All eyes in Europe are on this week’s elections to the European Parliament, surprisingly (and shockingly) enough still also including the UK – where the Brexit Party now finds itself at 35% in the polls, followed not by Labour (15%) or the Conservatives (9%), but the Liberal Democrats at 16%. But while you Brits may well see the European elections as a vote on whether or not Brexit was the right decision – with the MEPs elected not present in Brussels for very long, we presume – for other Europeans, the elections present more of a vote on the future of the European Union itself.

Dubbed by the media as the “battle for Europe” – a slight overdramatisation – the elections will nonetheless provide a sign of where the EU will head in future years. Will it pursue the path of “ever closer union” or revert back to less integration? Or will it continue to follow the path it has in recent years (and decades): the one of a little more integration, but not too much; the one of compromise, which often ends up in half-baked solutions that maybe would have been better not pursued in the first place (like the euro, for example)?

While many might hope for clarity, it is highly unlikely that the election results will show any clear winner, as the European Parliament is set to see a drastic fragmentation. The “Grand Coalition” between the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) – both of which are staunchly pro-EU and have ruled EU politics together for decades – will most likely lose its majority. Politico predicts that the EPP will lose 48 seats and the S&D 49 seats, meaning that the projected haul of 315 seats shared by these two mainstream establishment groups would leave them well short of a majority in the 751-seat parliament.

They will thus need help in order both to stay in power and also to decide who will succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission, whether that be Manfred Weber from the EPP or Frans Timmermans from the S&D (or someone else entirely). This help might come from the Greens (with a projected 54 seats) or Emmanuel Macron, whose En Marche will most likely team up with Guy Verhofstadt’s ALDE (expected to come in at 104 seats) and could be the kingmaker in any attempt to achieve a majority.

The biggest question, of course, is how well the variety of parties – both savoury and unsavoury – on the right of the political spectrum will do. Over 250 seats could go to parties and movements sceptical of the EU in its current form (although the number will decrease when the UK leaves), which would be a major jump for the so-called “right-wing populists”. Whether those 250 MEPs could come together in a single group – which would be the biggest in the parliament – remains to be seen although, frankly, it is very doubtful. In their currently fragmented form, it is unlikely they will wield much power or say over decision-making processes.

It is clear, however, that a strong showing from these parties will cement “populist” forces as an established part of European politics. With a group of heads of state in the Council around Matteo Salvini and Viktor Orbán, they will, I predict, play a major role in the years to come. So how will the establishment parties respond to these new and emboldened adversaries? Will they nonetheless continue to argue for more EU and thus alienate even more Europeans? Or will they be ready to change and to reform the European Union to build a more decentralised, democratic, and free Europe?

The Brexit vote of 2016 should have sparked such a change. Instead, europhiles doubled down on their ideas. Will they now use the second chance they will be afforded by a strong showing of eurosceptics later this week to have a rethink? It will be fascinating to see how they react in the coming weeks and months.

The post These European elections pose a greater challenge to the Brussels establishment than Brexit appeared first on BrexitCentral.

Would anybody have predicted the catastrophe that has been Theresa May’s premiership? Standing outside Downing Street during her first speech as Prime Minister, many – including me – were excited about the prospect of her leadership. She was a Remainer, yes, but I understood why that had happened at the time. She was well-liked, a ‘unifier’, someone who was fairly silent during the referendum and was careful not to polarise herself on either side of the debate.

Promising to tackle the “burning inequalities” within our society and deliver Brexit, many were duped into thinking that after David Cameron’s sudden departure, the Tories would continue to offer up political and economic stability, whilst steering us out of the European Union on the mandate that was given to them on 23rd June 2016.

Oh, how wrong I and many others were. Fast forward to 2019, and not only have we still not left the EU (despite the repeated empty assurances by May), but we are even further from any kind of consensus. The Conservative Government has resorted to begging Labour to get any semblance of Brexit through Parliament in order to save May’s failing premiership, even if it means betraying 17.4 million people voters by signing up to a customs union that ‘doesn’t sound like a customs union’.

