The Australian High Commissioner backs Brexit

The original article appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 17th December

Australia is backing Brexit Britain all the way – ALEXANDER DOWNER

As the UK leaves the EU, our two nations will grow close again to promote our shared values and interests. I am not the first member of my family to serve as Australian High Commissioner to the UK.

My father held the position between 1964 and 1972. You will understand the significance of that period. For the past few years of his posting my father argued, sometimes acrimoniously, with the British government about the damage the UK’s terms of accession to the EEC – as it was then called – would do to Australia.

Over four decades later I am talking somewhat more amiably with Whitehall about the consequences for Australia of Britain’s departure from the EU. So there you have it. Britain’s adventure in the EU has been bookended by the Downer family. Let’s be frank. (We Australians do frank quite well.) My father’s generation was deeply hostile to Britain abandoning those Commonwealth countries which had stood by her in her darkest hour. In two world wars, New Zealand, Australia and Canada – with India, South Africa and other members of the then Empire – sent thousands upon thousands of troops, airmen and sailors to help save Britain from the Germans. And during the Second World War, following the fall of Hong Kong and Singapore in 1941, we Australians also had to deal with the Japanese on our doorstep.

Despite this sacrifice, the attitude of the Heath government in the Seventies was “So what?” Government is about the national interest, not emotion. Britain had to make its future in Europe and we could make our futures somewhere else. So our dairy, horticultural, beef and lamb exports were largely replaced by imports from the EU and our citizens were sent to the “Others” queue at Heathrow. Doug Anthony, the then deputy prime  minister, was so incensed that he abandoned his lifelong support for the Queen in Australia and joined the republican movement.

As for my father, he finished his term in London three months before the Act of Accession came into force. He left London a sad man. I remember standing with him at the Menin Gate looking at the thousands of Australian names inscribed there. With tears in his eyes he denounced Roy Jenkins for saying he had no time for kith and kin politics. For my generation of Australians, it’s different. We haven’t had the wartime experiences of our parents and grandparents. Britain long ago withdrew from what was called East of Suez and while we and the Americans fought communism in South-East Asia, after the Sixties Britain largely abandoned that task. Britain threw its lot in with Europe.

I was the Australian foreign minister for nearly 12 years. Not once in that period did a British foreign secretary visit Australia. But instead of sulking, we’ve been forging new markets in Asia and North America. It’s been hard going but we’ve stuck at it, securing free trade agreements with the US, the major economies of north Asia including China and with much of South East Asia. I can immodestly say we’ve done well. Politically, we’ve built fruitful relations with the Asean countries, we’ve forged strong ties with China, Japan and Korea and are building a multidimensional and vibrant relationship with
India.

Yet clever foreign policymakers know that in the era of globalisation, significant countries like Australia and the UK have global interests, not just regional interests. And in recent years our relationship has started to flourish again. Both of us have realised we can help each other, whether it’s militarily in Afghanistan or politically in institutions like the UN. We think alike on most of the great issues facing the world so it makes sense to reinforce each other when we can.

Now the world has changed again. The British people have voted to leave the EU. Had he lived until June 23 2016, my father would have been so pleased. An emotional man, tears would have come to his eyes. His son is something else. I do have a heart, of course. But my head said that Britain’s departure from the EU would damage the EU: it would blow a hole in the EU’s budget and the EU would lose a member with substantial strategic reach and awesome soft power. And that would not be in Australia’s interests, which are best served by a strong UK and a strong EU.

Nevertheless, once decisions are made, it is better to look to the future. So for our part, we are encouraging the UK and the EU quickly to establish a new, mutually beneficial relationship that sustains the economies and global influence of both. We are also keen to strike a free-trade agreement with the UK. That shouldn’t be too hard to do because we are like-minded free traders who know that protectionism makes people poorer and costs jobs.

Finally, we have another hope: that Britain will continue to recognise it is a global power with global responsibilities, not just a regional player. If it does so, this will mean Australia and the UK finding yet more ways to work together to promote the values and objectives we share. We’ll never recreate the era my father mourned, nor should we aspire to; but we should be able to do something special all the same.

Those pesky Russians!

In George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eight Four, everyone is required to participate in the daily Two Minute Hate – an outpouring of loathing directed against Emmanuel Goldstein, the symbolic enemy of Big Brother’s state of Oceania. Failure to hate the enemy sufficiently renders you guilty of “thought crime”, even if nowhere in the course of the book is it revealed whether Goldstein really is really as bad as depicted or even if he actually exists.

