Given the way that our European partners have hitherto sought to conduct negotiations in public -and by megaphone, I had expected the Prime Minister’s speech in Florence to have been comprehensively rubbished by them within minutes of its delivery, as part of their strategy to build more pressure for the next negotiating session.
I am relieved to have been proved wrong, and the fact that I was wrong indicates that the negotiations might now proceed with a fairer wind. President Macron’s demand for more detail will be accommodated, but in the proper forum: at the negotiating table.
I had also expected to be deluged with vituperative emails from the Zealots among my constituents, incandescent about delay and betrayal. I am glad that I was wrong about that too: I have had only three. Which is just one quarter of the number of constituents who, in the same time window, have emailed asking me to write to the Secretary of State for Defence about the massacre of songbirds on UK bases in Cyprus. We may have been divided on the European question but at least we remain a nation of animal lovers.
I understand the frustration of the three correspondents however, who have written demanding no delay or transition, and in favour of a completely clean break unconstrained by any agreements or continued expense. I have never believed that leaving the EU without agreement would be the catastrophe that many commentators predict. Their predictions of disaster are merely an extension of the project fear they deployed during the referendum campaign, they have merely moved the goal posts.
Were we to leave without agreement we would continue to trade with the EU on the basis of World Trade Organisation rules, which are the rules which already govern the greater part of our trade, which has always been outside the EU. Indeed, the release from the EU common external tariff would provide a huge boost to that trade. Furthermore, some countries outside the EU trade with it rather more successfully on World Trade Organisation rules, than we have managed to do so from within the EU internal market.
Clearly, a two year transition period announced in the Florence speech delays all the economic advantages that many of us believe would accrue from our departure.
I have campaigned for 42 years to leave the EU, I can live with a further two years to reach that goal.
Whilst I remain sanguine about leaving without agreement, nevertheless I believe that there remains an advantageous agreement to be had. The imposition of tariffs and customs restrictions on our EU trade certainly won’t be to our advantage, especially in those enterprises where overseas investment in the UK was based on free access to European markets.
We simply have to be hard headed in the negotiations about the balance of advantage in terms of savings from freer trade, weighed against the bill we are expected to pay for it.
What my 3 correspondents ignore is the changed reality arising from the outcome of the election in June: a government without a parliamentary majority.