The glittery ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ soundbite was only said ‘in abstract’, apparently. It’s clear that the Prime Minister had no intention of honouring that pledge at all. In her world, we either force through her soft Remain deal or get nothing at all. Looking back at all of her bravado three years ago and continuing today, it is clear that this Prime Minister is the mistress of hyperbole and dishonesty.

Unsurprisingly, the appetite for Theresa May to leave has grown greater than ever. Conservative activists are planning to issue a vote of no confidence in her and the 1922 committee are hot on her heels – yet she continues to cling on. She just won’t get the message. It seems she is completely adverse to any sort of criticism of her handling of the Brexit negotiations, despite the fact that damning evidence against her mounts more and more each day.

Guy Verhofstadt told the BBC documentary Brexit: Behind Closed Doors, that May’s Chief EU ‘negotiator’, Olly Robbins, said to him that he’d like to become a Belgian citizen after we left the EU. Anybody else would have been sacked, but not Olly Robbins. Worse still, in this same BBC documentary, a member of Verhofstadt’s team celebrated our surrender by crowing: “We’ve got our first colony!”

Even after the loss of more than 1,300 Conservative councillors at the local elections (surpassing the expectation of 800-1,000 seats being lost), and the 1922 Committee demanding a timetable for her departure, May had the audacity to say: “This isn’t about me”. I think Andrea Jenkyns spoke for all of us when she wondered of the Prime Minister in the House of Commons last week: ‘Why she won’t leave?’ More and more people are asking this question, and any authority the Prime Minister used to command has disintegrated. The truth is that May’s intransigence has got nothing to do with what’s good for the country or ‘delivering on the will of the people’.

Her contesting the vote of confidence in her leadership, us participating in the European election and our departure being delayed until 31st October is not about the country. This is about what’s best for May and what’s left of her political legacy. In her mind, if she can just get Brexit out of the way in the softest way possible, she can then fully embrace her domestic agenda without being plagued by Brexit and save her political career.

One failure after another, May is seemingly impeccable at worming her way out of any difficult situation by threatening the prospect of Labour, or demonising those in opposition to her agenda, all to fulfil the end of convincing us her ‘deal’ is Brexit. Only time will tell where this disastrous road ends, potentially damaging the reputation and morale of the Conservative Party irreparably.

The post How wrong we were to trust Theresa May to deliver Brexit appeared first on BrexitCentral.

Last Wednesday and Thursday evening, BBC4 screened two episodes of an absolutely extraordinary documentary, Storyville – Brexit: Behind Closed Doors. This “fly on the wall” programme, involved a camera team spending over two years following Guy Verhofstadt MEP, the European Parliament’s Brexit Co-ordinator, during the twists and turns of Brexit, from the aftermath of the moving of Article 50 by the House of Commons through to the so called “Meaningful Vote 3” (MV3) of a few weeks ago.

This really was a “warts and all” documentary, which has now gone viral on the internet and some of the footage, to British eyes at least, is absolutely shocking.

Throughout the programme, EU politicians – led by Verhofstadt and his team of staffers – were seen repeatedly swearing at the television when watching events in the UK, including calling the Prime Minister “insane” and generally abusing any British politician who sought to question the EU’s version of how Brexit should take place.

In one particularly telling passage, my parliamentary colleague and fellow Eurosceptic, Andrew Rosindell, was filmed attempting to explain to Mr Verhofstadt and his staff why Britain had voted to Leave the EU. Once he had gone, his Irish Chief of Staff said, on camera:

“You really f****d him over. I love it when you f**k over a Tory!”

How can it be, that our so called ‘EU partners’ can treat our elected representatives – and by inference the British people – with such utter contempt?

Perhaps I can help offer an explanation, based on my experience as the Conservative Party’s Shadow Europe Minister between 2007 and 2010. In those three years, reporting to the then Shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, I spent a considerable amount of time travelling around the EU and interacting with those in the European institutions, such as the European Commission and the European Parliament. This taught me a number of things but, more than anything, it brought home to me that the desire to form a federal European state – often referred to by its advocates as “the Project” – is almost an act of religious faith among some politicians on the continent, such that absolutely nothing and no-one may be allowed to stand in its way.