Of course, there is no doubt about the existence of Vladimir Putin, but it seems that the demands for us to hate him are getting to the point where the slightest doubt that he is the very devil incarnate will cause you to be hauled up before the thought police.

There is no doubt that Mr Putin is a pretty ruthless individual. No one who can remember the Soviet Union and the Cold War could realistically expect a former KGB Lieutenant-Colonel to be leading Russia down the path of Thatcherite free market reforms or Swiss-style direct democracy. Indeed, it is doubtful whether many Russians would be particularly keen on the idea. In the UK, we have developed a strong aversion to tyrants and value our historic freedoms. By contrast, Russians even today maintain their long-standing support for strong leadership.

Therefore, it is no surprise that Putin enjoys a massive degree of popularity in his own country. After the chaos of the Yeltsin years, his presidency has eliminated corruption from the police and brought the rule of law to the country, making the streets of Russian cities safer than some Western European  capitals. He has also given Russians a renewed sense of national pride, supporting the rehabilitation of the Russian Orthodox Church back into national life after the militant atheism of the Soviet era, but more significant have been his military interventions.

And it is Russian foreign policy which has turned him into this hate figure on the international stage – the reunification with of Crimea, the support given to Syria’s President Assad and the allegations – totally unproven – that Russian state-sponsored hackers were the source of those e-mails obtained from the Democratic National Committee which were published on wikileaks to the great consternation of Hillary Clinton.

No one has yet claimed that Mr Putin swung it for Brexit, but before June 23rd’s vote, it was claimed by the remain camp – with no evidence whatsoever – that he would support Brexit. Furthermore, his alleged links to anti-EU parties elsewhere are widely reported in the media.

A shrewd operator, a man whose path you would not want to cross (ask the late Alexander Litvinenko) but is he really the devil incarnate?

Or, to put it another way, is Putin’s Russia really any less pleasant that Saudi Arabia? Only a week or so ago, Boris Johnson, now our Foreign Secretary got into trouble for saying the Saudis were “puppeteering and playing proxy wars” – just like the Russians in other words, except that, of course, we have to be nice to the Saudis as they are “a key ally”.

We also pointed out several months ago that there was no logic in the EU’s courtship of Turkey while at the same time deliberately pulling the plug on discussions about closer trading relationship with Russia.

As for Russia’s meddling with the democratic process in the USA, the most vocal critic recently has been Barack Obama, who has vowed retaliation against Russia. But hang on a minute, wasn’t it the current US president who interfered in OUR democratic process a few months back? Something about trade deals and being “at the back of the queue”? His stunt actually backfired. At least one undecided voter and one erstwhile remainer contacted us to say that they would now be voting to leave as they were so incensed by Obama’s comments.

Ukraine is another instance where all is not what it seems. The sad story began when Viktor Yanukovich, the pro-Russian President democratically elected by the whole country was removed in a plot which is widely claimed to have been orchestrated by the EU – or in reality, Germany. With US support, Ukraine was to be detached from Moscow’s orbit and encouraged to join the EU as a deliberate provocation to Moscow.

What is so nauseating is that the nasty Mr Putin is always contrasted with the virtuous west – and especially the virtuous EU. This is claptrap. The EU doesn’t use the same brutal tactics as Mr Putin, but the methods used to railroad the Lisbon Treaty through after French and Dutch voters rejected its very similar predecessor, the European Constitution, is not the behaviour of a virtuous organisation. Indeed, the whole European project was deliberately built on deceit – a political project disguised as an economic project.

Furthermore, under Putin, Russia would never remotely contemplate some of the daft ideas doing the rounds in this country – take for instance the targeting of children as young as seven with a book called Can I tell you about Gender Diversity? which discourages the use of phrases like “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen”.

Putin is also very alert to the threat of Islamic terrorism. No surprise that US President designate Donald Trump is keen to forge a close relationship with the Kremlin to defeat this common enemy.

As mentioned, Mr Putin has encouraged the renaissance of  the Russian Orthodox Church. He recently said, “Orthodox Christianity has always played a special role in shaping our statehood, our culture, our morals. The Church may be separate from the State. But in the soul and history of our people, it is all together. It always has been and always will be.” He even has his own personal confessor – Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov. While Christians of an Evangelical persuasion may hesitate to call this former KGB officer a true Christian, the revival of a robust Christian influence in Russian culture stands in stark contrast to the pathetic attitude of the west where even the celebration of Christmas is dumbed down in case it offends those of other faiths – who are usually not in the slightest offended anyway.

