THE EU rose from the ashes of a devastating war where young boys and family men alike were sent off to fight and die because elite politics got it wrong.
First published in The National, 25 January 2017
But, once again, Boris Johnson has displayed his inherent cynicism, using wilfully-inflammatory language guaranteed to keep him in the headlines. The latest comments – at the time of typing, at least – pre-emptively warned French President François Hollande away from administering “punishment beatings to anybody who seeks to escape [the EU], in the manner of some World War II movie”. Cue Johnson’s fellow Leave campaigner, Michael Gove, wading in to defend Boris’s “witty metaphor”. Probably a bit late to be friends, Michael, but nice try.
My MEP colleagues were surprised, to say the least. Manfred Weber, leader of the EPP – ie the party that controls the European Parliament, European Commission, and European Council – was blunt, stating that countries provoking each other was not the way to go, and that “Boris Johnson is behaving like a clown and he is taking away the credibility of the Government”.
Of course, it doesn’t help that the Prime Minister is embracing whole-heartedly the grand spirit of British Isolationism. There’s a fine line between strength and bullheadedness.
The Prime Minister may have thought she was channelling the spirit of Margaret Thatcher circa Fontainebleau, with a steely gaze, soft tone and solid lines. But on the continent, it was received rather differently. Germany’s conservative-leaning Die Welt newspaper, ran ‘Little Britain’ on the front page. Italy’s La Repubblica had ‘Brexit, London gets it wall”, while the Spainish El País was utterly brutal in its coverage: “The predominant feeling in the EU was one of firmness and detachment in the face of so much incoherence and haughtiness.”
This is not the way to build alliances. Grown-up politics is about give and take, compromise and the big picture, and putting the well-being of the country – and the people one represents – over one’s own ego.
In the aftermath of the referendum, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reassured EU nationals that they remained welcome, and then flew to Brussels to meet the President of the European Commission and put Scotland’s case to the world. The Scottish Government submitted a set of reasonable, measured compromises to the UK Government, including keeping Scotland in the single market.
The single market is more than a dealbreaker. Its existence means businesses can sell their goods and services to 500 million people – eight times the size of the UK market – without paying tariffs or having to keep chopping and changing to comply with a different set of rules in each EU country. It simplifies the process, speeds things up, and an estimated 300,000 jobs in Scotland rely on our trade with the EU.
At the present time, we enjoy membership of the single market. Don’t get me wrong, a post-Brexit UK could have access to the single market – but there’s a significant difference between ‘access’ and ‘membership’.
Membership means we have the same terms as all single market members. Access means we have to pay. Access means we have to negotiate the terms. Access, all in all, is a much less preferable option than membership.
But the Prime Minister made it clear that she’s aiming for a hard Brexit. No single market, no European Court of Justice, no certainty for EU citizens, and “no deal” is an option.
So, now we need to work out how we want to approach this. Some folk within the independence movement have expressed concern that the second referendum could be taken as a choice between two unions, UK or EU. That concern is understandable – after all, while Scotland voted overwhelmingly to Remain, 62 per cent to 38 per cent, in every single area, we can’t ignore the way that the UK Government is ignoring the millions of people who voted to Remain.
But what we have done is engage with the UK in good faith, and put forward options that – while not ideal – would go a way towards securing our interests. The UK has a choice: respect the fact that Scotland voted to Remain, or accept that we reserve the right to do whatever we need to in order to protect our best interests. The ball is back in Theresa May’s court, but we can’t simply do nothing while we wait.