Andrew Neil’s interview of French MEP Natalie Loiseau brought back fond memories of the past three-odd years, marked by the worst mess in British politics since the Stuart interregnum.
The mess was caused by our vacillation ably assisted by the EU’s perfidy. The former component seems to be abating, but by the looks of it the latter one shows no such sign.
For Mme Loiseau clearly enunciated the EU stand on any possible trade relations with a post-Brexit UK. This stand rests on an immovable foundation: EU functionaries know that anything less than a disaster for Britain will spell more than a disaster for the EU.
Should Britain make an economic success of it (every other kind has already been achieved by the sheer act of leaving), the EU may suffer a domino effect. Other countries, previously prepared to trade sovereignty for prosperity, will realise they’re getting a raw deal.
They’ll feel they could regain sovereignty and gain prosperity in one fell swoop, by following Britain out. A few years of that and the EU will be reduced to a single Franco-German state, called Allemance or Francmagne or perhaps the Fourth Reich.
Whenever Mr Neil cited any facts and statistics, Mme Loiseau responded with the air of wounded superciliousness so characteristic of the French political class: “I am surprised zat a journalist doesn’t know zis…”
In that spirit, she maintained that the EU accounts for most of Britain’s foreign trade. Actually, replied Mr Neil pedantically, it’s only 45 per cent. Mme Loiseau didn’t say that 45 per cent means most if the EU says it does, but her expression conveyed that very message.
Yet the argument wasn’t really about statistics. The EU, the ventriloquist to this woman’s dummy, wants Britain to obey all its social, environmental, economic and legal diktats, while no longer having even 1/28 of a say in how those diktats come about.
She calls it a “level playing field”. I’d call it bullying, which is one of the reasons we left that political contrivance in the first place.
The EU, like any other political contrivance, kneads political terminology (along with facts and figures) with a dexterity normally found only at Korean massage parlours. The meaning of the terms they use depends solely on expediency and often has nothing to do with exact semantics.
In this case, the “level playing field” Britain is expected to dredge as a pre-condition for free trade means we should accept all the stifling, stultifying regulations that are successfully driving EU economies into recession. And, should disputes arise, they must be settled by the European Court of Justice.
Mr Neil couldn’t understand why, say, Canada can have a trade deal with the EU without satisfying such tyrannical demands, and we can’t. The pundit was being slightly disingenuous there.
He knows perfectly well that the EU defines free trade in ways that would have confounded Ricardo or Guizot. It insists that any, even supposedly independent, country wishing to trade freely with the EU must obey every EU law.
This condition is applied arbitrarily: Britain is supposed to toe the line, while, as Mr Neil pointed out, Canada isn’t. Mme Loiseau responded with her normal “I’m surprised zat…” petulance.
First, she said that Canada doesn’t have a free-trade deal with the EU, to which Mr Neil responded with the datum that 98 per cent of trade between Canada and the EU is duty-free. Having been caught out, Mme Loiseau made a startling geographical discovery.
Britain, she explained, isn’t Canada. For once she said something so blindingly obvious that one wonders why that observation had to be made. Mme Loiseau happily clarified:
Canada wanted a trade deal because she wanted to associate herself with the EU, while Britain wants one for the purpose of dissociation. That sounded as if Canada was about to apply for EU membership, while Britain wanted to use trade as an act of war.
No doubt that kind of drivel makes sense to EU fanatics, but it bemused Mr Neil. One can understand his predicament: it’s possible to reply sensibly only to a sensible statement. Instead of waiting for crazy actions to follow crazy words, it’s best just to walk away.
But duty called, and Mr Neil didn’t walk away. Instead he briefly outlined the economic and social problems besetting the EU in general and France in particular.
He even had the gall to mention the strikes paralysing France – only for Mme Loiseau to cut him off in mid-sentence. She was surprised zat a journalist could be so ignorant as not to know zat ze strikes had ended.
Quite, said Mr Neil. But they persisted for two months, following in the wake of the year-long gilets jaunes revolt. So, considering the economic plight of France, Germany, Italy and so on, could the EU afford to risk a trade war with Britain?
Mme Loiseau performed a Gallic shrug meaning the question was irrelevant. If Mr Neil thought zat zere would be no consequences after Brexit, he was sorely mistaken.
In other words, the EU is ready to cut off its nose to spite its face if that’s what it takes to make a point pour encourager les autres. That was predictable, for reasons I outline earlier.
Its mendacious protestations apart, the EU is a political, not economic, construct. Hence politics will always trump economics.
I hope Boris Johnson has the guts (he certainly has the parliamentary majority) to up the stakes. He should announce that, if the EU wishes to play that kind of stacked game, we hold some of the aces.
Britain could turn herself into a haven for foreign business and capital, a sort of larger version of Jersey, by loosening regulations, cutting taxes across the board and pursuing free-trade agreements with the rest of the world.
When all those Volkswagens, BNPs and Enis scream bloody murder, and France’s youth unemployment grows beyond the present, already catastrophic, 21 per cent, one wonders if Mme Loiseau and her ilk will remain deaf.
If they do, they may be reminded yet again that France hasn’t exactly lived down her DNA of a revolutionary republic. But not to worry: I doubt our government is capable of playing so tough. Pity.