So while not every aspect of Mr Putin’s Russia sounds particularly appealing to the average Brit, things have definitely improved in that land since the dark days of the Soviet Union. By contrast, much of the west has been going downhill in the last two decades – in this country especially since the election of Tony Blair in 1997. Brexit may well give us the chance to re-boot our entire political system and change direction in more ways than just reclaiming our sovereignty. We can but hope. However, until we have put our own house in order, pointing the finger at the Kremlin is little short of hypocrisy.

 

Peace, peace, where there is no peace (Jeremiah 6:14)

It was one of the EU’s major claims that it had brought peace to Europe. Many well-intentioned people believed it. In the Nineties, I had frequent local wrangles with the late Phillip Whitehead MEP (Lab) – a decent man of this persuasion. As a TV producer he had been responsible for several episodes of “The World At War” and there was no doubt of his sincerity. But for those with eyes to see, the mask slipped as Germany with American support completed its long-laid plans for the destabilisation and destruction of Yugoslavia. This eventually culminated in the unprovoked and illegal NATO/EU attack in 1999.

The lady so proudly displaying the flag in this picture is Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, the present President of Croatia. The flag is not today’s Croatian flag but that of the World War II Nazi puppet state of Croatia which included most of Bosnia-Herzogovina as well as parts of today’s Serbia and Slovenia. It was one of the most appallingly genocidal regimes in history. Wartime German and Italian army commanders were horrified. Even the SS were queasy! The main victims were Serbs, Roma and Jews.

This picture was published by a Professor Tihomir Janjicek with the President’s permission. She was congratulated on her “sincere Croatianism”. If Angela Merkel was photographed with a swastika banner being congratulated on her sincere National Socialism, we would be a little uneasy. But because Croatia is “ a faraway country of which we know nothing” and its wartime symbols are unfamiliar, it passes unremarked.

Most people accepted the NATO line that the Serbs were uniquely genocidal aggressors. The propaganda was co-ordinated by those two gifted manipulators – Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell, who were sent over to Brussels to reinforce Jamie Shea, NATO’s chief propaganda officer.

As they used to say in exam papers “compare and contrast” the following quotations by Balkan leaders, guess who they were and which were supported as bringers of “European values”.

  1. “Protect brotherhood and unity… Nationalism always means isolation from others, being locked in a closed circle and stopping growth…Emerge from a state of hatred, intolerance and mistrust”.
  2. “Genocide is a natural phenomenon in keeping with the human-social and mythological divine nature. It is not only permitted but even recommended by the Almighty …for the maintenance and spreading of the One True Faith..”
  3. “There can be no peace or coexistence between the Islamic faith and non-Islamic institutions .The Islamic movement must take power as soon as it is morally strong enough not only to destroy the non Islamic power but to build a new Islamic one”.

The answers may surprise. They are

  1. Slobodan Milosevic – Speech at Kosovo Polje 24 April 1987 . Later characterised as “The Butcher of the Balkans”
  2. Franjo Tudjman – first President of post war independent Croatia in his book “Wastelands of Historical Reality” – a sort of clerico-fascist Mein Kampf
  3. Alia Isetbegovic – first President of post war independent Bosnia in his “Islamic Declaration

Whilst Milosevic was tried for war crimes, Tudjman and Isetbegovic were installed by the NATO powers under EU tutelage as the upholders of the peaceful, new EU order of Europe.

Again, as they used to say in exam papers “Discuss”.

 

Symbolism in politics – Italian style

Wise politicians know how to use symbolism. Winston Churchill posed with a tommy gun in 1940, Ronald Reagan wore a cowboy hat and Neville Chamberlain – less successfully – had a piece of paper.

So what was Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi doing with symbolism when he made his somewhat rambling resignation speech yesterday evening? Behind him were three very obvious things:

1 – The flag of Italy

2 – The flag of the European Union

3 – A mural by the great Renaissance painter Raphael.

The two flags are straightforward enough. Renzi was Prime Minister of Italy, a member state of the European Union. Both flags were of the same size, both on upright staffs and both of the same height. That means that neither was given precedence over the other. Of course, the flag of the EU should take precedence as it is a supranational organisation of which Italy is a mere part. But in the world of smoke-and-mirrors that is the EU it would never do to admit that. The pretence is made that member states are still democratic and independent. EU trickery and obfuscation, nothing new there.

