‘This is not about punishing Great Britain,’ declared Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s interim foreign secretary, on his recent visit to London. I fell about laughing, because this is precisely what’s going on. It is as obvious to us Germans as it is to the Brits: the EU cannot tolerate the thought of a successful United Kingdom outside the Brussels sphere of influence because, if that were allowed to happen, others might dare to start thinking about leaving the club too.Everything we hear from Brussels flows from this. The EU presents itself as a champion of free trade, especially when its leaders are attacking Donald Trump, yet it does all it can to slow down, complicate and generally frustrate a free trade deal with the UK, the world’s fifth-largest economy. It talks as if keeping open borders with Britain is a great gift from the EU, rather than, of course, an arrangement of mutual benefit to consumers of all countries. Would the EU dare to enter trade negotiations in Washington, Tokyo or Beijing and demand payments for allowing access to EU markets? Why does it take this approach with Britain? In Britain, it might seem that the EU embodies the mood of Europe — miffed at Brexit and determined to take a tough line. Don’t be fooled. The EU is unpopular in so much of Europe precisely because it does not speak for the people it purports to represent. The idea of a €100 billion ‘leaving bill’ seems as extortionate in Berlin as it does in Birmingham: why would Britain want to carry on making huge financial transfers to Brussels when these were one of the main reasons for wanting to leave? Quite apart from anything else, a British government which agreed to such an outrageous bill would surely be neglecting its fiduciary duties to its people.