The gloves are off. Theresa May returned from a meeting with the Queen yesterday ready to do battle not only with her political opponents at home but with the EU as well.
The events of the past week have clearly convinced the Prime Minister that the prospects of a smooth Brexit have gone. Mrs May stood before the door of No 10, where she hopes to return in 37 days’ time with an enhanced Commons majority, and declared war on the Brussels bureaucrats. “We will not let them run over us,” she said.
Mrs May even said in terms that the briefings to European newspapers had deliberately misrepresented the British position and were designed to interfere in the general election.
This marked a break from the recent British position, which while conceding that the talks would be tough considered it to be in everyone’s interests to ensure a mutually beneficial departure. But the attitudes in Brussels and other EU capitals, notably Berlin, have hardened since last Wednesday’s now notorious dinner at Downing Street and the subsequent leaking of its alleged contents.
Perhaps without an election under way, Mrs May might have continued to take a more emollient line. But she has clearly sensed a change in the country’s mood as it witnesses the underhand way in which the EU is behaving towards Britain.
Michel Barnier, the Commission’s lead negotiator, formally unveiled the guidelines he has been mandated to follow in the forthcoming negotiations by making clear there would be pain involved.
While insisting that the EU was only looking to the UK to fulfil its obligations, it is evident that this process will be used to stop any other country contemplating a similar move. This is democracy, EU-style and is the principal reason why so many voted to leave last June.
Yet with every day the price for doing so goes up. Once it was 50 billion euros, then 60 billion and now, it appears, a sum of 100 billion euros will be demanded as an exit fee. This is simply risible. In her Article 50 notification letter, Mrs May said Britain wanted to remain on good terms after Brexit. Now there is a grave danger that these talks will end acrimoniously, assuming they even begin.
The next five years promise to be the most critical in this country’s recent history. If our so-called allies in the EU are determined to make us suffer then we need to look after our own interests as an independent nation.