No, it was the painting by Raphael that caught my eye. The picture in question is “The Meeting between Leo the Great and Attila”. This masterpiece of Renaissance art depicts a key historic event that took place in 452. Atilla, ruler of the barbaric Huns, had spent the previous 12 years butchering his way around Europe, and now he was marching on Rome. Pope Leo I led a trembling delegation north to meet Attila. Against all odds, Leo persuaded Attila withdraw back over the Alps. Rome was saved from the barbarians.

So what can we read into this?

Was Renzi seeking to portray himself as a latter day Pope Leo, seeking to save Italy from the northern barbarians? If so, he might have been casting the big German banks in the role of Attila – not the first time that Germans have been likened to Huns. After all, it is largely the need to stick to German inspired fiscal measures that has got the Italian economy – and its banks – into the mess that they are in. Or was the EU itself being likened to the Huns?

Unlikely, I think. Renzi is a creature of the EU. He was raised up to implement its policies and now has been cast down as a result.

Perhaps Renzi was seeking to liken his constitutional reforms to that previous great turning point in Italian history. If so, it was an unfortunate analogy. Rome was saved from the Huns, but it fell to the Germanic barbarians soon after.

Actually, I think any symbolism to be found here lies in the fact that the historic allusions were ignored.

That is typical of Renzi and of the EU. They were seeking to change radically the Italian constitution so that they could ram through highly controversial measures that would have brought the Italian banking system and finances even more into line with EU diktat than they already are.

They ignored the historic reasons why Italy has the rather unwieldy constitution that it does. Those who drew it up in 1947 wanted to achieve two things. They wanted to make it impossible for any single person again to wield the sort of power that Benito Mussolini had achieved under the old constitution. They also sought to reflect the identities and powers of regions which, within living memory, had been separate countries while at the same time binding them together into the nation-state of Italy.

This delicate balancing act within the Italian Constitution was to be swept away for the temporary convenience of the EU masters in Brussels and German bankers in Frankfurt.

The constitutional vandalism, disrespect for the past and contempt for the views of the people are typical of the EU – and summed up by Renzi’s disdain for the symbolism of the painting behind him.

Becalmed yet drifting apart?

After all the euphoria of the Brexit vote,  we have currently entered a more sober period where the complexities of devising a comprehensive leave strategy are keeping members of HM Government fully on their toes.

We have been forwarded a communication from Maria Caulfield, the newly-elected Conservative MP for Lewes in East Sussex, who is on the House of Commons Brexit Select Committee.  This was her summary of progress at the end of October:-

The Prime Minister has been clear that the country voted to leave the European Union, and it is the duty of the Government to make sure that this happens. The Prime Minister has also said that Article 50 will be triggered no later than the end of March 2017.
 
Nobody should believe that the negotiation process will be brief or straightforward. It is going to require significant expertise and a consistent approach.
 
The Prime Minister will lead our negotiations for leaving the EU. This will be supported on a day-to-day basis by the Department for Exiting the European Union. The Department will specifically be responsible for:
 
•             the policy work to support the UK’s negotiations to leave the European Union and to establish the future relationship between the EU and the UK;
 
•             working closely with the UK’s Devolved Administrations, Parliament, and a wide range of other interested parties on what the approach to those negotiations should be;
 
•             conducting the negotiations in support of the Prime Minister including supporting bilateral discussions on EU exit with other European countries;
 
•             leading and co-ordinating cross-government work to seize the opportunities and ensure a smooth process of exit on the best possible terms.
 
TIMEFRAME OF NEGOTIATIONS FOR LEAVING THE EU
 
The Prime Minister has said that Article 50 will be invoked by the end of March next year. By this point, Britain will begin its formal negotiations to leave the European Union. I believe that this will provide certainty for us as a country and will also provide certainty for other European countries on when this begins.
 
NEGOTIATIONS
 
I understand that this process will not be brief or straightforward. As I am sure you can appreciate the Government cannot provide a running commentary on every twist and turn of the negotiations but there will be numerous opportunities to debate this in Parliament, as there have been already. As a member of the new Exiting the EU select committee I will be scrutinising the negotiations at every stage and I am very keen to hear from constituents about the issues that concern them the most. I have already met with many constituents on this and will continue to do so but below are some answers to the most frequently asked questions.
 
