Why the UK must now keep its nerve

There are now seven weeks to go until the UK is due to leave the EU, and things are getting messier and angrier by the day. Well, there’s a surprise.

Faced with Mrs May’s request from the British parliament to compromise on the Irish backstop, as a result of which it might then agree to a deal, the EU told the UK to go to hell.

Donald Tusk, the EU Council president, observed on Twitter: “I’ve been wondering what that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted Brexit, without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely.”

To which the EU’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt added: “I doubt Lucifer would welcome them, as after what they did to Britain they would even manage to divide Hell.”

The European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has said the backstop cannot be replaced; Martin Selmayr, chief of the EU civil service, said Mrs May’s request wasn’t even being considered. 

Such arrogant and contemptuous bullying has enraged even some Remainers. Just who do they think they are, people are fuming. Well, this is what they are, and this is why the UK wants to leave the EU.

In accordance with their customary Mafia-style tactics, the Eurocrats believe they have made the UK an offer it cannot refuse. All that’s needed now is for Mrs May to wake up in Downing Street to find a dismembered leg in her bed shod in a leopard-print shoe.

This EU reaction was always entirely predictable. As Fraser Nelson says in today’s Telegraph, its leaders think they must demonstrate that leaving the EU entails unbearable agony. This is because they are all too aware that in several member states, more and more people are expressing a fervent desire to leave. To nip this in the bud, the EU cannot let the UK be seen to prosper from Brexit.

The inescapable implication of that, however, is that they know the UK will indeed prosper. Predictions by the Bank of England and other solidly Remainer institutions that a vote for Brexit would cause the economy to collapse have proved to date spectacularly wrong.

Now the Bank’s same forecasting geniuses have downgraded its growth forecast for 2019 from 1.7 per cent to 1.2 per cent. But although the Bank’s Governor, Mark Carney, repeatedly warns against a no-deal Brexit, he has acknowledged that the downgrade is due to a slowing global economy as well as Brexit uncertainty.

As he said: “The fog of Brexit is causing short-term volatility in the economic data and, more fundamentally, it’s creating a series of tensions.” And the Bank added: “The economic outlook will continue to depend significantly on the nature of EU withdrawal, in particular the new trading arrangements between the EU and the UK, whether the transition to them is abrupt or smooth, and how households, businesses and financial markets respond.”

Quite. The fact is that no-one knows what’s going to happen; and financial markets hate uncertainty above all else. But it stands to reason that, notwithstanding some unavoidable problems and shocks along the way, the world’s fifth largest economy will, when freed of its EU shackles, ultimately do well.

Only last month, Carney told the Commons Treasury Select Committee: “Financial stability risks around [the EU exit] process are greater on the continent than they are in the UK. There is a tremendous financial services capacity in Britain and even though there will be shortfalls at the point of leaving [depending on the exit arrangement], these are more likely to affect Europe”.

You bet. The EU is currently staring at its own increasing political and economic wreckage. The Eurozone has been given an economic downgrade. The German economy is poised at the edge of recession. In France, the self-styled heir to Napoleon and Jupiter, President Emmanuel Macron, has failed to quash the “yellow vests” uprising and is quarrelling with Italy and Germany. The upcoming EU elections may return a slew of eurosceptic commissioners and bring the agenda of “ever-closer union” to a juddering halt.

And Brexit could deliver in addition a possibly fatal wounding blow.

The Eurocrats’ strategy rests on their belief that the UK will be so frightened by leaving with no deal that at the last minute parliament will cave in and vote to support the deal the EU brokered with Mrs May.

Some believe that prospect has improved with the olive branch offered to Mrs May by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, in the form of a set of “compromise” conditions on the basis of which Labour would support her deal.

As has been widely observed, it’s hard to see how this could happen since he is sticking to Labour’s insistence that after Brexit there must be a customs union arrangement with the EU – which means not leaving EU control at all.

Some, though, think that enough “soft” Labour Brexiteers will want to accept this compromise, enabling Mrs May to isolate the true Brexiteers in parliament and thus get her deal through.

But that would mean Mrs May suddenly forgetting what she has understood all along in having made a customs union/single market her red lines. This is that Brexiteers know these options would clearly negate the referendum result; and then they would never vote Conservative again and the party might even break apart altogether.

As March 29 approaches, the British should have one thing in mind above all: that the EU are digging in like this because they are terrified of Brexit. And the reason for that is that if Britain leaves the EU, not through Mrs May’s Brexit-in-name-only-Remain-by-stealth deal but through a clear, undeniable, unequivocal departure, the EU knows this will accelerate its own disintegration while it watches the UK start to prosper.

Which is why it may then be forced to come cap-in-hand for a deal on British terms. Which is why it is ONLY by leaving with no deal that the UK has any prospect of gaining the whip hand in the negotiations that really matter – to establish a permanent trading relationship between the UK and the EU once Brexit has occurred.

Which is why MPs and the rest of the country must now screw their courage to the sticking place and keep their nerve.

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