I was just wondering, since you belong to the almost 100 per cent of commentators who assumed from day one of Brexit that the path out of the EU lay via Article 50, how is that interesting process working for you?
As a vehicle for the restoration of national sovereignty, how would you rate it on a scale of 10? My own assessment would be around minus 100. However, as you know, I have been an Article 50 sceptic from the beginning. Its provenance speaks for itself.
Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty was devised by Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, whose pro-Brexit credentials are, to say the least, elusive. He composed it when he was secretary-general of the European Convention, a body charged with drawing up a European Constitution in the period 2002-2003. It would be hard to imagine a more integrationist exercise than that project.
In 2005 the European Constitution was rejected by voters in referenda in France and the Netherlands: Britain is not, as aggrieved Remainers would have us imagine, the only nation to have smacked down the EU in a plebiscite. Nothing daunted, the integrationists dressed up the Constitution in a new guise as the Treaty of Lisbon. Even that was rejected at a referendum in Ireland in 2008, but accepted after a few cosmetic amendments by a chastened Irish electorate in 2009 – the re-education process to which Remainers would like to subject the British electorate as a prelude to a second referendum to quash Brexit.
With those antecedents, Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty deserved to be treated with intense scepticism by the British government and parliament. Although its first clause reads “Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements”, the subsequent four clauses lay a minefield in which the EU controls the exit process.
The withdrawal agreement is to be negotiated in accordance with Article 218 (3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and requires a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament. In other words, although we have already experienced the bully-boy tactics and bad faith of Barnier, Juncker, Verhofstadt et al, the EU institutions have not yet even triggered the formal processes, inside and outside the European Parliament, that are likely to mirror the chaos and obstruction in our own dear Mother of Parliaments.
Yet from its foundation by the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 until the Treaty of Lisbon became operative in 2009 the European Union did not have a mechanism for the departure of a member state. Startlingly, Lord Kerr himself testified to the redundancy of Article 50, speaking to Politico in March 2017, on the eve of Theresa May’s invoking the procedure.
Denouncing Eurosceptics’ fear of being tied in to an EU bent on ever-closer union, Kerr said: “That Eurosceptic theory was always nonsense because you don’t need a secession article to secede. If you stop paying your subscription, stop attending the meetings, people would notice that you’d left.”
Read this carefully, I shall write it only once: I agree with Lord Kerr. The reality is that Article 50, like all the pompous flummery bolstering the failing European project, is just a ploy. We could – and should – have walked away, repealed the European Communities Act and traded by WTO rules, though always having a delegation ready with suitcases packed to go to Brussels and discuss a trade deal if required.
Instead, so far from stopping paying our subscription, we cravenly offered Danegeld of £39bn to Brussels, while allowing the EU nomenklatura to set the negotiating agenda of consecutive rather than contemporaneous institutional and trade discussions. Serial surrender by British pseudo-negotiators, orchestrated by pro-Remain officials such as Olly Robbins, fuelled Brussels aggression as the EU hoods realized they could inflict any humiliation on the UK without retaliation.
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That is the destination to which Article 50 has led us. But perhaps you see things differently?