When Boris Johnson was foreign secretary, he was admonished for accusing the EU of wanting to administer ‘punishment beatings’ to Britain for its temerity in wanting to leave the EU. In the months since it has become clear just how apt his description was. At every turn, the EU has acted with one aim in mind: to try to ensure that Britain suffers from exiting the EU, in order to deter other member states from contemplating leaving the bloc.
Today’s memo from the EU, laying out the plans for what would happen in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit is a case in point. It is hard, reading this document, to reconcile it with the EU’s claim to be an organisation which promotes free trade and free movement of people and goods. After a no-deal Brexit, it says, it would only guarantee ‘basic connectivity’ of transport links – i.e. those demanded by international agreements such as the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Transport. Road hauliers from the UK, it says, will temporarily be allowed to carry goods to the EU, but only until 31 December 2019. UK-registered airlines will be allowed to operate point-to-point flights from the UK to EU airports, but only until 30 March 2020 – and they won’t be allowed to take passengers between EU airports. Bus operators would be allowed to run services but only on an occasional basis – not scheduled services. UK train-drivers will not be allowed to drive trains in the EU – so Eurostar trains will presumably have to employ EU drivers or else halt at Folkestone so that British drivers can be replaced. Banks will no longer be able to provide payment services in EU countries – although it does concede that internationally-recognised credit and debit cards will continue to be used, albeit without EU caps in fees charged.
The biggest nasty of all, though, concerns Gibraltar. The document simply states that the contingency measures “will not apply to Gibraltar” – pretty well suggesting that the EU will turn a blind eye if Spain attempts to close the border – something it has, after all, attempted to do even during the UK’s membership of the EU. Never mind the EU, it is questionable whether this would be legal under international law – and certainly won’t help the many Spaniards who work in Gibraltar.
Remainers will no doubt be seizing on the EU’s plans, saying 'We told you so' and using it as yet more evidence that Britain should not, under any circumstances, embark on a ‘no deal’ Brexit. But they should pause before they do. They should ask themselves what this memo tells us about the EU. Far from promoting world trade and free movement, the EU has allowed itself to develop a fortress mentality. It seeks to become a single, federal state, but one which is pretty well fenced off from the rest of the world. It is that mentality which Brexit should give us the chance to escape.