When the 27 EU leaders met to review their Brexit talks guidelines yesterday, it took them just one minute to approve the draft. They then burst into applause – almost akin to a Soviet-era meeting of Warsaw Pact comrades. The guidelines are provocative and blatantly breach the UK’s own red lines. Britain, in turn, must spell out that it is prepared to walk away if it is unsatisfied with the deal that talks produce.
The EU has shamelessly put absolutely everything on the table.
The EU’s mask of collegiality and high ideals is slipping. As it does, so the decision of the British voters to walk away last year looks even wiser. Extracts from Yanis Varoufakis’s memoir of the 2015 Greek crisis depict an EU where the Germans dominate and the Union, they insist, must be preserved at all costs. He claims that Emmanuel Macron, probably France’s next president, described the EU’s deal for Greece as a latter-day “Versailles Treaty”. Angela Merkel apparently overheard and barred Mr Macron from talks.
Greece is not Britain: a great deal more for the Union is at stake this time around. The EU’s guidelines reflect it. Theresa May attracted shrill criticism for pointing out that continental security might be affected by the course of negotiations, yet the EU has shamelessly put absolutely everything on the table: the cost of the so-called divorce, from which they are determined to wring every penny, Gibraltar, UK bases in Cyprus and, in a concession to the French, an effort to stop any financial deregulatory drive by Britain.
The UK cannot accept a settlement that would, say, tie its hands on tax and regulation after it leaves the EU: the country voted to get out in part to liberate its economy. And there are matters on the table that have nothing to do with the EU – such as the future of Ireland. Britain therefore has to make it absolutely clear that it will not be drawn into diplomatic traps or be landed with bills and commitments that reduce its status and undermine the raison d’être behind Brexit.
The EU needs to be reminded that it relies so much on the UK’s markets, intelligence and military that it would be foolish to act so bullishly over the terms of settlement. It is in everyone’s interests to separate amicably and agree as soon as possible on a new trade arrangement. That is what Britain should aim for. If the Europeans will not play ball, however, they must be in no doubt that Britain has the strength and will to go it alone.