Theresa May has finally announced a breakthrough in Brexit negotiations and we all know what that really means

At least now she's announced that Britain definitely won't pay the EU a divorce bill, we can rest assured that we will. Hard Brexiteers banging this drum need to grow up – and fast

Tom Peck
Monday 07 August 2017 17:11
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The policy will cause devastation, misery and insecurity to millions of EU citizens
The policy will cause devastation, misery and insecurity to millions of EU citizens

A breakthrough at long last in the Brexit negotiations.

Nobody seriously expects the UK not to settle its “divorce bill”, be it for £36bn, £60bn or whatever the European Union decides it wants, and now that Theresa May has “ruled out” paying it, there can be no more certain guarantee that it will be paid in full.

There are few things more reassuring, in these uncertain times, than the Prime Minister saying something is not going to happen, to put one’s mind at rest that it definitely will. Anecdotally, friends of Theresa May admit the apologetic call from the Prime Minister to say that, sorry, she can’t make Sunday lunch is the well-established cue to start peeling the potatoes, the meat coming out of the oven to rest the moment she hurries down the driveway shouting: “Nothing has changed, nothing has changed!”

What relief there will be in Brussels that Downing Street refused to confirm it will pay the Brexit divorce bill, an equally certain guarantee that, like Hinkley Point, the dementia tax, national insurance contributions for the self-employed, new grammar schools and an energy price cap, it definitely won’t happen.

Britain’s vote to leave the European Union has shifted the window of sanity far to the right of British politics. Once upon a time, merely wanting to leave the EU was far enough out there. Now, imagining the UK has no bill to settle with Brussels, no financial contribution to ease the passage of our exit, no need for any kind of transitional arrangement to allow us to (needlessly) set up dozens of our own regulatory bodies that were (wisely) pooled with our neighbours, should be seen as the new Mark of the Fruitcake.

Sir Simon Fraser: Brexit talks damaged by Cabinet splits which leave UK without a coherent strategy

Even Liam Fox has admitted a transitional arrangement is the way to go. "I don't have a problem with that,” he said last week. “Having waited 43 years, another couple of years – if we can get it to work well for UK and our European partners and for the stability of British business and our prosperity – that seems to me a common sense thing to do."

A transitional arrangement, and the use of a regulatory framework established by European institutions and overseen by the European Court of Justice, will not come for free. To debase both you and I briefly by using John Redwood’s egregious golf club analogy, if you say you’re leaving but still want to use the clubhouse showers, don’t expect the captain to be OK with that.

Indeed, the small print of the Prime Minister’s refusal to accept the £36bn sum (40bn euros, by the way, which was a mere £30bn on 23 June last year) appears to state that it will not be accepted by Parliament, and on that front, those far wide of the window of sanity have been as vocal as ever.

Jacob Rees-Mogg has again said we have “no legal obligation to pay anything”. John Redwood thinks it’s “ridiculous” that any sort of bill needs settling before trading arrangements can be discussed. Peter Bone has said we should not be paying to leave an organisation from which we have “got nothing in return”.

Now that these men’s most earnest shared lifelong wish – to trash the reputation of their country – has come to pass, that the thing they have wanted more than all else can be seen as clear as day to be an unmitigated disaster which has rendered the country all but ungovernable, it is surely time to stop listening to them.

Just as David Davis’s supposed “row of the summer” over the sequencing of Brexit talks was over in about 10 seconds when he acquiesced to doing precisely as the EU wished, there is not a sane person out there who does not know that the “row” over the divorce bill will end when the UK pays what it is asked to pay.

In the meantime, Redwood and the rest still cling to the illusion that the EU “needs” a deal as much as Britain, blinded to the very obvious reality, well-known by the leadership of his own party, that a failure to get one leads to a cliff-edge Brexit, and a period of unprecedented national turmoil which will end with Jeremy Corbyn in No 10 and an actual, unreconstructed Marxist in the treasury.

You hardly need to pause very long to consider whether a person who can pay £1bn to the DUP for a few parliamentary votes she arguably does not need will be able to find £36bn, spread over many years and equal to current obligations, to avoid that.

And if you can’t see that, well, you’re not really worth listening to.

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