Bullying Brussels won’t defeat Brexit Britain

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This article was originally published on The Commentator

While the UK has been conciliatory and has stressed a commitment to long term cooperation with the EU, the European Commission has undertaken a ‘black ops’ media strategy through leaks and briefings by backroom staff. Cowardice and bullying usually go hand in hand. Brussels will soon see that it just won’t work with Britain

Since Britain voted to Leave in the EU Referendum on 23rd June 2016, British politicians have repeatedly stressed our unending commitment to European cooperation, trade, and security.

As Prime Minister Theresa May said, “we may be leaving the EU, but we are not leaving Europe.” The British Government has proposed a deep and special partnership with the EU after Brexit, including a comprehensive free trade agreement. However, EU leaders have continually responded to this message of cooperation with threats of sanctions and bullying rhetoric towards Britain.

While Theresa May has set out her vision in public set-piece speeches at Lancaster House and in Florence, the European Commission has undertaken a ‘black ops’ media strategy through leaks and briefings by backroom staff.

On two occasions last year, details of dinners attended by Theresa May and the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker were inappropriately leaked to the German press. Juncker’s Chief of Staff, Martin Selmayr, is thought to be responsible for the leaks.

At a dinner in Downing Street last May, Juncker was reported to have left the event “ten times more sceptical” on Brexit than when he arrived. He allegedly thought the Prime Minister was “deluded” and “in a galaxy very far away”! In October, a meal in Brussels was the scene of a similar leak from the EU side. The source in the German press claimed Theresa May “begged” Juncker and appeared anxious, tired and despondent.

This style of negative briefing — via advisers and press contacts — is a dirty tactic in any political negotiation. Selmayr, or whoever was responsible, clearly wanted to undermine the authority of the British Prime Minister, in the hope she would be forced into accepting the EU’s onerous demands over Brexit. This interference is particularly outrageous considering one of the dinners was during the General Election campaign.

The EU’s bullying tactics have recently been escalated by the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, Michel Barnier, regarding the Implementation Period. The EU has demanded Britain follows all EU laws during this 21-month phase, even though we will not have a say in any new EU legislation which will be imposed on us. EU guidelines also state the UK would not regain control of its borders or its fishing quotas during this period.

The Brexit Secretary, David Davis has rightly raised objections to these ridiculous demands. He has proposed a British right to object to new EU laws and sought assurances from the EU they will not use this Implementation Period to impose laws which Britain had previously vetoed, such as a financial transaction tax.

Yet, as has now become a hallmark of the Brexit talks, EU chiefs responded to this spirit of cooperation and mutual respect with punitive statements. Barnier pronounced that the Implementation Period “is not a given” if the UK does not surrender to the EU’s terms.

It seems Barnier’s bullying rhetoric may be going too far for many Member States, reliant on the UK for trade. These countries are concerned about the threat of a No Deal Brexit, which will cause a huge black hole in the EU budget and disrupt their trade.

French and Polish politicians were reportedly incensed by the “punishment clause” in a draft document leaked to the Financial Times last week. Get Britain Out immediately expressed our displeasure, and alerted the press with our comments.

The EU’s document provided unlimited power for the Commission to cut off British access to the Single Market during the Implementation Period ‘if’ EU officials determined Britain has the temerity to break their rules. This aggressive stance would be completely unacceptable to Britain and would render the Implementation Period pointless. Fortunately, Barnier was yesterday forced to back down and take this clause out of the draft text!

It is clear the EU’s bullying tactics are detrimental to the chances of the deep and special partnership the UK wants after Brexit. Certainly, there are positive signs national Governments are pressuring the EU to agree a mutually beneficial Brexit deal, as they clearly realise the risks.

Yet, if the Commission’s unacceptable demands and disrespectful pronouncements continue, the time will come for the UK to walk away from these negotiations and we will Get Britain Out on WTO terms without a doubt.

Peter Lyon is a Research Executive at cross-party grassroots campaign Get Britain Out

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