Those local election results
Let’s be honest. On the face of it, we in UKIP don’t have a lot to celebrate after a more-or-less wipe-out on May 4th. But let me first of all thank all our candidates and activists who fought the good fight even as the tide turned against them. And let’s also take pride at what we’ve achieved. As I Tweeted the next day, “Without UKIP, we wouldn’t have had a referendum; we wouldn’t have won the referendum; and the Tory Party would never have backed Brexit”. The Tweet seems to have touched a nerve: last time I checked, it had achieved 110,000 impressions on 791 re-Tweets.
In fact, apart from the Conservatives, no political party covered itself in glory in these elections. And why did the Tories do so well? Because they had taken over a huge raft of UKIP policies. The EU and Brexit. Immigration. Even grammar schools and (to an extent) a reduction of green subsidies.
The future of UKIP (and I was pleased to hear Nigel express this point of view after I had expressed it on BBC Look North Leeds — about 44 minutes in) depends very much on how the government handles Brexit. If Theresa May, on the back of the new majority she will probably get in June, actually delivers a quick, clean Brexit, then we’ll have a struggle on our hands.
But will she do that? She’s already back-tracking in the ECHR – so we’ll be unable to deport foreign terrorists and rapists. She’s appointing remainers as candidates in winnable seats for the General Election in June. She’s talking in terms of a “transition period”, which suggests a very soft Brexit indeed. And we know what weight to give to her promises on immigration, after her time as Home Secretary. Watch this space.
Commission’s lawyers: “The Brexit bill is unenforceable”
It is reported that the European Commission’s own lawyers advised them some time ago that the demands for a Brexit Bill of €50bn (or €60bn or €100bn) is simply unenforceable. Of course a House of Lords Committee had also reached thesame conclusion. But it’s a turn-up for the book when the Commission’s own lawyers take the same view. It utterly undermines the Juncker/Barnier/Tusk negotiating position.
There’s more. The reports say that if the EU does what it wants to do – which is to identify obligations on Britain while ignoring obligations on the EU (such as the return of our share of EU assets), then this would justify the UK in simply walking away, on the grounds that the EU was not abiding by its own rules. This suggests two things. First, Brussels takes seriously the possibility of our walking away. And second, they’re scared witless that we might. If we do, there’ll be a huge black hole in their accounts. And they’ll have ruined relations with their largest export customer. Theresa May has an extraordinarily strong hand, if only she has the guts to use it.
One more Tweet from the last few days: “Memo to Juncker & Barnier: Understand that the UK has chosen to be an independent country. We will not be treated as a renegade province”. It got less mileage than the first Tweet I mentioned, but it’s still at over 19,000 impressions.
May goes to war with Brussels
“May goes to war with Brussels” screams the Guardian on May 4th – following the Prime Minister’s robust speech the previous day. But it would be fairer to say that Brussels has gone to war with Theresa May – and with the UK as a whole. It was clearly Juncker (or those close to him) who initiated the damaging leaks about the Downing Street dinner. And again the objective was clear. Brussels has repeatedly insisted that the size of May’s parliamentary majority is not a factor in the negotiations, yet their actions tell a different story. They are rattled. And they clearly believe that by undermining May in the current General Election Campaign, they will weaken her – and so weaken Britain in the forthcoming negotiations.
We in the West were alarmed when the story spread that the Russians had interfered in the US Presidential election. We seemed much less alarmed when President Obama openly interfered in the British Brexit referendum – though some saw it as a massive breach of diplomatic protocol. But Brussels, abandoning its own principles, is interfering in the democratic processes of member states on an industrial scale.
They have contrived to remove elected Prime Ministers in Italy and Greece, replacing them with safe Brussels placemen. They have quite openly engaged in the French Presidential election, backing their man Macron and vilifying Le Pen (note to the BBC: you call Le Pen “far right”, but her brand of dirigisme, protectionism and corporatism looks to me more like far-left). And now they are trying to undermine a popular Prime Minister at a critical time in the UK. They seem to understand nothing about the British temperament. Their actions are counterproductive, and will simply strengthen May’s campaign.
Signs of panic
The tactic is to make extravagant demands, to create the impression that Brussels has the whip hand. Nothing could be further from the truth. In a rare moment of candour Michel Barnier admitted that the EU could face “explosive” problems without the vast sums demanded of Britain.
In fact I see a split emerging between the bureaucrats, Juncker/Barnier/Verhofstadt, who are terrified of losing Britain’s contributions and are stridently demanding we keep paying, and on the other hand national/regional politicians and industrialists fearful of the potential damage to trade and jobs unless a free trade deal is reached fast. Angela Merkel is talking tough ahead of the German elections. We can expect a new attitude afterwards.
We must be prepared to walk away
Cameron’s so-called “renegotiation” failed because Brussels knew he had no fall-back position (they thought they’d handled the issue very successfully until they saw the referendum result). A good Brexit deal for the UK depends fundamentally on having a genuine and credible fall-back position. Fortunately we have one. It’s called WTO terms. Less good than a free trade deal, perhaps, but still perfectly workable, as a new study from Civitas confirms. Entitled “It’s quite OK to walk away“, its detailed analysis shows that the vaunted benefits of the “Single Market” are less than we’d hoped, while the opportunities under WTO terms are considerable.
Of course the obvious fall-back position is the WTO option, which has received a bad press. It’s widely described as “crashing out” or “a cliff-edge”. It’s no such thing. As Roger Bootle writes in the Telegraph, it’s the basis on which we trade with the USA and many other countries. Maybe we should stop referring to “the WTO option”, and speak instead of “the American option”. Much less scary.
Theresa May should let it be known that her government is actively planning for the American option. That will give Juncker and Barnier food for thought. And a few sleepless nights.