LET’S get one thing straight at the outset. No one on either side of the Channel is seriously suggesting that after Brexit there will be tariffs or trade barriers between Britain and the remaining 27 EU states.
Let me repeat that, because a lot of British commentators still don’t seem to get it.
No one is proposing trade barriers.
The EU’s Trade Commissioner spelt it out yet again yesterday.
“We will have a free trade agreement, that is for sure,” Cecilia Malmstrom told a conference in Copenhagen.
Pressed by journalists, some of whom still seem to have trouble processing this idea, she repeated that there would “of course” be free trade between the EU and the UK.
Why wouldn’t there be? On the day we leave, we become the EU’s biggest export market. And if you treat the EU as a single entity, it becomes ours.
It is in the interests of each side for the other to prosper. Rich neighbours make good customers.
Sure, there will be rows during the disengagement process. The two sides will argue about farming, fishing, services regulation, the rights of migrants and, most of all, money.
These are big and important issues — and it’s worth asking yourself in passing whether you’d rather have Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn in our corner during those talks.
Still, we should note that the two sides also agree on an awful lot.
We agree on free trade. We agree on our military and security forces working together. We agree on giving reciprocal rights to the people who have already settled in Britain from the EU or in the EU from Britain. We agree on avoiding a hard border in Ireland.
With a little bit of goodwill, we should be able to reach a deal that brings benefits to both sides.
What then are we to make of Angela Merkel’s insistence that Britain would be “a third country” without lingering membership rights, and that “some people in the UK still have some illusions on that score”?
Her remarks have been interpreted as implied criticism of the British Government.
But Mrs May has said almost exactly the same thing, namely that we won’t try to cling on to bits of EU membership but will instead seek a “deep and special relationship” from the outside.
Mrs Merkel was making clear that that ship has sailed.
In Brussels and Berlin, as in London, the emphasis is now on finding a new and workmanlike arrangement rather than on regretting the vote.
Both sides will, of course, want some visible wins. As in any talks, each side will put its own spin on the final deal.
For example, as far as I can tell, this bizarre £50billion “divorce settlement” that the EU is said to be after refers to payments from now, rather than payments from when we actually leave.
For the next two years, while we’re using the facilities, we’ll obviously be paying our subs. That alone accounts for most of it.
Brussels, in other words, seems to want to be able to cite as high a number as possible for presentational reasons. Eurocrats want to make leaving look painful so as to deter others.
That’s why they keep trotting out the slogan that non-members must not have as good a deal as members. It’s an unintentionally revealing line. If you think about it, it concedes that leaving the EU will make a country better off — unless Brussels deliberately punishes it.
After all, why shouldn’t the other 27 states, as well as the UK, aspire to get a better deal than they have now?
Why shouldn’t they, for example, be allowed to opt out of certain EU policies?
Only because the political unification of the EU is treated as an end in itself — something more important than the wellbeing of the nations that make it up.
Which is, of course, precisely why we had to vote to leave. We don’t need to be part of the EU to be its friend.
When, in 1946, Winston Churchill called for “a United States of Europe”, he made clear that Britain would look on from the outside as a supporter and sponsor.
That should be our objective now — a deal based on alliance, not absorption, a common market, not a common government.
If we get this right, our relations with our neighbours should end up being better than ever before.
– Daniel Hannan is a Conservative MEP and author of What Next: How To Get The Best from Brexit, published by Head Of Zeus.