GENERAL ‘RED LINES’ AND DEMANDS IN EU NEGOTIATIONS
 
The Government wants to give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate in the single market and let European businesses do the same here. As the Government is about to begin these negotiations it would be wrong to set out further unilateral positions in advance. At every step of these negotiations the Government will work to ensure the best possible outcome for the British people.
 
APPLICATION OF EU LAW TO THE UK
 
I am glad that in the next parliamentary session, the Government will bring forward legislation to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 on the day that Britain leaves the EU. This ‘Great Repeal Bill’ will end the authority of EU law and return power to the UK. The existing body of EU law will be converted into domestic law, wherever practical and Parliament will be free to amend, repeal and improve any law it chooses. As I am sure you can appreciate, the UK will have to continue to meets its legal obligations until it leaves the EU.
 
The European Communities Act 1972 also requires UK courts to follow rulings of the European Court of Justice. Some EU law, such as Regulations, can apply without the need for specific domestic implementing legislation. Other EU law, such as Directives need to be implemented in UK laws though domestic legislation. The European Communities Act provides the legal powers necessary for this to happen.
 
THE MODEL BRITAIN WILL FOLLOW
 
I want to be clear that the position we build outside the EU will be unique to Britain. My colleagues in Government are not looking for an ‘off the shelf’ deal such as a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit or a Norwegian or Swiss model. It will be an agreement between an independent sovereign United Kingdom and the European Union. I want that relationship to reflect the mature, cooperative relationship that close friends and allies enjoy.
 
STATUS OF BRITISH CITIZENS CURRENTLY LIVING IN THE EU
 
The Prime Minister has been clear that she wants to protect the status of EU nationals already living here, and the only circumstances in which that wouldn’t be possible is if British citizens’ rights in European member states were not protected in return.
 
THE FUTURE RIGHTS OF UK CITIZENS CURRENTLY LIVING IN EU COUNTRIES (E.G RIGHTS TO HEALTHCARE, PENSIONS)
 
At every step of these negotiations the Government has assured me that it will work to ensure the best possible outcome for the British people. As we begin these negotiations, it would be wrong to set out unilateral positions in advance.
 
THE UK’S ROLE IN REGULAR EU AFFAIRS
 
Britain will be leaving the EU in due course, but it will continue to play a full and active role inside the EU until it leaves. The UK has relinquished the rotating Presidency of the Council, currently scheduled for the second half of 2017, as we will be prioritising the negotiations to leave the European Union.

So far so good,  but a lot more detail is needed. Since Maria Caulfield sent this e-mail, there has been the court case whch resulted in a a defeat for the Government, We can but hope that the appeal will reverse the decision.  Rupert Matthews raised some interesting points about an earlier EU-related court action whereby the judge ruled that the Government was free to use prerogative powers to agree any treaty it liked (in this case, the Maastricht Treaty), unless Parliament had specifically restricted its powers beforehand. Unfortunately, doubts have been raised as to whether the Supreme Court will be even-handed and consistent. The Lord Chief Justice belongs to the European Law Institute and this has caused serious conern for many, especially after the rumpus which followed the  first court ruling where, rightly or wrongly,  the judges were accused of bias and being “enemies of the people“.

Following the judgement, Mrs May insisted that her Brexit timetable remained on track and that Article 50 would be triggered by March 2017 at the latest.  Yesterday’s announcement that plans to reform the House of Lords are being shelved can perhaps be viewed as a veiled threat to the Upper Chamber not to try to derail of slow down the process. Whatever, we can but hope that Mrs May does publish some more details of the Government’s exit strategy pretty soon. Much is clearly going on behind the scenes but there is a huge amount of ground to  cover before Article 50 can be triggered, thanks both to Mr Cameron’s refusal to allow the Civil Service study possible Brexit options durng the referendum campaign and the lack of unity on the Leave side about how best to achieve our goal. However, the absence of any announcement has resulted in far too much space being given to the most mischievous and destructive type of remoaner and resulting in a perception of the government being becalmed.

