How Theresa May can get her way with Brussels

Theresa May can win the day, but she'll have to be tough. She should openly threaten three things if Brussels won't now sign a meaningful guarantee on the backstop: 1) An end to the UK's Article 5 NATO commitments to hostile EU nations; 2) Divide and rule with EU nations on visas; 3) Make trouble for Brussels with the Americans. Do this Mrs. May, and you'll get your way

Go Theresa go
the commentator
On 30 January 2019 12:17

At last, Theresa May has the backing of the British parliament to go back to Brussels and ask for something specific in order to get a workable deal on Brexit.

The House of Commons on Tuesday authorised her to seek a guarantee from Brussels that the Northern Ireland backstop component of the agreement already reached with the European Union will not tie Britain indefinitely to EU rules should it prove impossible to sign a wide ranging free trade agreement after the UK has left on March 29.

That is what the Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party are worried about, and, given the bad faith, duplicity, and general untrustworthiness of the people who run the EU, they are right to insist that we need something more binding than their word of honour that they will act as a responsible partner in the future negotiations.

Amid all the uncertainty and shifting ground, it is important to understand this point. As things stand, Brussels could effectively keep Britain permanently in the EU simply by refusing to make a reasonable trade deal.

As we have seen with the repeat referendums in Ireland over the years, and the way they rode roughshod over French and Dutch referendums rejecting the European Constitution, they're a shifty lot, and we need the law on our side to keep them in check.

Here's what May should now do.

She should say that she needs a legally binding letter -- specifically stating that it supersedes anything written in the main agreement -- which says that unless a free trade deal can be brought into force within five years of Britain formally leaving the EU, Britain's trading relationship with the EU will be conducted on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

As long as Brussels intends to negotiate a deal in good faith, there should be no problem whatsover in completing a deal within five years. Ireland therefore has nothing to worry about. Should Brussels reject this offer, it will be plain for all to see that they never intended to act in good faith in the first place, and it is they who would bear responsibility for any problems between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

May should say those words. The time for veiled threats is over. She should add that unless Brussels agrees to this, Britain will withdraw from the EU without a deal on March 29.

But that's not all. If Brussels insists on being unreasonable, then the following will happen:

First, the UK will withdraw all support for EU nations in international bodies. This will include NATO; we should explictly state that Britain will not honour Article 5 security commitments to any EU country that refuses to back May's request. We will immediately withdraw all British troops currently serving in EU nations that are effectively backing economic sanctions against the UK by imposing tarrifs. Tarrifs would be an inevitable consequence of a no deal Brexit. We don't risk our soldiers' lives in countries that are sanctioning us. Period.

Second, we should selectively impose significant visa restrictions on EU countries that will not agree to sign such a letter of guarantee on the backstop.

If, for example, Poland says that it supports a letter of guarantee to Britain, then its citizens will enjoy visa free travel to the UK, much as they do to the United States under ESTA. If, by contrast, Belgium opposes such a letter of guarantee, then its citizens would need to apply for a visa at the British embassy in Brussels. Make them stand in a queue.

Third, make trouble with the Americans. Get Donald Trump, who despises the EU, to declare his support for the above measures, and to say that he is considering changing his country's relationship fundamentally with the European Union in view of their intransigence in relation to Britain. Trump is an awkward customer. Let's use his awkwardness. You'd be surprised how amenable he might be to such a request.

Now, we don't want any of this to happen. All Brussels has to do is end the bad faith, and behave like a reasonable ally. But if they aren't allies, we should stop treating them as such.

Now Mrs. May. Get on and do it.

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