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Analysis

It’s Brexit not the EU that’s punishing us

by Hugo Dixon | 23.10.2017

Whoever leaked an account of Theresa May’s dinner with Jean-Claude Juncker last week is playing into Brexiters’ hands. The hardliners want to pin the blame for the horrors of Brexit on the EU. Leaking the fact that the prime minister was begging for help, scared, sleep-deprived and can’t even smile plays into their narrative that Brussels is being beastly and just wants to punish us.

Nick Timothy, May’s former chief of staff, was quick to blame Juncker’s chief of staff, Martin Selmayr, for the extensive leak in Germany’s FAZ.  He tweeted: “After constructive Council meeting, Selmayr does this. Reminder that some in Brussels want no deal or a punitive one.”

Selmayr denied the claim, tweeting: “I deny that 1/we leaked this; 2/Juncker ever said this; 3/we are punitive on Brexit. It’s an attempt 2 frame EU side & 2 undermine talks.”

Even before the story appeared, Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, was suggesting that the EU wants to punish us for having the audacity to vote for Brexit.

This is upside down. It’s not the EU that is punishing us for leaving. It is the consequences of Brexit that are punishing.

True, the EU doesn’t want to let us have our cake and eat it. The other countries won’t give us a deal that lets us keep the benefits of EU membership without the obligations. If they did, that would merely encourage all the other countries to quit. But this isn’t punitive; it’s common sense.

The snag is that we are stuck with a terrible choice. Either we keep the benefits and the rules of the club – but without any longer voting on those rules. Or we abandon the club completely but lose its benefits.

There is no way of resolving this dilemma in a good way. That’s why, despite officially telling the EU that she is keen to accelerate the Brexit talks so she can focus on trade, the prime minister wants nothing of the sort. May isn’t even going to have a cabinet discussion on what trade deal to shoot for until next year, because she’s so scared that this would provoke mass resignations, according to The Sun.

The Brexiters are now starting to worry that their pet project will be a disaster. That’s why they are getting in their early shots in the blame game. But when the full ghastly mess of Brexit becomes clear, don’t forget: they promised us the earth during the referendum; they triggered Article 50 without a plan; and they then fought like ferrets in a sack because the prime minister was paralysed and couldn’t figure out what to do.

When the public realises this, we will have a chance to stop this mad escapade. Brussels mustn’t do anything that lets the Brexiters wriggle out of the blame.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe