It is an aspect of human psychology that intensive and continuing exposure to any situation, however unreasonable and bizarre, can invest the alien phenomenon with an illusory normality. The acceptance by the British public of endlessly upward ratcheted income tax over the period since the French Revolutionary wars would be one egregious example. Because we have become accustomed to an intrinsically abnormal experience we eventually come to regard it as normal.
The Brexit “negotiations” are a current example of a freakish aberration, through the mechanism of constantly reasserting its absurdity, gaining passive acceptance as part of the landscape. Where and when has there ever been a precedent for such an anarchic riot posing as a diplomatic negotiation among sovereign states? The Congress of Vienna? The 1919 manoeuvrings at Versailles? There is no prior example of 27 nations, each despite asseveration to the contrary, pursuing its self-interest in a wholly undisciplined manner, ganging up on another sovereign state to inflict humiliation at the expense of diplomatic interests.
There is now debate among our former partners in the EU as to whether Spain will be in breach of European law if it exercises its “veto” over post-Brexit arrangements for Gibraltar, thus enjoying a privilege from which its 26 partner states would be excluded. This arises from the fact that the European Council’s guidelines on Brexit negotiations “externalised” the issue of Gibraltar, directing that Spain and the UK must come to a separate agreement on whether the Brexit settlement should also apply to the Rock.
Spain is now planning to employ this “veto” to target “unfair competition” from Gibraltar’s low-tax regime, with corporation tax set at 10 per cent on the Rock and at 25 per cent in Spain. Needless to say, no EU apparatchik is concerned about the rights of Britain in respect of Gibraltar. If Spain has an issue, then it should not have signed the Treaty of Utrecht, ceding Gibraltar, in 1713. Or it could try lowering its extravagantly high rate of corporation tax. None of this is Britain’s problem. Gibraltar entered the EU in a package alongside Britain and it will depart in the same way.
Other petulant irredentists have since tried to get in on the act. Ireland wants the Irish Sea to be the post-Brexit border with Britain: we used to call that a united Ireland and it presents some electoral problems in Northern Ireland, whose more intransigent Unionists are currently the sole support of Theresa May’s zombie government. Of course the jokers throwing all these spanners into the works know perfectly well what they are doing: they are wrecking the Brexit talks without a thought for the consequences, indulging longstanding grudges against Britain.
One wonders if they privately recognize, post-Brexit, post-euro, post-Greek bailouts and post-Visegrad defiance of Brussels, the inevitability of the collapse of the EU. Are the more farsighted member states writing off the European “project” as a long-term prospect? They are certainly behaving as if this is the case. An aura of insanity engulfs the Brexit talks. Michel Barnier repeats his obsessive mantra “The clock is ticking,” then threatens to suspend the talks for two months because Britain is hesitating about paying extravagant Danegeld to Brussels in the guise of a so-called “divorce bill”.
That is where Britain fully shares the blame for this shambles. We should have refused, point blank, from day one, to entertain any discussions whatsoever about an exit fee, since we do not owe the EU a penny. Over the past 44 years, as a net contributor, our payments to Brussels have exceeded an eye-watering half a trillion pounds. The kleptocrats have bled us white. Not a penny more should be an absolute axiom. Yet Europhile fellow travellers in Britain urge us to throw a further €40bn or €50bn into the maw of the Brussels behemoth to secure “goodwill”.
There is not an iota of goodwill on the EU side nor will there ever be. Britain has done the unforgivable: it has recognized the corrupt, unreformable, enterprise-suppressing reality of the EU and has become the first colony to declare independence from that sclerotic empire. €50bn is not a sum Britain can afford to disburse to insatiable foreign blackmailers, there are plenty of more deserving destinations for such funds at home. Europhiles make much of Moody’s threat to downgrade our Aa1 rating if Brexit talks fail; they ignore the main risk of a downgrade which is excessive spending.
All of the totem EU attributes that fellow travellers want to retain like shrapnel in Britain’s post-Brexit body – Single Market, EEA, Customs Union – are incompatible with sovereign control of our borders and the concluding of free trade agreements with nations around the world. To retain any one of them would hobble Britain – which is exactly what Brussels desires – and prevent our economic growth and demographic autonomy after independence. Yet the fellow travellers are led by the second most powerful member of the cabinet – the Chancellor – who sees fit to grab the train set and attempt to add years of “transition” to Britain’s Brexit ordeal when the Prime Minister takes a holiday.
All that is happening is that foreign countries are queuing up, as at a funfair, to pummel Britain onto the ropes. If we submit to this humiliating victimisation much longer we shall forfeit respect and credibility around the world. Our senior civil servants are not “unprepared”: they have been marinated for almost half a century in a culture of looking to Brussels to take the lead.
Public opinion must insist on ending this charade. We must meet infantile playground bullying with grown-up resolution. “You are unilaterally suspending negotiations for two months? Very well, but do not expect to see us again at the termination of that period.” “Divorce bill? We owe and will pay nothing. If you are unwilling to move on to a genuine agenda, we must withdraw permanently from these discussions.”
We should never have agreed to embark upon the punitive EU obstacle course that is Article 50. The EU has amply demonstrated its bad faith. Before any more investment is repelled by prolonged, one-sided negotiations and never-ending “transition periods” it is time to make a unilateral declaration of independence from the European Union and pursue our sovereign destiny.