Remainiacs – a view from outside the bubble

If you are reading this  article, chances are you are a strong supporter of the UK leaving the EU. You were probably active during the recent referendum campaign and have been following every twist and turn of events since the June 23rd vote.

Your friends and family are probably fully aware of your passion for politics and often raise the subject of Brexit in conversation. You watch or listen to the news, read a newspaper and follow a few blogs on the internet. Something crops up about Brexit every day.  It is THE issue of our time.. perhaps.

…..or perhaps it’s time to step out of our bubble for a few minutes.

Less than a week after the Brexit vote, I had to go to London. As I walked down the Thames embankment what struck me was the normality of life. Such snippets of conversation as I caught revolved around all manner of topics but not the European Union. It hardly seemed like we had just seen a radical change to the whole future shape of our country.

And this is precisely the point – the EU has never been a big issue for voters. Ask anyone who has stood as a UKIP candidate in a General Election. It was always a big challenge to convince people on the doorsteps that our very future as a sovereign nation was at stake. A survey by YouGov, taken just over a year before the Brexit  vote, put “Europe” well down the list of voter priorities.

What is more, after four months of intensive campaigning, following Mr Cameron’s decision to  forced the EU to the top of the list,  27.79% of eligible voters  – nearly 13 million – didn’t cast their ballot. Remain and leave campaigners alike emphasised that this was the most important vote the electorate was ever likely to cast. Over a Quarter didn’t bother.

Even among those who did vote, many had an abysmal knowledge of what the EU project was actually about and certainly didn’t view it as a life and death issue. Of course, this was precisely Cameron’s strategy. A short campaign would work in his favour. As we know, his strategy failed. In spite of a campaign in which neither of the official organisations covered themselves with glory, the tireless dedication of rank-and-file leave groups up and down the country managed to convince enough of their fellow countrymen that the EU was sufficiently bad news that they should vote to leave it.

But now the vote is behind us, the level of interest in the EU among our countrymen has dropped dramatically. For most of them, whichever way they voted, the issue is behind them. In a recent conversation with an educated man, he told me that he was surprised that people were still working for organisations like the Campaign for an Independent Britain. He seemed to think we had already left the EU and was quite shocked when I told him otherwise.

The point I am making is that for all the talk of a second referendum, there is just no appetite in the country for going through it all again. John Major is living in a fanstasy world if he really believes he is somehow the “voice of the 48%.” A YouGov poll found that by almost two to one, the electorate believed that the result should stand and opposed a second referendum.  What is more, unlike the Danish Maastricht referendum and the Irish rejection of the Lisbon  Treaty, there is no pressure coming from Brussels.  We ned not therefore worry too much about the recent statement by Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, that she might support a second referendum.

This is not to say that we’re home and dry. There are malign forces seking to undermine Brexit. Thankfully, so far Mrs May has stood firm, but mischief makers like Richard Branson and Mark Carney would love to derail Bredit if they could.

Even within the government, Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, needs to be watched. He has recently claimed that  he is not using the UK’s military clout to get a better Brexit deal. Some informed opinion suggests that on the contrary, he wants to integrate us as closely as possible with the EU’s future defence strategy. This is not acceptable and we will keep you informed with any developments on this front.

In summary, it is clear that further campaigning needs to be focussed on informing and pressurising our MPs rather than on the general public. The better the deal we end up with, the more the guns of the hard-core remainiacs will be spiked and calls for a second referendum stifled. However,  we are still unclear as to what deal Mrs May is seeking,  while opinion among MPs  is divided on all manner of issues. Vigilance therefore remains the order of the day.  The country does not want a second referendum and we need to ensure they do not get one.

Mrs May must suspend the EAW now

By Torquil Dick-Erikson (c) 2016

In April 1997, at a specially convened seminar in Spain, the EU Commission unveiled its “Corpus Juris project”, for a single system of criminal law for the whole of the EU, based entirely on Napoleonic-inquisitorial principles. At that stage it was nothing more than an embryonic criminal code, but had it been inflicted on us, it would have swept away our own Magna Carta-based system, in particular our Trial by Jury and Lay Magistrates (art. 26.1), our Habeas Corpus (art. 20.3.g) and our protection against double jeopardy (art. 27.2). I happened to be among 141 European jurists invited to attend, as guests of the Commission. I was included in the Italian delegation, as a last-minute replacement. The head of the Italian delegation had read an article I had published in an Italian law journal and had been impressed enough to invite me to come along and fill an empty slot.

Since then, I have been following subsequent developments in the area of European criminal law, including the introduction of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) and the establishment of its own paramilitary, lethally armed, police force, the European Gendarmerie Force (EGF). Six national gendarmeries are currently being trained and drilled side by side, in a location in Northern Italy, to weld them into a single European corps. They will then be deployed all over the European Union, in any state with its “consent” (art. 6.3 Treaty of Velsen, signed by EGF participant states).

In 2012, when she was Home Secretary, Mrs May said of the Eurogendarmerie, “Of course” we will call upon them, “onto British soil”,  “if we see the need”. Since she became Prime Minister, I can find no evidence that she has ever disowned this statement. What is more, no one, apart from Christopher Gill and myself, has been calling on Mrs May to refuse unevidenced European Arrest Warrants with immediate effect.

Mrs May has insisted that “Brexit means Brexit”. If she is serious about this, EU authorities must no longer be allowed to arrest and deport people from Britain at their whim – i.e., without shewing any substantive evidence.  The EAW legislation specifically states that the authority issuing an EAW should not provide any indication of evidence of a prima facie case and the country receiving a EAW is not allowed to ask for any evidence but has to trust the requesting country blindly. Past experience shows that we cannot do this as their systems of criminal justice are totally different from our own. They allow a suspect to be arrested and kept in prison for many months “pending investigation”, with no right to a public hearing nor obligation on the prosecution to exhibit any evidence during this time..

We live in a country that has been remarkably favoured – partly due to our island location, partly because of the protection provided by what was once the world’s most powerful navy. We have thus been spared the violent changes which our continental friends have seen to their governments within living memory.

For them, the concept of heavily-armed paramilitary police like the EGF is quite familiar. They see them every day on their streets. They will be less concerned that we would have been that policing in the EU will eventually look like, feel like, and be like a military occupation by a hostile armed foreign force.

In this year’s referendum campaign, little was made of the vast difference between the UK’s criminal justice and policing systems and those on the Continent. At first glance, it hardly seems like a winning argument as most people in the UK have never been before a court of law, do not have a criminal record and do not expect to. This is to miss the point.  We have had such a long and unbroken history of peaceful constitutional development that we have forgotten that, at the end of the day, criminal law is actually the handle granting complete control over a State and all its inhabitants.

Criminal law means police, handcuffs and prisons. It means the physically forceful, enforcement powers of the State over the citizens. It is under the criminal law that the State can (or cannot) send its officers into your home, breaking down the door, hauling you out of your bed and off to a prison. The State holds a monopoly of legal, even lethal, force over the citizens, and the exercise of this power is regulated by the criminal law. In our country, the State has exercised this power in a considerably more benign way than across the Channel. For 800 years its powers in England have been limited by Magna Carta. On the continent they have been enlarged and deepened by the Inquisition, with methods as adopted and adapted by Napoleon.

It is therefore critical, if Brexit is to mean Brexit, that the inevitable co-operation that will be needed between the UK and the EU on matters of criminal justice must grant no concessions to any aspect of EU criminal justice which violates basic safeguards of our own historic system. Any arrangement must include a repudiation of the European Arrest Warrant and the solemn undertaking that there will never ever be any invitation for the EGF or any other armed EU body to set foot on UK soil.

