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If the British media and political class are to denounce anyone who knows what they are talking about when it comes to negotiating with the EU then the UK’s exit may be harder and more painful than it needs to be. Lord Hill, the former EU Commissioner with responsibility for financial services, knows what he is talking about. But that did not not discourage various Tories from denouncing him when today he criticised those who seek a so-called Hard Brexit or a “stupid Brexit”, as he named it. Knowing what you are talking about is no longer an advantage it seems, in the age of Trump and Corbyn and Hard Brexit v Soft Brexit.
The denunciation of Hill in particular was bonkers. Hill spent several years in the Commission. When he talks – and says Brussels is about deals and negotiation – we should listen. Yet there is a Brexiteer school of thought that hates any suggestion of compromise on any aspect of what is to come. Fire Article 50 (the act which triggers departure from the EU) now, they say, and condemn anyone talking of meeting in the middle ground. On the BBC’s Question Time discussion programme this week most of the anger came from “Hard Brexit” men who want it now and hard. They do seem mainly to be angry men. Why should they mainly be men? It’s a mystery…
We, the British, really are in trouble if smart people – Remainers or Leavers – are discouraged from opening their mouths with good advice. We have to make it work, it it going to happen but we are in the soup if Brexit becomes a male virility test.
But if we could, for a second, dial down the Brit-focussed obsession with what happens next in Westminster we might see that the EU is in poor shape.
We Brits have to be careful about how we put this, and not just because of the negotiations to come. Those of us who said that that we are not leaving Europe (a departure is a geographic, culinary and cultural impossibility, thankfully) because the EU is not the same as Europe should not celebrate the EU’s troubles. The UK is part of Europe, and the EU is important. If Europe fails we are hit and destabilised.
It is difficult to keep a civil tongue about all this when the deliberations and proclamations of the representatives of the EU 27 (that’s the EU minus the UK) are so deluded. At the gathering this week in Brussels Theresa May’s offer of full British involvement until departure, and sincere friendship afterwards, was treated with disdain.
To listen to the posturing of the other EU leaders one might think that the EU is a success. It is not. It is a rickety and relatively recent creation that has brought poverty to large parts of southern Europe and cannot defend its southern border adequately.
This, the EU elite, is the bunch of people who invented and defend the euro, and who have shown zero humility about its calamitous side effects that are as yet untreated and unresolved. Now – incredibly – they mock the UK for its supposed recklessness in choosing Brexit. The people who created the euro – against British advice – now talk of stability and British foolishness. Come off it.
We are also treated to the ludicrous spectacle of Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament, asserting himself in the most hilarious manner. I am trying to be polite, so let’s not call Schulz a clown and accept that the federalist agitator for punishing the Brits is merely misguided in his recent pronouncements.
Schulz was a prime force in the successful effort to have the disastrous Jean-Claude Juncker elected president of the European Commission, the key post in the EU firmament. The day that happened one of my favourite pro-EU people declared in frustration that this was the end: “Juncker is a federalist. The Brits will vote to leave now.” He was right.
This – the EU – is a badly broken organisation that clings to a fantastical founding concept that cannot, in the era of mass migration, cope with what is happening to it. What is needed is a recognition of the need for radical reform. And yet all we get is a bit of infighting over migration, futile protest about Russia and Syria while Putin sails war ships through the channel, and demonisation of the Brits who are prepared to say that the EU emperor is not wearing any clothes.
The UK is right to leave. The hope must be that it wakes up the EU to the reality that what is needed is a looser and more sustainable form of partnership rooted in trade, friendship, secure borders and the common interests of self-governing nations. As a Brit, and a European, I live in hope.