For these people, such as President Macron of France but other European leaders too (and certainly the political elites in their countries), what the British did in voting to leave the European Union in 2016, was, therefore, simply unforgivable. We rejected “the Project” and thus committed an utterly heretical act. This was apostasy – and as such, in their view – we deserve everything we get.

This was absolutely plain for all to see from the sheer derision with which the British were treated throughout the two hours of footage. On one occasion – incredibly, bearing in mind he was on camera – one of Verhofstadt’s staffers, exclaimed on hearing that we had agreed to the 585-page so-called “Withdrawal Agreement”, that “We have made them a colony!”. The sheer joy that was evidenced on the faces of the European negotiators when it became apparent that we had acceded to the “Withdrawal Agreement” tells you everything you need to know about why they regarded it as a clear victory over Britain.

Again and again throughout the documentary, the UK’s negotiating tactics are derided by their interlocutors, including the EU’s Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier. The Prime Minister and her team are repeatedly disrespected and only on one occasion – when Dominic Raab took over as the Brexit Secretary – did any of the Europeans appear to believe that we had started to resist. Tellingly, Mr Barnier is quoted when describing Mr Raab to his colleagues as saying:

“He comes every week. This may cause, and I am saying this cautiously, coordination problems with the British negotiating team, where clearly they were in the habit of doing things differently.”

Simply translated, I take this to mean “This guy is not malleable, unlike all the others.”

This also highlights how badly the British side negotiated and how willing we were to give in to the EU’s demands. At one point Guy Verhofstadt even jokes of Olly Robbins, the unelected senior civil servant and UK chief negotiator (and close confidant of Theresa May):

“Olly has said that when all of this is over he may need to apply for a Belgian passport!”

From my own point of view, I would be more than happy to write to Belgium’s Interior Minister at any time to ask him to facilitate Mr Robbins’ application as fast as possible – such an utter disaster has he been in attempting to represent the British national interest.

Verhofstadt and his highly self-satisfied team are then filmed watching the result of the first Meaningful Vote in Parliament in January 2019. When the “Withdrawal Agreement” was defeated by 230 votes (the largest defeat in parliamentary history as it turns out), their disappointment is palpable. The pattern is repeated for MV2 and MV3 – by which time Verhofstadt cannot bear to watch, as he has clearly realised what is going to happen.

I have never doubted that I was right to vote against the “Withdrawal Agreement”, but this dramatic insight only confirmed my deep conviction that we were fighting a surrender to the European Union all along. Indeed, Martin Selmayr, the Secretary General of the European Commission said some time ago (although not in the programme) that “Losing Northern Ireland was the price the UK would pay for Brexit”. It seems on reflection the House of Commons was not prepared to pay this price – and rightly so.

One other thing struck me when I watched the programme – as a patriotic Brit – which was that I could not help but be angered by the sheer arrogance of the people on camera and the utter disdain that they had for our country and its people. I was discussing this only yesterday with a TV producer who is a self-declared Remainer but who told me, in her own words:

“I have always been pro-EU and I gladly voted Remain, but when I saw that documentary all I could think was – how dare you talk about us like that, f**k you!”

As a media expert, she also volunteered that these people were not in any way self-conscious about being filmed – because they clearly thought that they were doing nothing wrong.

Perhaps the best quote from the EU side, although admittedly it did not feature in the programme, was when the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier said some months ago:

“I’ll have done my job if, in the end, the deal is so tough on the British that they would prefer to stay in the EU.”

In summary, for all our sakes, I would urge every MP and indeed everyone who is thinking of casting a vote in the European Elections on 23rd May (which I hope will be as many people as possible) to watch this programme before deciding how to cast their ballot.

The European elite have completely given themselves away – on camera – and proven once and for all via this programme that 17.4 million people were right all along.

You can watch the documentary via the BBC iPlayer: part one is here and part two is here.

The post BBC4’s Brexit documentary should be compulsory viewing before voting in the European election appeared first on BrexitCentral.

It’s happening again. Have you noticed? The slurs. The smears. The tropes. With the phenomenal and unprecedented emergence of the Brexit Party (complete with election-topping poll predictions) Labour, the Conservatives and their faithful ambassadors in the media have gone on the attack.