If the EAW is properly presented as “Arrest and lengthy imprisonment on no evidence and with no right to a public hearing for many months”, which is what it is, but which was not made clear when Parliament voted to reconfirm it in November 2012, it will be very hard for opponents to argue against its immediate suspension, as from NOW. And procedurally a case can surely be made for Parliament to reverse its earlier decision, with immediate effect. We could have remained opted out from the EAW without violating any part of the Lisbon Treaty.

If the government suspended the acceptance of unevidenced EAWs with immediate effect, this would show that Mrs May really is serious when she says “Brexit means Brexit”.

Unfortunately, last week’s online Express carries articles showing that the government is actually going in the opposite direction. I quote:- “Britain will remain a part of Europol despite our exit from the bloc,” Policing Minister Brandon Lewis has told Parliament. This is not only “until we leave”, for He added: “The Government is exploring options for cooperation with Europol once the UK has left the EU.”

We must remember that Europol is not just an extension of Interpol; it is the embryo of what Helmuth Kohl called “a European FBI”. Once they get their boots on our soil we shall never be able to get rid of them, except by force, for they will only take orders from Brussels. The government surely has a duty not to let matters reach a state of armed confrontation. If we get signed up to Europol’s extended powers as is now suggested, and  we remain subject to the EU’s power to have any of us arrested and transported with no questions asked, we shall be always under the heel of Brussels. If Brexit means Brexit, this is unacceptable

This matter must be publicised, far and wide, beyond just the readership of the online Daily Express. The people must be told!

Brexiteers in Parliament, of whatever party, should raise their voices and demand that Mrs May must:

1) give a solemn assurance that we shall never ever under any circumstances whatsoever allow armed EU units to set foot on British soil;

2) suspend with immediate effect any unevidenced EAWs that are received in Britain.

New paper: could we stay in the single market without re-joining EFTA?

LAst July, Professor George Yarrow of Oxford has added to the debate about future UK access to the single market with this paper, which claims that withdrawal from the EU does not automatically imply withdrawal from the European Economic Area (EEA).

This goes very much against the widely-held assumption that the EEA (or single market) is an agreement between the EU and the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) and every participant must bne a member of one or other. At the core of his argument is his assertion that the default position for a newly-independent UK is that, having been part of the EEA agreement as an EU member state, it  will remain within the Single Market and thus, we would not need to rejoin EFTA to maintain access to it.

Not everyone is convinced by his arguments, but the paper is nonetheless an interesting addition to the debate about the single market. Last week, we announced the publication of a Leave Alliance monograph which explains in detail what the single market actually is. Almost five months after the Brexit vote, there is still much confusion.  Being in the single market is not the same as being a member of the EU nor is the single market the same as the EU’s Customs Union. Turkey is a member of the Customs Union but not of the EEA while Norway is a member of the EEA but not of the EU’s customs union. This diagram is particularly helpful in explaining the complex relationships of the European nations. Quite which of these various overlapping circles an independent UK will find itself in.

It is very clear that in the medium-to-long term, the desire of virtually all leave campaigners is to be outside as many as possible. There are no disagreements here. The big issue – and one which is ultimately up to Mrs May’s government to decvide – is to come up with a seamless strategy which will see us through the EU’s exit door within the two-year timescale allowed by Article 50 while ensuring trade will continue to flow smoothly. In other words, it’s the more divisive issue of a short-term strategy which is the critical topic at the moment and Professor Yarrow’s paper is of particular relevance here.

It’s time to establish what kind of relationship with the EU will be in the national interest

One of the myths put about by opponents of Brexit during the referendum campaign was that a Leave vote was a ‘leap into the dark’, or less energetically, a ‘step into the unknown’. While this may have suited Remain’s campaign narrative, suggesting that there was more fog around than could be found in a James Herbert horror novel was not a fair representation of the reality.

The truth is that a lot of work has been done on Brexit. But most of it has not had wide public recognition. That is not the fault of Eurosceptic thinkers and planners, but a counter-intuitive inevitability of our mass communications age – a matter of volume and noise, chance and choice.

It’s to improve the neon lighting that I have updated four major pieces of work from late last year. These were originally circulated in Eurosceptic circles by Better Off Out before the referendum started to motor. They are now more immediately relevant, especially for those engaged in restructuring the UK’s relationship with its EU counterparts, and have been further revisited to accommodate certain additional data that has since emerged.

The first in the updated series is being published today, for which I am hugely grateful to BrexitCentral. It’s intended to encourage those contemplating Brexit across Government to go back to brass tacks and think about what drove planners towards the EEC in the first place.

Simplistically put, the UK joined because key people concluded that the UK’s economic best interest lay in joining a developing customs union with economies that were amongst the best performing in the world, at a time of immense geo-strategic turbulence and threat.

We might usefully apply the same criteria today, though we would reach very different conclusions. Indeed, as the old Eurosceptic saying goes, if we weren’t already a member, we wouldn’t today want to join.

Looking more strategically at aspects of our relationship with the EU, there are several key components to the formula that I urge our diplomats and planners to reflect on afresh. The National Interest thus proposes a number of principles to help ministers and negotiators work out where the balance of interest lies. How close does the UK need to be with EU institutions? What areas does it genuinely need to cooperate in? At what point does Single Market affiliation start to add more costs that it saves? These are fundamentals that deserve to be challenged from scratch.

The answers to these questions will vary from country to country. The needs of the Slovakian economy (let alone the wider state) are very different from those of, say, Ireland. So this formula will carry separate significance for every nationality, and not just be of interest for Eurosceptic groups across the continent at that.

Reviewed dispassionately, the nature of all these variables puts the United Kingdom in a particular category that suggests a much looser arrangement is likely to be needed. That in turn implies that Whitehall has to be bold, ambitious, and to scan the horizon, if this country is to find its best relationship with the EU. Anything short of that will be at best a missed opportunity, at worst a strategic failure.

But we can’t get there without a reboot.

A problem the Brexit department faces is the starting biosphere, and the many streams and wells that have fed Whitehall ponds over the past decades. There has been too much of a monopoly on acquired wisdom fuelled by the Jean Monnet system – and its other EU-funded cousins, as we have seen in recent criticisms of the track records of some of our High Court judges.

This has had consequences less dire in the UK than in other states (a comparison that should be of some pride to our academics), but coupled with the EU’s immense PR machinery, it has still left deep marks on the base narrative.

Consider briefly the issue of the “Euromyth”, the media story that the Commission denies ever happened. As it turns out, as the source behind a number of those stories over the years, I can vouchsafe that many did indeed flow from genuine plans and proposals caught at an early stage. These were then, once they became public knowledge, subsequently and sensibly repudiated. Had they not been spotted, it is more than likely they would have become bad laws – again to be criticised, but at a point when they were beyond the point of easy repeal, and after causing millions of pounds of damage to the UK economy. (Unlike Will Straw, there was never a CBE for any Eurosceptic engaged in that thankless task, I might add.)

However, there is then a world of difference between saying a project that didn’t happen is a myth, and saying the Commission listened to the public’s concerns and then pulled the plug. Rather than ingeniously following the latter option, tellingly their press team resorted to the former. One is led to the conclusion staff do so because they believe their own spin, that nothing was happening. Eppur si muove, as Galileo might murmur before such inquisitors.

Couple this unhappy world of smoke and mirrors along with the complete strategic buy-in of government that has outlasted civil service careers, and one can begin to see how ingrained perceptions and interpretations might have become, and how a fresh appraisal by a new generation of civil servants can prove useful.

The baseline assumption across the Foreign Office has been that the UK’s national interest lay in EU membership, while lobbying to avoid the EU integrating too closely (or too quickly and perceptibly: it depended on whose notes you read).

