EU will be better off without the UK


THERE is something of a mystery to the negotiations going on between Brussels and London over the terms of the UK’s departure from the Union — Brexit. The puzzle is that the rest of the EU is making such a fuss of getting rid of such a difficult member.

The UK has in the past used its veto to frustrate some of the EU’s more beloved schemes. It has certainly stood squarely in the path of plans for a United States of Europe. By refusing to join the European single currency as a founder member it seriously undermined both the spirit and the effect of currency union.

The truth is that the British have spelt trouble for Europe almost from the moment they finally joined in 1972. Yet the irony is that in 1946 in a key speech in Zurich, the British wartime leader Winston Churchill called for a United States of Europe based on reconciliation and a close alliance between France and Germany.

But Churchill was thinking of continental Europe. He said that Britain, the Soviet Union and the USA would guard and foster the new Europe. Churchill was a traditional British imperialist who did not envisage anything more than London’s historic oversight of the balance of power in Europe.

The-then European Economic Community, sprang from 1957 Treaty of Rome signed by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. It was only when the EEC began to prosper without onerous cross-border customs duties that the UK woke up to the commercial advantages of joining. But for the British it was always about trade rather than political integration.

Certainly, though others may have been unsure, the establishment in London saw the advantages of having what it called “a seat” at the EU top table in Brussels. However, popular unease grew when the 1992 Maastricht treaty removed the word “economic” from the Treaty of Rome and then in 2009 the Treaty of Lisbon committed EU countries to ultimate political union. Unlike other EU states, on neither treaty were the British consulted via a referendum. The-then pro-EU Conservative and Labor parties took their return by voters as sufficient proof the electorate backed the changes.

The argument over the amount the UK should be paying and the refusal to consider any new trade deal until London has committed to a financial settlement, agreed the rights of EU citizens in the UK and sorted out a new border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, is actually something of a nonsense. The balance of trade between the EU and UK is heavily in the EU’s favor.

One important reason for the Brussels-led standoff on the Brexit talks is the residual hope that the British may somehow be forced to think again and hold a second referendum as British “remainers” still hope. Premier Theresa May’s government, weakened by her disastrous showing in the snap general election she called this June might well fall.

Yet a new referendum with a “Yes” vote would surely be no less disastrous for the EU. Brussels ought by now to understand that for the sake of its integration ambitions, the EU is far better off without the perverse British. Brexit provides the opportunity to get rid of a seriously disruptive influence, to remove “the awkward squad”.