Andrew Marr’s cringeworthy interview with Nigel Farage on Sunday revealed that the BBC research team spent licence fee-payers’ money trawling the archives for any historical statement he’s ever made to get off topic and detract from the debate on the veteran broadcaster’s eponymous political programme.

During a panel discussion for Radio 4’s Westminster Hour on Sunday, I found myself subjected to the usual lazy attacks from Labour insinuating that somehow our quest for autonomy is unsavoury. They did this in 2014 to no effect. They’re using the same strategy again.

The Great Brexit Debate is on rinse and repeat. What Nigel said to Marr about psychologically preparing for a second referendum is right. We need to be ready to go into battle for our beliefs yet again. It is now highly likely that to break the SW1-contrived political deadlock we will have to face some kind of public ballot. The problem with this is that, unless the result swings in favour of ‘Remain’, the cycle will have to be repeated ad nauseam while the status quo continues.

That is why it is time to change tack.

Whether we are forced back into a second referendum or a general election, where the First Past The Post system gives substantial in-built advantages to the two main parties, both will require a leap of faith from a fatigued electorate to ensure the democratic will of the British people is upheld. Much like Liverpool’s epic comeback in the Champions League semi-final last week, what we need is belief. We have to become, as Jürgen Klopp described his team, ‘mentality giants’.

So how do we do this? With positivity.

The more we can frame Brexit with the simple and patently true message of opportunity and agency, the harder it will be for the other side to argue any sort of positive of being involuntarily trapped within a declining and deceptive supranational bloc.

Let Guy Verhofstadt strut. Last week’s Storyville documentary on BBC4 where his staffers celebrate turning the UK into a colony could not be more helpful. If you haven’t watched it, I implore you to do so – part one is here and part two is here.

Challenge Remainers on their choice of Spitzenkandidaten: we are gifted with the fact that the candidates  for European Commission President are currently setting out their respective agendas to be Juncker’s successor. How many Remainers do you think would be able to name even a single candidate for Europe’s top job, let alone outline their agenda to be imposed upon the UK forever? Their argument is that being governed by someone who (i) you can’t name (ii) whose plans you really don’t know, and (iii) who we can’t get rid of is irrelevant. Doesn’t this sound absurd?

Ensure that our youth are aware that Brexit is placing our country’s destiny, and their futures, entirely in their hands. Why the leaders of tomorrow would rather subject themselves to an unknowable future under the architects of the Eurozone crisis – which has caused mass unemployment for a generation of young people in the Mediterranean – is beyond me. Show them that Brexit means they are the sole authors of their own destiny.

Communicate that Brexit is progressive. It means changing the way a stagnated and outdated trading system works. Brussels is a one-stop-shop for big business and big banks to manoeuvre in the corridors of power in the interests of profit, not people. The Customs Union facilitates ongoing exploitation of the developing world, trapping three quarters of the workforce of Sub-Saharan Africa in agrarian toil at the behest of 30,000 corporate lobbyists in Brussels.

Explain that while international cooperation on big issues, such as climate change, is vital, this exists within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol. No need for us to remain a vassal state of the EU. Besides, Brussels’ handling of carbon trading is often cynical and corrupt and shifts the blame onto poorer countries. The UK already does better than our continental neighbours and would continue to do so.

Point out that the UK’s standards on workers’ rights, social protection and animal welfare are already some of the best in Europe and would improve further as our new-found autonomy enables even bolder steps.

Show that continental collaboration in academia and research, such as CERN and Erasmus+, are not beholden to EU membership; the large Hadron collider is in Switzerland and Erasmus+ has 34 member countries and 22 partner countries compared to the 28 member states of the EU. Remind our youth with pride that the UK boasts more of the world’s top 100 universities than the rest of the EU and we will always be not just a desirable research and academic collaborator, but a vital one.

There are so many moral arguments for Brexit. We need to tap into this positivity to capture the zeitgeist and take as many people with us as possible.

Show our countrymen and women that Brexit will enable Britain to become a global exemplar and that it is one of the most fantastic, inspirational and exciting journeys to be on.

The post Let’s challenge the Remainers’ slurs and smears with an unashamedly positive Brexit agenda appeared first on BrexitCentral.

The first part of Brexit: Behind Closed Doors aired on BBC4 last night. The second part airs tonight.

This should be compulsory viewing for all UK citizens, regardless of which side of the Brexit divide they stand. The BBC4 documentary – Brexit: Behind Closed Doors – could not have given a clearer insight into the contempt the EU negotiators have for us in Britain for daring to vote to leave the EU.

This was not a fictional reconstruction of events but an actual fly-on-the-wall account of real conversations and factual behind-the-scenes discussions between the EU negotiators. We are left in no doubt about their determination, from the very beginning, to delay the process as long as possible and thwart any attempt at a successful negotiation for the UK. They mock our negotiating team and ridicule the people of this country.

The programme starts with a telephone conversation between Michel Barnier and Guy Verhofstadt, the chair of the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Committee. Barnier thinks it is a confidential phone call and is unaware that it is being recorded and filmed. Barnier says:

“Frankly speaking, just between the two of us, there’s no justification in discussing the future relationship between the EU and UK in combination with their debts. I’ll tell them tomorrow quite brutally, calmly but clearly, that this is not negotiable.”

Then, following a meeting at No. 10 in the early stages of the process, Guy Verhofstadt speaks openly in the back of a cab: “They’re going nowhere. They are stuck.” They knew from the beginning that all they had to do was exploit the obvious differences that existed at Westminster, to divide and conquer, and the Brexit train could be derailed.

At the first full meeting of the Steering Committee they are seen celebrating, toasting each other with red wine, and joyfully concluding “We are together for two years – yeah. And then the transition period for another three years. At least!” That first meeting set the tone and the agenda for the EU negotiators. They were in no hurry. Delay as long as possible, get the negotiations bogged down in process and conduct a plan of attrition. The debate in Britain would become more fractious and the people of this country would tire of the whole affair.

Did the EU team believe in the early days of the negotiation that the tide would turn perhaps in Britain and we the people would turn on our politicians and begin to question the result of the 2016 referendum? The whole tone and content of this TV programme suggested that this was their intent and purpose.

What surprises me is that the programme was shown at all, and at this crucial time. This was not a revelation of secret material that had come to light five years after Brexit, it was a frank and open declaration of exactly what the EU negotiators think of us now. There is no attempt to hide the disdain they have for our negotiators or our politicians – perhaps because they were unaware that they were being filmed. And they have the nerve to flaunt their views on national television.

The programme ends with two of the EU team revelling in what had been achieved and saying about the UK people, “We got rid of them. We kicked them out. We finally turned them into a colony, and that was our plan from the first moment.”

We don’t need any further evidence. Every MP who is trying to block Brexit should read these words, watch this programme and realise who, and what, it is they are determined to keep us shackled to.

It’s a pity the BBC relegated the programme to BBC4 and didn’t have the courage to show it on BBC1.

The post The BBC’s latest Brexit documentary shows the contempt in which the EU negotiators hold us appeared first on BrexitCentral.

The Chequers proposal had two aims: (1) ensuring frictionless trade and (2) solving the Irish border problem. Its proposal to keep the entire country (not just businesses that trade with the EU) perpetually locked to EU standards in which we have no say, and from which we cannot depart to enable us to agree trade deals with other countries, was totally condemned by both Leavers and Remainers.

The ‘common rule book’ was rejected by the EU for ‘cherry picking’ and undermining the Single Market; and the ‘combined customs territory’ was rejected by the EU which, justifiably, refuses to delegate its tariff collection to a third party. So Chequers was on life-support. The addition of “temporary” all-UK membership of the Customs Union is unacceptable to us without a time-limit and unacceptable to the EU without a backstop-to-the-backstop that could ultimately separate Northern Ireland from the UK. Finally, the idea of an extended transition (that wouldn’t necessarily solve the Irish border problem) has been universally rejected by all wings of the Conservative Party.

Even if Theresa May managed to pile in enough further concessions to solve the Irish border problem (if it really is a problem, not just a political device), that wouldn’t be the basis for a deal unless we were prepared to sign the Withdrawal Agreement and contract to pay £39 billion with no understanding of the nature of any future trading relationship (since Chequers has been rejected by the EU). Not even Mrs May – surely – would do that?