Mrs May and her colleagues know that they cannot afford to fail, especially after the forthright tone of her speech on 2nd October, saying  quite unequivocally, “Britain is going to leave the European Union”. At grassroots level, the Conservative party is overwhelmingly pro-Brexit. A botched job or indeed delay upon delay to Brexit would open the door to unparalleled  political uncertainty, whereas a successful  negotiation of independence would leave the Tories very well placed for a thumping majority at the 2020 General Election – a prospect with strong appeal for a party which has always had a huge thirst for power.  Mrs May, we can be sure, is straining every nerve to ensure that the considerable goodwill following her “coronation” is not dissipated. Her fine words, in other words, will hopefully be followed by some substantive plans before too long.

Meanwhile, events are conspiring to produce a sense of that the EU is becalmed too.  The decade 2011-20 looks likely to be the first in which the EU has made no tangible political advance. It is now nearly seven years since the Lisbon Treaty came into force and while the Five Presidents’ Report  – a framework for a new treaty – hasn’t been consigned to oblivion, the challenges any new treaty on closer union would face are immense, even without the UKaround to drag its heels.  In this decade, one small country, Croatia, has joined, but this has been more than offest by the UK’s Brexit vote.  The last time a country withdrew from the European Project was  1985 when Greenland left. However, the same decade saw both the Single European Act and the accession of Greece, Spain and Portugal.

As if to underline the degree to which the EU project is becalmed, tiny Moldova recently elected a pro-Russian president, Igor Dodon, after several years of rule by pro-EU Maia Sandu, a former World Bank official. Moldova, a former Soviet republic which borders Romania, signed an association agreement with the EU in 2014, normally the first step towards a fulll membership application. The election of a pro-Russian president suggests that there is now unlikely to be any progress in this direction for the time being, especially as he called for the repeal of the agreement during the campaign and instead to join the Russian-led Eurasian customs union.

This reversal comes only five months after Switzerland formally withdrew its membership application, following Iceland’s example last year. Meanwhile, Turkey, which applied to join the EU as far back as 1987, is looking less and less likely ever to join. Norway still retains its pro-EU government led by the Conservative Erna Solberg, but one reason for the enthusiasm of the Norwegian government to lend its support to David Cameron was a recognition that a vote for Brexit would be the final nail in the coffin of any hopes of Norway joining the EU. Essentually, these events, some of them seemingly small and insignficant, all combine further to tarnish the EU’s image.

Expansion and ever-closer union has been part of its DNA from the very start. Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister, gave a speech in Berlin yesterday where he warned that “Europe could die.”  His proposal was that France and Germany should lead a coaltion of the willing towards closer fiscal integration so that the European Project can regain some momentum. However, he will face problems selling this to his own countrymen and nothing will happen anyway before Italy’s referendum on constitutional reform on 4th December, which could bring down Matteo Renzi, the  Prime Minister, and create a further headache for the EU as the Eurosceptic Five Star Movement could find itself one step closer to power.

Even though we may find ourselves unable to  extract ourselves financially from the EU as soon as we would like, we are going to be watching these events as spectators. It came as quite a surprise at the time of the referendum result that the reaction in Brussels and other European capitals was regret, but no attempt to try to keep us on board.  Article 50 may not have been triggered yet, but the crucial blow was struck on June 23rd. it hit the EU hard and its subsequent energies have been devoted to cauterising the wound. Whatever the confusion in the UK about the government’s exit plan – or lack of one, everything is gearing up for the UK’s departure.

First came the resignation of Lord Hill, the UK’s Commissioner, the ncame the announcement that the UK was surrendering its Presidency of the EU Council, scheduled for the second half of 2017.   At the last European Council meeting, Mrs May was treated very much as an outsider. Obviously, as her task is to negotiate our exit, such a frosty reception ought hardly to be a surprise. However, what of those British officials who worked for the EU institutions?   They have been encountering a different attitude from their fellow-officials since June 23rd. “They tell tales of colleagues going for coffee when they speak at meetings, or being cut out of email chains. One official said he was treated like a bereaved family member — people avoid you, he said, because they don’t know what to say” says a recent article in the New York Times.

This is the bottom line. There can be no returning to the status quo before June 23rd. Whatever the struggles facing the government to formulate a coherent and comprehensive exit strategy, whatever the machinations of lawyers, Lords and a few incorrigble MPs, the UK and the EU are already drifting inexorably apart.

 

Photo by Toronto Public Library Special Collections

Contagion:- the real reason why the EU is concerned about Donald Trump

Boris Johnson certainly has a way with words.  He chose to absent himself from an emergency dinner  for EU foreign ministers convened yesterday (Sunday 13th) to discuss the consequences of Donald Trump’s election victory, saying  that they should snap out of a “collective whinge-o-rama”.

