Expert View

EU should pay no attention to Rees-Mogg

by David Hannay | 07.04.2019

David Hannay is a member of the House of Lords and former UK ambassador to the EU and UN.

Theresa May’s bid for another short extension of the Article 50 deadline – until 30 June – should not really surprise anybody. No doubt its principal appeal to its author is that it merely repeats what she asked for last time and thus does not break new and dangerous ground in party terms. It is par for the course from a Prime Minister whose policy making invariably runs on tramlines and who seems to find repetition a virtue. But it does not have anything else to commend it.

From the UK’s own point of view it provides too little time for the thorough re-shaping of our approach to the new relationship with the EU which is so urgently required. It then needs, in due course, to be reflected in a new version of the Political Declaration negotiated with the EU 27, before Parliament should be asked to approve it, as it is required to do by law, in a meaningful vote. It also provides too little time to consult the electorate which is so essential now that the outcome will be so far removed from what was promised by the Brexiters in 2016 (which no doubt makes it attractive to those who oppose such a confirmatory referendum).

From the point of view of the EU 27, 30 June is not only something they have already rejected. It raises the nightmare of an unending series of cliff edge crises; and the absorption of successive meetings of the European Council in Brexit business to the exclusion of everything else, including pressing issues over Eurozone governance, migration, the next budget framework and the appointment of a new leadership team for the EU’s institutions.

It is these other, entirely legitimate preoccupations which seem to be weighing on the minds of those among the EU 27 who hesitate over a longer extension. So far as the day to day running of the EU is concerned, a longer extension should raise no fears. After all it closely replicates for short term budgetary and trade matters what is already provided for in the transitional arrangements contained in the Withdrawal Treaty. So are those concerns well founded? With someone like Jacob Rees Mogg urging the government, which he still goes through the motions of supporting, to be as awkward as possible as long as we remain a member, the EU 27 could be forgiven for being concerned.

But, if you look at these non-Brexit issues one by one, there does not seem to be much justified cause for concern. On appointments to the key EU institutions it was already demonstrated the last time round, when David Cameron’s attempt to block Jean-Claude Juncker’s appointment as President of the Commission failed, that no single member state has a veto. On migration, the UK has as much interest as other member states in the EU’s external border controls being made more effective and in illegal economic immigration from the Middle East and Africa being discouraged.

As to the new Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) for the next seven year period beyond 2020, it is realistically unlikely that the key decisions will be taken until well into 2020, probably after the end of any new Article 50 extension. And how likely is it that a UK, about to embark on a very tricky post Brexit negotiation with the EU 27, will infuriate its future negotiating partners by attempting to veto a new MFF? Far more likely it will share the views of many other member states in wanting to increase spending on research and innovation and on external policies designed to protect and promote European interests and values in a troubled world. What to worry about there?

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6 Responses to “EU should pay no attention to Rees-Mogg”

  • There are 650 Mps, R-M and his gang comprise a very small minority of vocal brexiteers. Why the hell does anyone bother to pay any attention to them ? They’re merely looking after No 1.

  • According to what I recently picked up on the Continent, People in Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands are heartily sick of the Brits, owing to the financial burden imposed on them on which they have very little influence to reduce it. Then there is the repetitive and risible show of Brit indecision, which to them detracts from rather more important things. So don’t be surprised when the EU soon refuses to grant any more dithering time and cuts the UK mooring ropes itself.

  • @ Peter vd M
    As someone living in Germany, I wouldn’t characterise the average German as being heartily sick of us Brits. If anything, I encounter bewilderment, and then sympathy.
    Obvioulsy German politicians engage with the situation more closely, but even so, I haven’t yet heard one who wants to just cut us loose, although extreme irritation with us would be an understandable reaction.

    Although it only takes one out of the EU27 to veto, I don’t believe a smaller country would risk a veto as the consequences could be uncomfortable from the rest of the EU members. I think the greater worry is from French politicians. Macron is important enough to flex his muscles over such.

    I think Ireland plays an absolutely key role. They have far more to lose than any other EU country, and I think protecting their interests will be key for the EU, hence the meetings between Varackar with Macron and Merkel last week.

  • Nobody should pay any attention to this insignificant and thoroughly unpleasant throwback to the 19th century.

  • Painful watching Mark Francois finding coverage on main German tv news this evening.
    Luckily the Germans are slightly more relaxed about an EU extension, but if we had government representatives with the calibre of Francois, I think they would they would give us up as a hopeless case.

  • Not much good has come out of the Brexit fiasco, but reading considered opinions like David Hannay’s Recent inputs gives back some of the confidence in Britain’s education and governmental systems which have been sadly undermined by the incompetent and insulting antics of the Johnsons, Moggs, Davis’s, etc.