In the week that the UK finally begins its historic journey back to independence, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier crudely plays the “deal or no deal” card in a patently desperate effort somehow to cow the UK’s negotiating team.
Writing in the slavishly pro-EU Financial Times, Barnier warns that a no deal scenario would have severe consequences for the UK and its economy. It would undoubtedly leave the UK worse off, he blithely claims.
In full project fear mode, he goes on to predict burdensome customs checks, lorry queues at Dover, disruption to air traffic into the UK and extreme uncertainty for four million expat UK and EU citizens across the continent if no deal is done.
This is, of course risible nonsense.
The UK has nothing whatsoever to fear from a no deal scenario in which, having exhausted the negotiating process with an intransigent and unreasonable EU, it simply walks away into the wide open world of opportunity beyond Brussels.
Although no deal might sound like failure to those determined to paint it as such, it could in fact carry considerable benefits for the UK – including cutting out the need for the UK to pay the sort of multi-billion “divorce settlement” figures now being tossed around.
However, for the EU – or more specifically, its member states – no deal would be a nightmare as Barnier knows full well. As good Europeans – just passionately anti-EU – we Brits should not wish such a no deal scenario on our friends in the nation states which remain under the yoke of the EU.
That is why, rather than simply walking away, we are preparing to undergo a long and complex two year negotiating process.
Just consider the price people and economies of Europe would have to pay were a no deal stalemate to be the outcome of pig-headedly incompetent negotiations by Barnier and his team.
Without a comprehensive trade deal with the UK:
- Germany’s car industry and the jobs and prosperity it creates would be devastated. German carmakers exported 810,000 vehicles to the UK last year – more than to any other country in the world
- Holland would lose 2 per cent of its GDP – which is why the Dutch advisory council has advised that a trade deal, a CETA+ type of arrangement including goods and services, is vital for The Netherlands
- One of the EU’s remaining major global export markets would be wrecked with a devastating knock-on effect on jobs and prosperity for the EU. The UK imports 30 per cent more from the EU than it exports to it. In 2015 the EU had a trade surplus of £85 billion with the UK
Another reason a deal is crucial for the EU is that, while the UK forges ahead in terms of growth and employment, most of the European economies are shrinking and their people becoming poorer.
According to the IMF, the EU’s share of world GDP has shrunk from 30 per cent to 17 per cent since 1980 and continues to shrink.
Meanwhile the UK is already forming the basis for trade talks with major economies such as the USA, India and Australia. China and Brazil have also already made clear that they will be open for future trade with an independent UK, shorn of the stifling bureaucracy of Brussels.
The EU does not have trade agreements with any of these dynamic emerging economies. Furthermore, the EU itself has admitted that in the next 10-15 years, 90 per cent of world trade will be generated OUTSIDE Europe.
So who should be worried about a no deal – The EU or a sovereign and independent UK sailing out into the wide open world of trade where the vast majority of the world’s business will be done?
Equally, it takes only the most elementary examination of Mr Barnier’s claims about disruption to air and sea travel and trade to and from the UK to reveal the distortions and warped thinking which lie behind them.
Among the major users of Dover and other UK ports are the EU countries which export their goods – as part of their large trade surplus with us – to the UK.
While queues and any chaos which may ensue from a no deal would hurt both parties, it doesn’t take Einstein to work out that the damage done by such intransigence would be felt far more by an EU desperately needing to keep its lucrative exports flowing into the UK.
Similarly, Barnier seeks to mislead in grossly overstating the impact of a negotiating stalemate on air travel. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is clear that, regardless of the final Brexit agreement or non-agreement, air transport will continue to grow over the coming decades.
IATA makes clear that, even under a so-called “hard Brexit” scenario, the UK passenger market is expected to be 45.5% larger in 2035 than it was in 2015. This means an additional 90.7 million passengers travelling in 2035 compared to the 2015 level.
And so the myth-making goes on. Barnier and Brussels just cannot help themselves. They are perhaps at their most cynical when dwelling on the EU expats with an obvious and particular interest in the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and the UK-EU divorce.
In his Financial Times article Barnier talks about the uncertainties surrounding the future of the 4.5 million EU citizens in the place they have made their home through the free movement of people – the UK.
Implicitly he suggests that a no deal would cause misery and upheaval for those UK citizens who have chosen to move to the Spanish costas or elsewhere in the EU.
Yet the fact is that the UK now has welcomed 800,000 Poles alone since freedom of movement became a Polish right following the country’s admission to the EU. In terms of numbers, the UK has far more EU immigrants within than emigres from its own borders.
The EU negotiators cynically imply suggest that hard-hearted Brexiteer would play politics with peoples’ lives – which it would never would and never should. And even if it did, the sheer numbers of immigrants living in the UK make it clear that securing a deal is overwhelmingly in the interests of the EU and the citizens of its member states.
As the British government invokes Article 50, something which the EU less than a year ago believed would never happen, it’s time for realism. No more fantasy and fear mongering.
Let the negotiations begin in good faith between an independent UK and an EU comprised of European nations of our friends.
I am certain a deal is there to be done. But, make no mistake, if the EU negotiators set out through dogma and zealotry to the European project to wreck it, then it will be the EU, not the UK which will suffer most grievously.
Ours is the freedom.