Why Brussels will calm down about Brexit

With Verhofstadt's and Barnier's wrecking tactics now fully exposed, and with yet another massive crisis looming over Poland, Brussels simply cannot afford a fight with Britain. Merkel and company will ensure a smooth Brexit, because they ultimately have no choice

Verhofstadt (left), and Barnier
the commentator
On 24 July 2017 07:57

There have been two highly illustrative stories surfacing in the past week or so which, when put together, show why Brussels will eventually calm down and hammer out a workable and sensible Brexit deal with the United Kingdom.

The first came with a revelation from German MEP Hans-Olaf Henkel who openly said that Brussels' lead Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and European Parliament co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt were deliberately trying to sabotage negotiations with Britain so as to make Britain look bad in the eyes of others:

"Mr Verhofstadt now wants to punish the British, full stop...He says he doesn’t want to, but I’m afraid he does. My impression is that Mr Barnier wants to do the same."

“They would seek to make sure that Brexit is such a catastrophe that no country dares to take the step of leaving the EU again."

At first sight, that certainly doesn't look like good news. But when you think about it this is in fact a classic case of a couple of Brussels apparatchiks overplaying their hand, so much so that their shenanigans have now been outed by a respected colleague.

No-one is going to think that it is Britain that looks bad when the other side is led by people who want to wreck a deal before it has been struck. Barnier and particularly Verhofstadt are a busted flush. It won't take long for the likes of Angela Merkel to come down on them like a tonne of bricks. Watch this space.

But it is when you put this together with the second interesting piece of news that you see the EU's problem in bold relief.

Poland, you may have been reading, stands on the verge of being stripped of its EU voting rights over concerns about judicial independence. This would be yet another enormous crisis for the EU which is still mired in the ongoing (and irresolvable) euro crisis. Don't think that southern Europe is out of the woods. Far from it. Countries such as Greece and and Italy are on their backs, with very little prospect of a sustained recovery.

The point being that the whole European project is riven with deep seated problems. Old ones don't get fully resolved; new ones, like the Polish situation, constantly threaten to break out causing yet more chaos. It is possible that the Polish situation gets kicked down the road. But there'll be another one right round the corner. There always is.

The European Union simply cannot afford a fight with Britain. They are not in a position of strength. Quite the contrary.

With the wheels coming off the relationship with central and eastern Europe's biggest country, and with the ongoing problems with Hungary, and all this against the backdrop of the euro crisis, it ultimately won't make sense for the EU to do anything other than forge a sensible Brexit deal.

Angela Merkel is nothing if not a pragmatist. Verhofstadt may be allowed a little more time to bang his drums and blow his trumpet, but the conducter in chief will, in the end, bring him to order.

This is not because she is happy about Brexit or because she is not fearful that other countries may, one day, follow suit.

It is because in the cold light of day it just won't be worth anyone's while for Britain's departure to go anything other than smoothly.

Forget clowns like Barnier and Verhofstadt. Brexit is going to be fine.

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