I will return in my weekly newsletter tomorrow – you can subscribe here – to the response this week of the ultra-Remainers who have been triggered by the Article 50 move and want to return to the supposedly safe space of the European Union. Their responses range from “it is the end of all we hold dear,” through to “oh no, they’re talking about straight bananas again” (no they’re not) taking in a quick delusional spot of “this will be reversed” (no it won’t).
Trying to respect the feelings of Remainer friends, I am one of those pro-Brexit people avoiding celebrating. Yippee… no, honestly, stop it. While there is pleasure in leaving the EU, this week has been tinged with poignancy. The EU project went badly wrong, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the daft rush to a single currency that has been the cause of such misery in southern Europe. Yet we helped build the EU and these are our neighbours and our friends. We are leaving the EU, but not Europe, thank goodness.
Although it is important to maintain perspective, one particular piece of Remainer squeamishness, set to a soundtrack of weeping and wailing, is particularly bizarre and cannot go unremarked. That is the seeming astonishment, the clutching of pearls, when Theresa May invoked security cooperation and reminded the EU that no deal on trade means other stuff is at stake too.
What on earth did the ultra-Remainers think was going to happen? The 27 are united – my colleague Simon Nixon in The Times says today – in driving a tough bargain with Britain. There is even ridiculous talk of demands for the UK to pay up to €50bn before there can be discussions on other matters. That is the stuff of protection rackets. It simply won’t fly.
In that context, of course defence and security matters and is involved. It’s the continent of Europe for goodness sake. It’s not all sitting in French town square restaurants deep in the beautiful countryside eating cheese and observing, quietly, that actually the British have become better at restaurants than the French.
You must have spent the last decade and a half in a fog, lost in a haze of North London dreaminess, if you think that talking about this stuff (defence, intelligence) in international negotiations, and that is what these are, is somehow bad form in the era of IS and the Russian encroach. Ask the resourceful Poles with their long memories sandwiched between Germany and Russia. They get this and are very pro-UK.
You may not like it, but the UK is the premier security and intelligence power in Europe, with the leading listening facility. It is second in terms of defence and NATO, a long way behind the US in clout but still significant. On intelligence sharing the key relationship in the world has nothing – nothing – to do with the EU. It is the “five eyes” agreement between the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which rests on the long-established idea that the information will not go any further. Most EU states have woefully under-developed capacity and there is, beyond conventional crime and arrest warrants, only limited sharing.
The UK and France, that is Europe’s other leading defence power, do have extremely close working ties on defence outside the realm of the EU, that were strengthened sensibly under David Cameron. Our two countries are natural allies and don’t believe any Little Britisher who tells you otherwise. Think of France’s backbreaking sacrifice in the First World War that so weakened it ahead of the Second and of British support in the Second World War, extending even to Churchill proposing a union between the two in 1940 to demonstrate solidarity.
This claim of UK importance in this field is not made boastfully and May was careful to put it in a coded and friendly fashion. We also need to do way more, in NATO and elsewhere. The post-crash defence cuts have left glaring holes in our armoury.
But if you are annoyed because you have spent the last nine months going around saying miserably that Britain is finished and we have no strengths, no negotiating hand, and then Mrs May shows that you have been talking dismal rot, please don’t take out your frustration and annoyance on the rest of us.
This is how the world works. The negotiations will be tough and hopefully friendly. Compromise will be required on both sides for a deal or deals to be done.
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Still, May’s strongest hand, other than the way in which the City of London makes the fragile eurozone debt machine go round, is the EU opting for too long to make defence and security someone else’s job, all the while sheltering under a US umbrella while piously lecturing the US, overlooking what the UK brings in this field and making assorted ill-starred attempts at better EU co-operation. That has been the EU’s choice, but we are no longer compelled to go along with the delusion. Get used to it.