‘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.