I couldn’t wait to leave the European Council meeting last night. For several hours I was forced to listen to widespread mockery being directed at the United Kingdom. “Surely, Nigel, you don’t believe Brexit will actually happen?” people taunted. Make no mistake: this is now the view that prevails in Brussels. The EU gang think Brexit can be stopped. And in this warped scheme they have a great ally. Her name is Theresa May.
The seeds of this disastrous situation were sown last December when Mrs May left Downing Street at 4 o’clock in the morning and headed to Brussels. She had been summoned by the EU’s unelected chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier. Mrs May obediently accepted Barnier’s idea of an Irish backstop. If ever there was an example of an unelected bureaucracy defeating a national democracy, this was it.
At the time, I was amazed that Tory Brexiteers seemed to buy this appalling fix. I remember being derided for saying that the Great Brexit Betrayal was under way. Yet ever since then, the negotiations have been a joke. The notion of ‘Brexit means Brexit’ has in reality meant ‘Brexit Means Remain’.
I have attended every subsequent European Summit and watched Britain’s reputation being corroded. Anyone who is being honest knows this to be the case. Indeed, the large audiences I’ve addressed recently at cross-party Leave Means Leave events all over the country have displayed their disgust at what is going on in a way I’ve never seen before. The strength of feeling is palpable.
I have always opposed the concept of a transition period. After all, Article 50 being written into the treaties was itself supposed to encapsulate a guarantee that all agreements would be reached within two years. But inevitably, once the principle of transition was accepted, all timelines became elastic.
This explains why Theresa May, desperate not to risk the wrath of the all-important DUP and desperate to avoid her own Government’s budget being voted down next month, has accepted another year’s transition period. Mrs May claimed this extension would be for “just a few more months”. Such disingenuousness has become her default setting.
The truth is, this latest transition period would last until the end of 2021. The next UK general election is scheduled for spring 2022. I believe under the present circumstances it is a near certainty that the Labour Party will back a second referendum in the hope they form the next government, at which point they could well choose to keep Britain inside part of the customs union. The upshot would be no Brexit. The betrayal would be complete.
The process is far from over. The next big European summit will take place on December 13 and 14. Everyone in Brussels expects at that meeting that Mrs May will sign a deal and then try to bounce the House of Commons into accepting it on the basis that, if they don’t, there will be no Brexit at all.
I can now see the next push, led by John Major, Tony Blair and others. They want to delay the date of Article 50 and stop the UK from leaving the treaty on March 29, 2019. These Remainers think they will be able to achieve this by telling the public it is not acceptable for Britain to be rule taker, but not a rule maker, until the end of 2021. Ironically, for a bunch of people hell bent on defying democracy, they will argue it will be democratically unacceptable for the UK to have no input in EU affairs.
This would allow for the suspension of Article 50 and the full participation in the 2019 European elections. This prospect fills me with horror. Having worked in the belly of the beast since 1999, I am so unpopular in most Brussels pubs they won’t even serve me. But I do fear this is a very real prospect.
There is, however, another way. All Tory Eurosceptics must now act. Saying “Chuck Chequers” is not enough. The time has come to chuck Mrs May and embark on a different course. Britain should accept the offer a free trade deal put forward by Donald Tusk and Michel Barnier and discuss a Canada-Style trade deal. This would unite the country and respect democracy.
If, in the end, the EU chooses to cut off its nose to spite its face by denying us, we would move to WTO rules. Even if this led to some short-term economic bumps in the road, Britain could regain its status as an independent nation.
What I saw last night in Brussels was nothing less than a national humiliation. We are a laughing stock. The time has come for Tory Eurosceptics to put the national interest first. They must get rid of Theresa May.