Amid all the speculation this week over what sort of deal Theresa May would offer the EU, she provided a vital clue in her address to the United Nations on Wednesday, when she called for nations to “come together and defend the international order that we have worked so hard to create”. As soon as I heard those words, I knew not to expect a radical speech in Florence, and my instincts were right. Mrs May is a fully paid up member of the political class, after all, and a Remainer to boot.
Yet in case she has forgotten, just over a year ago, on June 23, 2016 Britain voted by a clear majority to leave the European Union. No ifs, no buts. And while I acknowledge that Leave voters had a number of different priorities, there were several common themes which bound us together. These included taking back control of our courts, our laws, our borders and, of course, our money.
What Theresa May said in Florence is that while we are leaving the EU treaties in 2019, we will effectively continue to be a member of this anti-democratic club for at least two further years, until 2021. This means Britain will have had to wait five years since the Brexit vote before actually getting out of the EU and settling its future.
Until then, we will continue to be subject to the EU’s crazy freedom of movement policy; our huge net payments of up to £10bn per year to the EU will go on; and all EU laws and EU regulations will remain in place and will be judged by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.Show more
In other words, we will be leaving the EU in name only. May’s position is that the current arrangements will be rebadged and we will carry on with them.
This is not what the majority voted for and it represents a victory of the EU Establishment over Britain’s 17.4m Leave voters. It is nothing short of a democratic abomination.
Worse still is that May seems to think that by appeasing the Brussels elite with talk of payments (£20bn over 2 years), they will roll over and offer us a free trade deal. She woefully underestimates the type of people she is dealing with and we should all be deeply concerned by her naivety.
She has asked the EU for a series of new arrangements but dropped all talk of no deal being a bad deal. Our negotiating hand is now pitifully weak. Perhaps the most telling line of her speech was that Britain does not seek an unfair competitive advantage over the EU. This is a total sell-out of our national interest. Reports circulating which suggest she called the EU’s headmaster, Mr Juncker, the day before she gave her speech seeking his blessing for it look very likely to be true.
The fact of the matter is, there is no offer which Britain could make that would be acceptable to Juncker or Brussels’ chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. Quite simply, they would always set the bar higher to keep the cabal to which they belong happy. So far, the EU has forced Britain to play an interminable – and deeply irresponsible – guessing game over how much money it expects by way of an exit fee. This will go on.
Has it not crossed the minds of May and her cohorts in Westminster that Brussels might just be intentionally trying to frustrate and ultimately to punish Britain for voting to leave the EU?
Looking to the future, I am even more worried about the message we are sending to the 85 per cent of the global economy that is outside the EU. There was real excitement in the early days of the Trump White House that a trade deal with the UK could be put together in months. Across the wider world, countries quickly joined the queue to start talks with a new global, outward looking United Kingdom.
In light of May’s speech in Florence, the rest of the world will conclude that we have not got the courage or the vision to grasp these opportunities. In essence, by continuing to engage with the EU using the channel Brussels has set up, a sign has been placed over Britain which reads: ‘Please don’t waste your time coming to Britain and talking to us because we won’t be ready for business for many, many years to come.’
This is a tragic waste of a golden opportunity. I have no doubt that as 2021 comes to an end, and the next general election moves into view, the Conservatives will tell us that following a smooth and successful transition period, they will fight the next general election as the party to trust to get on with Brexit. After all, letting in Mr Corbyn would be a disaster, wouldn’t it?
But I wonder how long Conservative voters and activists will be prepared to put up with this. Over the summer, I wrote in these pages that I feared the great Brexit betrayal had begun. Sadly, after Florence, it appears that I was right.