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Boris fantasises about post-Brexit European summits

by David Hannay | 24.06.2016

In his statement this morning, Boris Johnson said: “I want to reassure everyone Britain will continue to be a great European power, leading discussions on defence and foreign policy and the work that goes on to make our world safer.”

He didn’t expand on the idea but Boris Johnson did tell parliament in March that post-Brexit:

“We would retain the ability to work with our European friends and partners in all the areas of EU cooperation that matter greatly to this country and Europe. On the Common Foreign and Security Policy, or home, justice and criminal affairs, we would remain active partners, but it would all be done at an inter-governmental level.” (Q1351)

Johnson seems to be conjuring up the idea that Britain would still take part in European summits and councils, but without the paraphernalia of the European Commission and European Court of Justice. No doubt that is what we would try to do. But would it work?

Experience shows that the EU and its member states are not prepared to cooperate with third countries on a purely inter-governmental basis, ignoring the institutions which they have set up to coordinate their policies. More often than not they will caucus lengthily amongst themselves before discussing a particular policy issue with a third country.

So, instead of our being a crucial player in shaping and coordinating the policy question from within, as we do now, we would find ourselves faced with a policy already formulated which, give or take a few tweaks, we would then have to accept or reject. That is what is meant by becoming a policy-taker rather than a policy-maker.

For example, when decisions had to be take about the response to Russian action in Ukraine, the EU sanctions package might have been weaker if we had not been in the room toughening it up. We would then either have had to accept that weaker package ourselves or introduce tougher sanctions on our own (or with the Americans) and thus put ourselves at a commercial disadvantage vis-a-vis our main trade competitors. Similar considerations would have applied to the sanctions the EU put on Iran to halt its move towards a nuclear weapons capability.

And then look at home, justice and criminal affairs. There we currently have the right to decide whether or not to opt in to any new piece of EU legislation. As to the existing stock, including measures such as the European Arrest Warrant, parliament decided as recently as 2014, by massive majorities, that it was in the national interest to remain in the 35 main measures.

Switching to bilateral cooperation with other European countries over, for example, extradition would lead to slower, more uncertain and more costly procedures. That would apply both to suspects we want to bring here for trial and to criminals sheltering in Britain who need to be tried abroad. Inter-governmental cooperation would be a lot less effective than the present arrangements. Just ask the police and prosecutors.

Then there’s the politics. Can we be sure that the inevitable bitterness of conducting divorce proceedings would not damage the chances of building up new, inter-governmental procedures for cooperation? Or that our partners would give that task the priority we would wish them to? As so often, those who want to leave the EU have no convincing answers and are asking us to take flight on a wing and a prayer.

This piece was corrected shortly after publication to make clear that Johnson’s remarks were made in March.

A new first paragraph was added on June 24. The piece was originally published on May 3.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

3 Responses to “Boris fantasises about post-Brexit European summits”

  • Please read and apread: article from today “Social housing boost has Brexit warning | Marketmasterclass”. In it it is mentioned that the EU through its infrastructure investment will be giving UK £1 billion aimed at the construction of social housing (something that UK Govts are NOT willing to do). This is proof that despite the UK gives billions to the EU the EU gives back part of it (yes, part of it, OK!!) but in areas critically needed in UK, areas grossly overlooked by UK Govts.

  • Don’t let them take control. We are the 48%. Let those of us who voted Remain refuse to accept that we can be stripped of our European rights and citizenship. We will not stay silent to let lies and hatred win. Let us, the 48%, join together, speak out and take back our country.

  • There is a drip of comments in the public blats to the effect that “the people have spoken” and thus that nothing serious should be done to block Brexit. I disagree fundamentally. We have a constitution – of sorts – and I think it quite reasonable and legitimate for the 48% to use it to fight tooth and nail against Brexit. The current petition with >4M signatures is a brick in the wall.