The war of words with Brussels shows no sign of abating. Aggressive Downing Street briefings following Boris Johnson’s phone call with Angela Merkel on Tuesday morning have led to rebukes from Donald Tusk and to Jean-Claude Juncker accusing the UK of committing the ‘original sin’. To what extent Merkel really did demand the annexation of Northern Ireland is unclear. What this week’s events have proved is that keeping Britain in the customs union was always the EU’s main priority.
The proposals put forward by Boris Johnson that have led Britain to this point were an improvement on the previous surrender treaty, but they were never going to be accepted in full by the EU. For one thing, the next few years would have relied entirely on the good faith of Brussels – something that has been in short supply since 2016.
I understand why Johnson set off on this rocky road. Keeping his split party together and possibly gaining a majority in parliament are undeniably important. But, frankly, I am pleased that this latest proposed deal is now all but dead. In fact, I’m feeling more optimistic about Brexit than I have for a long time. The choice is looking clearer. Either we leave the bloc, or we remain in it.
This week, something else caught my attention. The incoming EU foreign policy boss at the EU Commission, Josep Borrell, said that the EU army needed to be expanded from 35,000 troops to 60,000 troops and must be “more operational”. In 2014, I had a TV debate with Nick Clegg in which I stated that I didn’t want the UK to be part of an EU army or an expansionist EU foreign policy. Clegg tried to ridicule this, calling my words “a dangerous fantasy that is simply not true”.
His outrageous smear encapsulates so much of what the EU establishment has always done and still does to silence dissenting voices. They try like crazy to frame the debate solely in economic terms. Yet, as Borrell has confirmed, the EU is a political project. It is an empire that seeks to expand and use force. Most of us want no part of it.
As has been clear for some time, the Remainers in our country will sink to any level to stop Brexit from happening. Just yesterday, European Parliament President David Sassoli revealed he had met with Speaker Bercow to prevent a clean break Brexit. All rules of impartiality and decency are being abandoned by our political class.
For Leavers, the most popular option by far now is a clean break Brexit, with no political attachments to the European courts or any EU institutions. Leaving is about regaining Britain’s independence and democracy. And in economic terms, it is about becoming competitive, something that Barnier and his team fear deeply.
Soon, I hope, there will be a long overdue general election in which the choices should be clear. Recent Downing Street briefings suggest that as talks with the EU collapse, the Tories will fight the next poll on a clean break ticket. I suppose they have no option. Their repeated promise of leaving the EU by 31 October is highly unlikely to be fulfilled.
The Tories’ target, dare I say it their obsession, is to try and take ground from the Brexit Party. Rightly, they are worried about voters abandoning them following yet another Conservative failure to deliver Brexit. But even if they did fight the next election on this ticket, why on earth would anybody trust them? In so many recent Tory manifestos, pledges have been made without any intention to deliver them. The public is beginning to realise that.
The fact is that were it not for the existence of the Brexit Party, the government’s current Brexit position would be considerably softer than it is today. There will not be a meaningful Brexit unless there is strong and engaged Brexit Party. I welcome the Prime Minister standing up to German bullying and showing genuine determination to get Brexit done. But I don’t trust his party, at all, on this issue.
If Johnson goes for a clean Brexit manifesto, he will lose some votes to the Lib Dems. But he stands to gain many more from us, provided we are seen to cooperate. Winning a huge Brexit majority in parliament is the prize that awaits. If we work together to fight against the real enemy, Jeremy Corbyn and his bunch of wreckers, we would deliver a positive campaign with a decisive result.