EU countries like Italy want a smooth Brexit deal
Having failed in the ‘we can’t go it alone’ shtick, the Remoaners’ second argument ‘we will be left high and dry by a determined, united 27’ might also be complete tosh. Italy, for one big country, is mightly concerned about all the Italians living in the UK who send money home. They'll want a smooth Brexit deal
Jean Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, has said in a recent interview that he did not expect the EU-27 to remain united during Brexit negotiations.
Of course, not everything the high living Luxembourgeois says is necessarily true, but I think we can take this as read.
As with all its problems, Europe’s difficulty with Brexit is its own diversity: the Italians don’t think like the Germans, and what is good for Sweden is not necessarily good for Cyprus.
Whilst the Remainers said Britain would lose out against a united Europe, in practice the continent is rarely united. These differences, cultural and economic, provide openings for Britain in the negotiations.
The British Foreign Office used to have a talent for dividing and ruling in Europe. It is only since we had to be a part of a unified structure that it became ineffective. Now the FCO must be on top of its sometimes limited game and start nudging out the nuanced positions of individual countries.
The first question it needs to ask is ‘who likes the Brits?’
In years of travelling I have found my compatriots to be a Marmite race. I have met people in former colonies who hated us for being the colonial power, and others, without British nationality or ethnicity, who rather admired us. Some Americans deride our past and our pretensions for the future, whilst others quite like us and trust us.
I once employed the daughter of a central American dictator who had got an internship because of who her father was, who said she couldn’t abide the British because of the class system.
But the differences about the Brits are perhaps greatest in Europe. Some love shopping at Burberry, some love the free speech, the Parliament, the television, the humour. Many love the music: on his recent visit to London the Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said how much he liked The Clash’s London Calling (‘London calling to the imitation zone, forget it brother you can go it alone’).
But if they like or dislike different aspects of Britishness, the continent is pretty well united in admitting that we Brits never really got this Europe thing. Even this, though, brings differences amongst them.
Some hardcore Europeans are delighted to have the British thorn removed from their side, allowing them to get on with projects they knew Britain would never approve. They will wave a cheery goodbye and offer Nick Clegg a job.
Others feel Brexit is a criticism of the European Project and life must be made difficult for us; yet others silently fear we might make a success of things and that they will then look silly, stuck in their sclerotic, jobs-free union.
I am beginning to think that, having failed in the ‘we can’t go it alone’ shtick, the Remoaners’ second argument ‘we will be left high and dry by a determined, united 27’ might also be complete tosh.
Back to that unlikely punk, inheritor of three baronetcies, Paolo Gentiloni. He admitted that the talks were going to be difficult, but said ‘the Italian position will be to approach the negotiations in a friendly and constructive fashion’ and ‘we have no interest in a destructive negotiation between the EU and the UK’.
Indeed, Gentiloni was quite happy to admit that his principal concern is the fate of Italians in the UK. Many countries think that way: there are 3 million EU nationals in the UK, the vast majority working. Nationals working abroad and sending money home are an export. This is why I think we are right not to give in unilaterally on this until all 27 have agreed, whatever the morality of the issue (and I accept there is a moral aspect).
And the other countries? The Germans are disappointed with us, but, with the Austrians, Dutch and Scandinavians, they like free trade and have no interest in punishing Britain. The East and the Baltics want the protection of the British Army. The French? Well, always a problem, but France will have a new government in a few months.
Aside from a few fanatics, all over Europe there is enormous goodwill towards Britain. Our soft power even extends to The Clash. There’s everything to play for.
Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here
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