There is nothing like a vote where our elected representatives have to nail their colours to a particular mast to find out exactly what they stand for. Are they with you or against you? Do they represent your views or those of others – do they even represent the national interests of other countries rather than your own?
Such an example happened last week when there was a vote in the European Parliament to consider if Brexit negotiations had progressed far enough on preliminary issues to allow discussions on trade to also commence. Twenty-six British MEPs betrayed the interest of our people by voting against trade talks starting.
Ignoring the language of parliamo-Brussels the question was, has the UK agreed to cough up enough of your hard-earned money to keep those MEPs and their burgeoning entourage in the style of living they are so used to. Oh, and yes, to also keep farmers growing nothing in their fields (called set-aside) or is it sunflowers this year, or rapeseed? Or building those new roads in Albania (not even an EU member yet) while we still haven’t dualled the A9. I could go on with a long list of where your money goes (Scotland sends the EU over £500 million a year more than it gets back) but I think you will get the point.
The Brexit negotiations are like two teams playing different games on the same pitch – one team is playing rugby and the other is playing football – and there’s no referee to sort it out.
The EU is desperate to agree what it terms a “divorce settlement” before it will enter into discussion about trade tariffs and rules – while the UK wants to agree our terms of trade alongside those negotiations on money.
In her Florence speech, Theresa May offered a concession of signalling there could be £20 billion available to smooth the path to a trade agreement, but that is clearly not enough for Brussels. The UK is the EU’s second largest net contributor with payments averaging around £10 billion a year; we also fund other EU budgets that are not included in that figure, such as EU Foreign Aid worth more than a billion a year.
The EU is facing a black hole and yet plans to increase its annual budget by another £15 billion. This is why, for the EU, it’s all about money.
What should the UK do? Well Theresa May did the right thing in seeking to explore if a compromise is possible. The UK taxpayer has no legal or moral obligation to pay anything after we leave the EU in March 2019 beyond what has already been committed.
There are European programmes that we might want to contribute to but these are not linked to trade and are open to countries such as Turkey and Macedonia that are not in the EU. Paying for access to the single market places a burden on everyone through higher general taxation than on the consumers of goods that are imported or exported through specific tariffs. As usual, the poorest end up paying the most through higher VAT or personal taxes.
Ask yourself, if Canada and the EU can have their trade deal without either paying for access to each other’s markets, then why can’t the UK have the same deal with the EU?
Not every country is happy with the EU negotiating approach – the Danish Government has told the EU to stop playing games, fearing “no deal” will damage exports of bacon, butter and cheese to the UK – Denmark’s third largest export market.
By December we should know if the EU is serious about agreeing a deal or no deal. Only by preparing for no deal will the EU see we are serious about making the best of Brexit and might stop playing its game of greed.