Oh woe, woe and thrice woe! Like the soothsayer in Up Pompeii!,prophets of doom in their grim platoons are busily forecasting the worst of all possible worlds as we stumble towards an inglorious end to the European dream.
Without a Brexit deal and the benevolent umbrella of Brussels we’d be left entirely unprotected in the coming storm, they tell us. Our already shambolic ports will collapse further into chaos.
Kent will become the world’s busiest lorry park as mile upon mile of freight vehicles grind into gridlock. The pound will plummet. Food prices will rise. Unemployment will soar. Outside the EU we’ll be poorer and more miserable. Can a plague of frogs be long delayed?
Bear with me a moment. I don’t mean to make light of the difficulties that will inevitably confront us in the event of no deal. I would have been the first to cheer if any kind of rational, sensible arrangement could have been reached with our European neighbours.
However, as we’ve seen again and again, rationality and common sense are of little account in an EU that seems more interested in punishing Britain than in reaching a decent accommodation.
Take the quite bizarre decision – taken at the beginning of negotiations – to cut Britain out of elements in the Galileo project, which aims to launch a network of European satellites. Despite the fact that this country developed and paid for much of the technology, our “partners” suddenly decided that we shouldn’t have access to some “need to know” information.
So what, you might think. Sounds a bit technical, no? But consider this. Britain is one of the most capable military powers in Europe. Our ability to respond to any external threat is of huge importance, not only to us but to our neighbours. It helps to preserve the peace. So does our access to satellite encryption. Yet power brokers in Brussels are quite prepared to undermine the security of the people they supposedly represent, in order to give Britain a black eye.
And of course it doesn’t stop there. EU negotiators pretend to believe that, once outside the EU, Britain will slash environmental standards, subsidise industry to the hilt and do our best to undermine the responsible. eco-friendly Europeans.
The hypocrisy over the so-called level playing field is quite breathtaking. Britain is arguably – but certainly I believe – miles ahead of Europe in protecting the environment and maintaining decent social standards. We have a higher minimum wage than most of our EU partners. Maternity leave is better here. We have cut our carbon emissions by far more that the EU average. We don’t spend anything like as much as France in subsidising industries.
And animal welfare? For years this country has led the way in trying to ban the cruel export of live animals. When the port of Ramsgate and Thanet Council tried to stop this appalling trade in 2014, the High Court ruled that a ban was illegal under European law. MEPs finally set up an inquiry commission earlier this year to look at allegations of systematic undermining of EU live animal trade rules.
While the EU lectures us on the evils of subsidies, it blithely proposes to spend €750bn (£690bn) to stimulate the economy after the coronavirus pandemic. Apparently this won’t be covered by the subsidy rules that apply to Britain. Not only that, but spending by the European Investment Bank won’t count as subsidies either. So it's seemingly one rule for Brussels, quite another for us.
But then, has this ever been a genuine negotiation? Today the EU seriously proposes that Britain should not only adhere to every dot and comma of European law, but be bound by any new laws it cares to pass in future.
What we are witnessing is nothing less than an attempt to reduce Britain to the status of a mere province in a wider European empire. It is a status that no self-respecting country could possibly accept.
So yes, there may be trouble ahead. But we have survived far worse. And after all, we were a free, sovereign and independent nation for a thousand years before we joined the EU. We didn’t do too badly then, did we?
Michael Toner is a journalist and former national newspaper political editor
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