Earlier today I wrote here that the article by the Brussels correspondent for The Times, Bruno Waterfield, deserved a closer look. His report has the title “EU fears no-deal will lock sides in a Brexit cold war”, and it is of course paywalled. So I’ll quote the relevant passages at length. Waterfield starts off with this attention-grabbing introduction:
“The EU is working on a strategy to avoid a “Brexit cold war” amid fears that relations between Brussels and London could break down completely after a no-deal Brexit.
Many EU countries no longer believe that the UK would come back to the table cap in hand within weeks of a no-deal, which had been the received wisdom, particularly in France.
European governments and diplomats, especially in Germany and the Netherlands, now fear that the acrimony of a no-deal could become a political conflict that drags on for years in a “Brexit cold war”.
EU officials hope that in such a scenario trade talks could act as a bridge to avoid permanently scarring relations. However, there are divisions on what terms and conditions would be left on the negotiating table.
“We need a bridge. We need to avoid both sides hunkering down in their bunkers,” one EU diplomat said.” (link, paywalled)
To us outside the Brussels bubble and indeed the ‘Remain’ Westminster one, a simple solution is in plain sight, namely to scrap the Backstop and start negotiations from there. But as we’ve already seen, this is anathema to M. Barnier. It is interesting though that at least some EU members are starting to think about averting this ‘Brexit cold war’:
“The EU mandate for a “bare bones” trade deal would be based on key parts of the withdrawal agreement and no-deal measures in areas such as aviation and financial services.
The most difficult question is to what degree the Irish backstop, requiring Northern Ireland to be part of the EU’s regulatory structure, remains as drafted in the withdrawal agreement.
“The first question is what would be the bare-bones agreement. It will be a complicated exercise as we will have a tough discussion on the prerequisites for negotiations after Brexit,” a senior European diplomat said. “It would not be mini-deals but the opposite, a single framework for talks to take place.”
Some fear that, in the event of no-deal, the war of words and escalating blame game between Boris Johnson and EU leaders could poison relations for years. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has told friends of her worry that no-deal could create divisions comparable to the Iron Curtain.” (link, paywalled)
Fascinating, isn’t it, how in a roundabout way even Ms Merkel seems to acknowledge that the stonewalling by Barnier in the Brexit negotiations is reminiscent of the negotiating techniques employed by the Soviet Block during those decades past – with the EU playing the role of the Soviets, just as we’ve been saying for some time. Next, Brussels inmates are bringing on various ‘fear memes’:
“Diplomats fear that President Trump would be unable to resist wading in on Britain’s side against his European economic rivals, worsening a global trade war that could tip into a world recession.
Officials on both sides of the Channel are also braced for Russia’s “fake news factories” to work overtime to stir up hostility in Britain and EU states over the economic impact of no-deal, which will be blamed on EU intransigence.
Diplomats also fear that a no-deal Brexit would set off tit-for-tat protectionism that reverses 40 years of trade and economic liberalism. It is thought that the British government would introduce radical measures such as tax breaks for business and subsidies to help industry and farmers, which European governments would come under pressure to match.” (link, paywalled)
If that’s not a ‘reverse Project Fear’, with the two Biggest Beasts – presidents Trump and Putin – as frighteners thrown in for good measure, then I don’t know what is. The next part is even more interesting:
“Fears are also growing that the security and defence relationship with Europe could be questioned as never before, potentially unravelling the western alliance created after the Second World War.” (link, paywalled)
Ah – but surely there’s this fabulous EU Army which we’re not supposed to mention – and the New Juncker, Ms von der Leyen, will certainly support the growth of that Army. Next, leaving out the usual “Ireland won’t like it if there’s no backstop”, here’s the other ‘EU Project Fear’, and it’s about economics:
“France, Ireland, Spain, Italy and others are concerned that Britain will engage in an economic race to the bottom by lowering regulatory standards and giving tax breaks to attract investment away from Europe. Suggestions that the British government will create “Singapore on the Thames” have heightened those fears and hardened positions on the European side.
“There is no shortage of acrimony,” an ambassador said. “I don’t think there will be any circumstances under which there will be anything other than a Brexit cold war.” (link, paywalled)
Johnson did mention ‘free ports’ in his speech in the HoC yesterday, so that fear is not without foundations. But notice well: actually, it’s not the UK which might engage in a race to the economic bottom, it’s the EU. They resent the prospect of an economically prospering UK free of Brussels’ shackles after Brexit., especially given the dire economic situation in Germany.
If the EU insists on their stonewalling, on ‘no negotiations’, then it might indeed come to pass that we’re ‘Out’ on Halloween with No Deal – while they smoulder helplessly inside “Festung EU”.
Time will tell.