after finalisation of Brexit, on Britain’s terms as much as the EU’s.
There are now two levels of delusion among the surviving Remainers. At the most extreme level is the cerebrally challenged view that Britain’s exit from the EU can somehow be prevented. The headlines reporting this hallucinatory mindset speak for themselves: “We won’t trigger Article 50 until after 2017 – and that means Brexit may never happen at all”; “Brexit ‘could be delayed until late 2019’ with Whitehall departments not yet ready to trigger Article 50”; “The UK Supreme Court has a clear legal path to block Article 50 and stop Brexit”; “Bookmakers have lost faith in Article 50 ever being triggered”.
The arrogant implication behind these fantasies of the defeated Entitled Ones is that the will of 17.4 million voters is illegitimate because they are “stupid”. If Brexit were delayed as suggested in those headlines the public backlash would be on a scale unseen in England since the 17th century. If activist judges were to block the clear will of the British electorate, at a time when confidence in both the judicial and political systems has never been lower, they would be courting disaster. And if the Supreme Court upheld the Brexit vote, what would the malcontents do – appeal to the European courts? The majority has finally asserted its rights and will not be denied them. As for the bookmakers, they lost confidence in Brexit throughout the referendum campaign, with distressing consequences for many of them.
The second, marginally less insane, delusion is that the Brexit “negotiations” can somehow be protracted, complicated and fudged so that the EU can claw back control of Britain and impose almost as many laws and regulations as under full membership. The EU anthem and flag would have to be sacrificed, but through some form of “associate membership”, “Norway model” or other device Britain could end up remaining in the Single Market, subject to EU laws while excluded from any role in making them, still unable to control immigration – the key referendum issue – and contributing to the EU budget. In other words, in a worse situation than under full membership.
Iain Duncan Smith, the former Work and Pensions Secretary and prominent Leave campaigner, who is well aware of this conspiracy (to give it its proper name), recently called on Theresa May to take measures to ensure Brexit is enacted imminently, with Britain leaving the Single Market. He said the Brexit decision must not deteriorate into a “neverendum”.
He is right and it is high time Leave supporters abandoned timidity and spelled out some home truths to all concerned, including the Prime Minister. The Remainers made much of predicted chaos in the markets, which did not materialise, But the markets, which have now factored Brexit into their calculations, notoriously loathe uncertainty. Yet the Remain bunker, formerly so concerned about the markets, is engineering prolonged uncertainty, to the detriment of investment.
The most urgent issue for the Leave camp now is the psychology of Britain’s approach to the EU. Our so-called “negotiators” need to present themselves in Brussels as soon as possible and say to the likes of sneering Guy Verhofstadt and frontierphobic Jean-Claude Juncker: “You can put away all those mountains of bumf, we’re only here to say goodbye nicely. We don’t want any form of associate membership, thank you very much. What part of ‘We’re outta here’ don’t you understand? Now, bring us the Visitors’ Book and we’ll sign out.”
That is what a majority of Britons want. Not only the 17.4 million voters who supported Brexit, but a growing number of former Remainers. In the immediate aftermath of the referendum distraught Remainers, notably the BBC, constructed an anecdotal narrative of “Leaver remorse” that claimed many Leave voters regretted their actions. Few such people concretely materialised. This myth was based on the genuine shock of voters, long accustomed to impotence under consensus politics, startled to find they had successfully imposed their will on the political class. Surprise was misrepresented as regret.
Now that the post-referendum excitement has died down, a genuine phenomenon has emerged of many Remain voters, in the democratic British tradition, reconciling themselves to the decision of the majority. Their view now is that we should get on with Brexit and make it a clean break with Brussels, to prevent a further decade of trench warfare tearing Britain apart. That applies more specifically to the Conservative Party, which must end its internal European schism or fall apart. Theresa May should remember the fate of David Cameron and ensure that Brexit really does mean Brexit – and within a much shorter time span than two years. Trade with Europe, like the rest of the world, is up for negotiation. Otherwise, there is nothing to negotiate.