Brexit – a moving article on the CER Website

Britain is in disarray – and the sadness of many British who made Europe part of their identity is visible. The following article published by CER (Centre for European Reform) in London was very moving – and lamentably very correct in its analysis.

However the headline „Handle Britain with care“ should not stand alone: also the EU suffered and should be handled with more care by Britain than before. This is my comment to the article:

Dear Simon Tilford,

Britain is in disarray – and this was foreseeable. So first of all it is now up to Britain to handle Europe with much more care than it did since Margaret Thatcher wanted her money back and broke the concept of a community that because it was to integrate must not reckon with each penny if it is only for the common good. Britain never accepted the common European good as a political category, but only the good of Britain in Europe. This had the effect that this spread out and now most countries -including Germany – act like this. A relaunch of the EU may only be possible returning to a more common interest approach, where it is definitely NOT important that any country wins, but that Europe wins even if each member states is losing something. (This may seem an ideal, but still better than a cynical approach of the school of realism in diplomacy which is soooo self-fulfilling!)

The UK was half-in-half-out for the last decades, enerving other leaders to their blood. This is not at all new. But to be together with Britain in the common EU was more important than all the gnawing doubts about a member which played with the EU as if it were just another international diplomatic concert. So Brexit in the end was in the logic of the last years (already Blairs playing divisevly one against the other in the EU with the „letter of the 8 on Iraq“ written together with Aznar was a sign of old fashioned diplomatic games instead of trustful dialogue) . If the UK would now stay in the EU, it would be a deeply divided country that would every second week ask for extra cherries to pick because of the resentful 52% – the same would have happened if it were only 48% Brexiters and a small majority for Remain.

To talk of any revenge towards a country that is (still) great and proud, is nothing but stupid. Staying good partners in friendship is the way we have to work for. I am not ashamed of being Anglophile. But even for that you need two to tango. The decision for Brexit is no reason for bashing the UK. The EU is a voluntary affair. Nobody is forced to be a member. Leaving is a perfectly legal move. What makes me angry is the network of lies and nasty propaganda of some Eton boys who think they are an elite – which is doubtful-  used in the campaign – and used for all the last 30 years destroying the carreer of each Conservative PM since John Major. What makes me sad is that the 48% of British mostly young open minded men and women are now mainly bearing the cost for a decision that was taken on the basis of lies and propaganda. I even pity those who voted for Brexit believing what the campaigners lied at them, because they will soon feel betrayed. And I would be sad if this error of historic dimension would lead to a break-up of the UK (but who can denie the Scots another referendum if referenda are now called the real essence of democracy. (They are not!!)).

So to handle Britain with care is first of all a call to those who want to lead the country, those who already broke the load handling it quite badly. Please do not ask to handle with care the culprits of this outbreak of nationalism. But yes: we should care about the others.

Leaving is not only legal – if a population thinks that this is the best way for them and if the mechanism for the decision is a referendum without safeguards instead of due parliamentary process with three readings, two houses of parliament and long expert hearings, then the population should not be fooled by not fulfilling their expectations.

For the remaining members of the club it is not that complicated. The EU has to bring its own house in order and this may be a bit easier without Britain (see decisions on the Banking Union). Who chooses to be out is a future non-member (all procedures under Article 50 are transition procedures leading to that out). This happens in each London gentlemans Club. You may still come along, everybody will and should be friendly to you – but the swimming pool is closed for non-members. To call this a revenge would be absurd. So Britain will become a non-member, that was the essence of the referendum. From that position negotiations start to make the transition as easy and NON-disruptive as possible. But it is not at all a renegotiation of membership.

Now it is my firm opinion that for all of us it will be good to have friendly, close and good relations with the UK, as we do with other non-member countries and even more so. The EU – now on the other side of the negotiation table – will have to hear what kind of relationship the UK will propose, and the UK will have to acknowledge what is on offer and what is not. Membership rights without membership are definitely not on offer. Acces to the single market is on offer. The blueprint was known in advance and praised by some of the Brexiteers: that is the Norwegian and Swiss model. It will be the best model for a non-member, although it includes to accept the 4 freedoms, not only a part of it. So – sorry – there is no way of market access without EU-migration.

If Britain wants the best for itself in the British interest it will accept the single market, free movement of goods, capital, workforce and services together and pay a substantial sum (at least less than the alleged 350 Mio. per week) to make the single market work. That is the EEA membership. An d the young and the pro-Europeans in the UK should fight fiercely for that solution. Certainly there will not be British presence at any meeting of bodies of the Union, but a close consultation with the Commission and member states outside the institutions is always possible. To vote in a club without being a member is however sheer absurdity.  But you are right, Simon, with some experience with EEA membership a return to the EU may be possible – although this may take a long time – but doors should never be shut forever.

All normal, very practical consequences of leaving the club have no negative meaning at all. You can certainly see the whole move of leaving as something unwanted – but this was not the view of the majority. So fight against those who start new propaganda campaigns to denigrate the normal procedures of leaving a club as „punishment“ – this is self-serving propaganda of Brexiters who cannot explain why their promises are broken.

When dealing with non-members the EU has to deal with a lot of politicians who are not really seen as very responsible or sympathetic – politics is not a love affair, but rather cold business. Relations to Russia or Turkey are not completely independent from who represents those countries. Negotiations will happen with whoever comes to speak for the UK.  So the UK may choose to send negotiators who win hearts and minds, or it may choose to send those who will certainly not win over anybody and can only haggle around. Negotiations will be tough and businesslike. And if the British negotiators become realistic, learn to put themselves into the shoes of the others and take into account the common interest of all of us, then they may come to a good result – but always within the options for non-members.

As far as the timetable is concerned, it is not unusual that a partner in disarray needs some time to put his own situation together. The only thing which is indecent and intolerable is – what Boris Johnson proposed – to use the possibility of not triggering Article 50 while all conditions for that exist just to prolong insecurity (he should better explain why he now thinks that continuing the weekly pay to Brussels should continue for much longer and not got to the NHS only because he has no idea what to do after the result of the referendum.