Some of Mr Johnson’s European colleagues talked quite openly of their “horror” at the prospect of a President Trump, echoing the tones of Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU Commission President, who said that “The election of Trump poses the risk of upsetting intercontinental relations in their foundation and in their structure.” In other reaction from the other side of the channel,  France’s President Hollande said that the Trump Victory “opens a period of uncertainty”.  Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador to the USA, went further, saying, “‘After Brexit and this election, everything is now possible. A world is collapsing before our eyes.”  That Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, would react negatively, comes as no surprise, calling the Trump victory “another Brexit night” and claiming  that a “wave of protest” was engulfing established politics. Even his compatriot Angela Merkel, a woman not known for making extreme statements, congratulated Trump while at the same time hinted at her disapproval, telling reporters that his election campaign featured “confrontations that were difficult to bear”.

By contrast, Theresa May, gave a characteristically measured response to the Trump victory. Having made some critical comments about him when his candidacy was first announced,  she responded to his victory in a gracious way saying, “I would like to congratulate Donald Trump on being elected the next President of the United States, following a hard-fought campaign” and stated that she looked forward to working with him.

It is very clear that Trump the campaigner made all manner of statements that flew in the face of everything the EU stands for – his oppositon to mass immigration, his climate change scepticism and his desire for a better relationship with Russia for instance. However, the matter of how Trump the president will behave is almost irrelevant. The damage has been done and the real concern in Brussels is whether the sentiments that propelled Mr Trump to his unexpected victory will push the EU into a further and deeper crisis than the Brexit vote.
In other words, does President designate Trump make a President le Pen more likely? Will the Trump victory boost support for Alternative für Deutschland to such a degree that Chancellor Merkel’s power – or even her re-election prospects – may be dealt a mortal blow? Even before next year’s general elections in France and Germany, Austria is holding a re-run of its Presidential election on 4th December where Green candidate Alexander van der Bellen faces a stiff challenge from Norbert Hofer, whose Freedom (Freiheit) Party is another EU-critical anti-establishment party which so ruffles feathers in Brussels.

The same day that Austria goes to the polls, Italian voters will take part in a referendum on constitutional reform. Matteo Renzi, the current Prime Minister, has staked his future on securing a “yes” vote. A rag-tag group of 13 parties, including both far left and far right, oppose it and with Beppe Grillo’s Five Star movement among them, Mr Renzi may be defeated.

The phrase “the EU is in a crisis” has been repeated ad nauseam since the Great Recession of 2008. One of the Remain camp’s pleas during the Brexit referendum was that we shouldn’t be giving a further kick in the teeth to an already wobbly EU.

The problem is that the Brexit vote and the rise of politicians like Marine le Pen or Beppe Grillo are not the cause of the crisis but a consequence of it. In spite of the denials of some remainers during the referendum campaign, the European project always has been about the creation of a federal superstate. The evidence is there for all to see in the European Parliament’s visitors’ centre in Brussels, which contains a plaque saying “National sovereignty is the root cause of the most crying evils of our times….The only final remedy for this evil is the federal union of the peoples.”   Perhaps ironically, in view of the Brexit vote, these are the words of a British diplomat, Philip Kerr, later Lord Lothian.

In the early years following the signing of the Treaty of Rome, most leaders of original six participating countries and their supporters in countries keen to sign up – including Edward Heath in this country – supported the vision of a federal Europe with great enthusiasm.  One of the most enthusiastic federalists of the 1960s was Jean Rey, a Belgian lawyer and Liberal politician who was to become the second president of the European Commission in 1967.   I can recall being asked to translate a speech he made shortly afterwards and his enthusiasm for the project was self-evident.

Although a certain amount of wool had to be pulled over the eyes of the electorates of the original six nations in those early years, there was little resistance to the basic idea of a Federal Europe – at least, once the volatile and unpredictable General de Gaulle left office in 1969.

Fast forward to the last decade and that ability to inspire support for the federalist project so epitomised by Jean Rey just isn’t there any more. The two latest keystones in the integration process – the Schengen open border area and the Euro  – are widely unpopular, being blamed between them for a number of problems ranging from Italy’s poor economic performance to the attacks on women in Cologne in the New Year period.

The EU élite still wishes to push ahead with further economic and fiscal integration within the Eurozone. A recent interview with Herman van Rompuy, the former European Council President, is most revealing.  On the one hand, he says “The economic and monetary union and the single market will have to be deepened and/or completed. An emphasis on the EU’s military dimension has emerged as a genuine topic of interest for the very first time.” In other words, a further deepening of European integration has to be the way forward, but on the other hand, he admits that “I am not, however, urging immediate moves towards federalism or the United States of Europe…. The climate in Europe does not favour such a qualitative leap, even if there is a crying need for more ambition than at present when, in truth, there is no ambition at all.”

This is the heart of the EU’s crisis. The drive for federalism has run out of steam and even its most ardent supporters are admitting as much. Could the EU project ever change its objectives and come up with an alternative destination other than an United States of Europe? It’s hard to see how. So much has been invested into the federalist project. The whole structure of the EU institutions, the single currency and the open border area were designed with this end in view. If the EU powers-that-be decided that the end game should be scaled back to nothing more than a free trade area, just about everything would need drastic tweaking and downsizing as the whole structure of the EU is so cumbersome.

Given the number of committed federalists who are still very much on board, such Guy Verhofstatdt, the former Belgian Prime Minister, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the 1960s Marxist rabble-rouser turned Green MEP  or indeed Mr Juncker himself, such an abandonment of the original vision would be tantamount to a betrayal. The word “immediate” in Mr van Rompuy’s comments is perhaps the giveaway. What he is implying is “let’s bide our time. Let’s not push for closer integration when the mood is so unfriendly. Let’s hope that a few years down the line, hostility will have subsided and we can then press on.” This was essentially the way the UK was treated with our opt-outs. There was clearly no support in the UK for our joining the €uro when the single currency was launched but the unspoken hope was that one day, we would come to our senses, albeit one step behind the other member states.
The problem is that we never did and what if sentiment against further integration in EU-27  doesn’t soften either? No wonder the EU élite is nervous about the prospect of contagion from Brexit or the Trump victory spreading to the European mainland.
But it’s not just people like Marine le Pen or Beppe Grillo who will be making them jittery. The previously unthinkable is being thought in the most unlikely places. This article in the usually solidly pro-EU Irish Times is case in point.  Perhaps you’ve never heard the term “Eirexit” before  as the prospect of Ireland leaving the EU would have seemed unthinkable even a couple of years ago. After all, EU membership was widely viewed in Ireland as a means of further consolidating its separate identity from the UK following independence in 1922. Yet since our referendum, the writer informs us, “Eirexit has gained some momentum …. There is a small but growing band of public figures questioning the basis of Irish EU membership.” The article lists the various fringe parties in Ireland which  support withdrawal and devotes considerable space to a profile of Dr Anthony Coughlan, a veteran anti-EU campaigner whose analysis of the constitutional implcations of the Lisbon Treaty has been posted on our website and included in our booklet A House Divided as it is second to none.
The Irish Times article concludes asks “Are these a collection of disparate and peripheral voices, or do they reflect a population far less enamoured of Brussels than its political leaders?” That such a question should even be asked by a leading newspaper in a country like Ireland is an indication of how far the project has drifted since the days of Jean Rey or even Jacques Delors in the 1980s.  Just as the €uro was designed to be an irreversible currency union, the whole EU project was constructed without any reverse gear. It finally acquired an escape hatch in the shape of Article 50, but even here, Giuliano Amati, the man who claims he drafted this section of the treaty, never intended it to be used.
One does no wish to gloat over the soul-searching which has taken place in many European capitals in recent months. After all, a sudden collapse of the whole project would leave a dreadful economic and political mess whose ripples would be felt this side of the channel too.   For all its faults. one impetus behind the European project was a commendable desire to avoid the carnage seen in 1914-8 and 1939-45.
Unfortunately, the bad design and premature launch of the Single Currency, the failure of the Schengen area to cope with the refugee crisis – not to mention the deceit and democratic deficit which has charactised the EU since its inception – are all conspiring together to drag the EU into a greater and greater crisis. We can but hope that the end result will not be another European war which the EU was meant  to  prevent, but it would certainly be more helpful if our own pro-EU politicians like Tim Farron and Owen Smith could devote their energies to devising a way for the EU peacefully to dismember itself rather than talking about taking us back into a failing political union which may not even exist in anything like its current form by the time we next go to the ballot box.