Ignore claims about the EU falling apart – Europe knows Brexit was a terrible idea, and New York is the city which will benefit

Europe is puzzled by Brexit and our MPs who call for 'managed migration'. Why, they wonder, doesn’t our Government instead work out how to reorganise the UK’s labour market to support jobs, training and fair pay for British workers, which would reduce low-pay employers’ preferences for foreign workers?

Denis MacShane
Sunday 18 December 2016 12:57 GMT
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Gary Lineker enrages Brexiteers with joke on HIGNFY

The gap between the continent and England has never been wider. While every morning our press, most especially the two Andrews – Marr and Neil – and the Today programme, work themselves into a lather over Brexit, the rest of Europe shrugs its shoulder and says, “S’il vous plait, just get on with it.”

As Theresa May saw for herself in Brussels last week, the EU 27 are now in Zen mode. The hopes of some in London that different EU capitals could be divided one from the other have proved fruitless. The talk of “punishing Britain” is empty waffle. Talks with chief negotiators from the European Commission and Council and ministers in EU capitals produce a common line. They see Brexit as lose-lose but they respect the decision.

There is no aggression, no desire for a row, but equally no sense that the rest of Europe has to follow Britain down the road of hostility to other European citizens or to tear up the common rule book.

Spain has 1.1 million Romanians living there, France has 650,000 Portuguese and Germany 2 million Poles. But the kind of anti-Polish hate language or Nigel Farage saying he would not want a Romanian family to move in nextdoor is virtually unknown in Europe.

Germany has eight frontiers with EU countries, plus one with Switzerland, and 380,000 European workers cross German frontiers every day to add value to the German economy. The idea of a return of entry and work visas, or controlling every lorry or van or car crossing a frontier to trade goods or do business, seems to any German politician to be just slightly potty.

If the Britons want to pull out of the customs union and revert to having to fill in hundreds of millions of custom forms for any good or service sold to the world’s biggest market, which will include hiring thousands of new customs officers on the public payroll, that is Britain’s problem but not one for sensible continental European businesses to get involved in.

Ministers’ jaws drop in EU capitals when they hear of appeals from Theresa May or David Davis for a quickie agreement on the status of British ex-pats on the continent or EU citizens here. May can easily – and should – make a Government announcement on the status of EU citizens in the UK once we are out of the EU, but the right of all EU citizens to live and work everywhere is part of EU Treaty law. The idea of opening up negotiations to write a new treaty law in a few weeks just because of Brexit xenophobia makes no sense anywhere in Europe.

No EU capital likes the European Court of Justice, which is more of a giant commercial court and administrative tribunal despite its grandiose title. The UK has won more cases than it has lost at the ECJ. But a rulebook needs an arbiter, and so the rest of Europe remains puzzled at the fact that Britain, the nation that invented “playing by the rules” and accepting the umpire’s decision, now can no longer bear to do so.

The non-Europhobe press here report announcements by the Japanese and other banks that they will relocate key parts of their activities to have full single market access which ends the day the UK starts to discriminate against EU citizens in terms of travel, work and residence rights. Meanwhile, the rest of Europe knows at best it will get a small segment of City business but overall it is New York that will benefit as global finance leaves London and hence Europe.

Theresa May left standing on her own at Brussels EU summit

Europe is puzzled by personal attacks on Michel Barnier by Andrew Tyrie, the normally level-headed chair of the Commons Finance Select Committee, or the insistence of Labour bigwigs on echoing the Ukip call for “managed migration”. Why, they wonder, doesn’t our Government instead work out how to reorganise the UK’s labour market to support jobs, training and fair pay for British workers, which would reduce low-pay employers’ preferences for foreign workers?

For European governments, Article 50 negotiations are narrow and technical. Once the UK is out of political Europe in the spring of 2019, then the talks on trade, customs union rules, and the dozens of agencies and funding from Europol to Erasmus to Horizon scientific programmes can begin. They will last years.

The EU celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome in 2017. It will be 2027 before England’s relationship with the rest of Europe is settled. If then.

Denis MacShane is the former Minister of Europe and author of ‘Brexit: How Britain Left Europe’ (IB Tauris)

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