So, fortunately, through her successive and futile concessions to the EU, Mrs May seems to have put the final nail in the coffin of the Chequers plan, and left the way open for a fresh and possibly more sensible approach.

Boris Johnson’s Plan B or Canada+++, or whatever you want to call it, has been dismissed by critics, including Mrs May, as ‘fantasy’ because it does not solve the Irish border problem. Up to now, Mrs May has been able to claim that ‘only my plan can solve the Irish border problem’. That argument is now demolished.

So now a “no-deal” seems increasingly likely. There are some potential upsides: we will save most of £39bn (not all, because legal obligations will be honoured) and be free at once to negotiate Free Trade Agreements around the world. Downsides include the cliff-edge in March 2019 (although the Government is now, belatedly, making serious plans for no-deal); trading with the EU on WTO terms until a free trade deal is agreed with them; potential UK/EU border friction (at Dover, etc); and having to deal with the Irish border.

The exact wording of the backstop agreed in December 2017 was:

“In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.”

As Boris Johnson and David Davis were reportedly told, this wording and the implied definitions were pretty narrow and meaningless, i.e. that “those rules” which apply to goods exported from the UK to the EU across the Irish border must be aligned with EU regulations. That is seemingly obvious… and harmless. There’s not a word about Northern Ireland staying in the Single Market or having to follow the EU rule book for everything. “Those rules”, it says, not “all rules”. What the EU has been demanding is something far beyond what they agreed with the UK last December.

It must be perfectly plain that we will not allow the EU to try to split Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK (any more than they would expect Spain to split off Catalonia or France, Corsica or Normandy).

If there is no deal, the Irish border will still exist, and neither Ireland nor the EU will want to invoke a hard border. Britain certainly won’t. So some kind of pragmatic monitoring/enforcement arrangement would have to be agreed between the respective customs authorities in the event of a no-deal.

By offering one concession after another Mrs May is just manoeuvring herself and us further and further into a tight corner. Much simpler to say “no”, we won’t play your game, it’s no deal.

With no-deal, the EU will have to tolerate what they consider to be an unsatisfactory border arrangement and forgo their £39 billion. Why would they allow their intransigence force us into that situation when they could do a deal under which they tolerate – temporarily – that same unsatisfactory border arrangement and pocket their £39 billion?

So the choice for the EU becomes a simple one: do you want a no-deal-style Irish border arrangement with or without £39 billion?

As to future trading arrangements, Mrs May must be persuaded that the Canada-plus formula offered by the EU is the most favourable for the UK. While entirely frictionless trade would be very nice, the price she is proposing to pay – EU regulations imposed on all UK businesses including the more than 80% that trade only domestically or with non-EU countries; no say in regulations or trading standards or ability to challenge regulations that especially damage British businesses; no ability to innovate; no ability to negotiate trading standards as part of FTAs; cumbersome tariff reclaim procedures – is simply too high as an alternative to accepting some friction but minimising it. When encountering friction, you don’t scrap the machine, you apply oil: trusted-trader status for regular just-in-time supply-chain consignments; number-plate recognition that opens barriers at designated trusted trader lanes. Where is the friction?

Where are the obstacles? There is only one – the need for a firm negotiating stance.

Last Thursday, the same day that we read “Theresa May to trigger full-scale parliamentary no-deal planning ‘within three weeks’”, we read of Guy Verhofstadt brazenly insisting there’s a 0% chance of a deal unless we agree to the EU’s Irish border demands, apparently blind to the consequences to the EU – a no-deal Irish border problem and a £39 billion financial black hole.

On the other hand we have seen Wednesday’s news: “France threatens to block Calais port to the UK if we refuse to pay £39bn divorce bill”. The EU persists in making unjustifiable and unconscionable demands regarding the Irish border, aimed solely at keeping us in the Customs Union and so preventing us from entering into global free trade deals.

Their insistence on their childish game of chicken is getting beyond ridiculous. Is this how intelligent adults behave? Don’t intelligent adults just sit down and agree new feasible cooperative arrangements that will be to their mutual advantage? It’s called an amicable divorce.

The post We must stop playing the EU’s games and be clear we are willing to walk away with no deal appeared first on BrexitCentral.




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