Notwithstanding the entire Margaret Thatcher era, the hand of Heath still lies heavy on the Locarno Suite. While it has been exorcised by Thatcher from the rest of government, the Ghost of Suez still roams King Charles Street, wailing warnings of British decline. The policy response to that crisis was profound. Ditching EFTA was quite possibly the greatest strategic error since 1945. The 23rd June vote may have come just in time to allow a second model of European co-operation fully to re-emerge, an alternative with genuine prospect, more liquid in its form and thus less brittle.

In their review, planners need to go back to the foundation elements, reassessing what the national interest may be for any given state in its dealing with the EU, and how close its orbit profitably needs to be. Law drafters also need to grapple with the realities and complexities on the hierarchy of international standards setting (which has much less to do with the EU than most people believe). Business figures and City analysts need to acquaint themselves with what the default deals mean without the red tape generated just for EU suppliers and manufacturers and not for anyone else. In short, everyone in Central London needs to put the kettle on and completely rethink what trade agreements are there to do.

I choose to be optimistic. Our civil servants are intelligent, hard-working, patriotic people. They will tackle this task head on – if inspired to do so, and given the tools and leadership to be bold and innovative.

But four decades of assumptions need to be dumped across Government first, and across all levels of management. I hope these four short e-publications help achieve that vital national reboot, starting today with the base coding.

What would leavers have done if we had lost?

The spectacle of the Remainers behaving like cry babies in the wake of the Referendum result on 23 June was pretty unedifying. One of my favourite memories from the night came at about 4am when Dimbleby at the BBC cut to the Remain HQ expecting their reporter there to introduce one or two senior Remainers to give their reactions to the unfolding events. Instead the place was empty as everyone had gone home rather than stay and face reality.

Once the disbelief had worn off, the Remainers moved on to blaming uneducated plebs for not understanding the issues, fighting like rats in a sack over who to blame and now seeking to overturn the will of the people by judicial means and in the House of Lords.

Now we see pretty much the same happening over in the USA. The same mix of Establishment figures, intolerant lefties and those living off government funds are reacting to the loss of a Clinton president much as our Remainers did here. Lots of abuse, insults and worse. The disbelief is still rife there, and there have been some very nasty calls for Trump to be assassinated and his wife to be raped.

In both cases the issues at stake were big, very big. So that has led some Remainers to point the finger and say that we Leavers would have behaved the same. Well, as Head of Campaigns at Better Off Out I sat in on some meetings where exactly this question was raised. What would we do if we lost?

Obviously I cannot speak for everyone, but the consensus seemed fairly clear to me. First, we would accept the result in that the people of Britain had voted to stay in the European Union. Second, most intended to take a break and see their families. Third nearly everyone was going to gird their loins and return to the fray.

There is bound to be a new EU Treaty in five or ten years’ time. Assuming that this would include drastic changes, we intended to argue that those changes needed to go to a referendum as it altered the relationship between the EU and UK approved by the people in 2016. Then we would campaign against those changes in the following referendum campaign (again assuming that they were serious enough).

What nobody ever even suggested at these meetings was that we should seek to go to law to overturn the referendum result. Nobody suggested that we should use Parliamentary procedure to slow down or halt the normal day to day business of the EU in the UK. Nor did anyone suggest a second referendum to ask the In-Out question again. Everyone was prepared to accept that we would have lost this battle, then prepare for the next.

It is against this background that we should view the behaviour of the Remainers. They are making little secret of the fact that they aim to overthrow the Referendum result. Using legal quibbles and delaying tactics in Parliament they hope to frustrate the will of the people. And these folk claim to stand for tolerance, inclusion and democracy?

The people have spoken. It is time to get on with it.

Rupert Matthews

Rupert Matthews

Rupert Matthews is a freelance writer and historian. During the recent EU Referendum campaign he served as Campaign Manager for Better Off Out and spoke at meetings from Penzance to Aberdeen, Belfast to Dover. Rupert has written over 100 books on history, cryptozoology and related subjects. He has served as a councillor for 8 years and has stood for both the Westminster and European Parliaments. You can follow Rupert on Twitter at @HistoryRupert or on Facebook as rupert.matthews1.

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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