After several years of painful negotiation with UK ministers, you might think that Michel Barnier – like so many of us – would be happy never to talk about Brexit again.
Yet three years after the UK formally left the bloc, the EU’s chief negotiator was back in London this week to discuss EU-UK relations, advocate a defence and security partnership between London and Brussels, and note that “the door on the EU side will remain open any time”.
Even in their anniversary week, Brexit’s staunchest supporters have been in a defensive mood. The standard line now trotted out by Brexiteers is that UK ministers have made a horrible mess of leaving the EU, but that leaving was still worth it.
‘We are useless but they (the EU) are terrible,’ was the argument of Allister Heath, chief prophet of doom in the Daily Telegraph, concluding with ‘Je ne Bregrette rien’.
It is a measure of the state of intellectual poverty of the UK’s Conservative party and eurosceptic elites that this is the best they can come with.
Elsewhere, this week also saw the unlikely spectacle of Boris Johnson – remember him? – who is now marketing himself as the UK’s unofficial Ukraine envoy, calling for Ukraine to join the EU and NATO as soon as possible. Apparently, the loss of sovereignty involved in UK membership of the EU does not apply to Kyiv.
However, before the UK’s Rejoiners celebrate, Barnier had a warning for them.
“It’s not the EU that you left”, he said.
It’s worth taking heed of this. Since 2020, the EU has agreed a €700 billion post-COVID recovery fund financed by debt that, eventually, the EU27 will be jointly liable for. Defence policy is becoming increasingly harmonised and, as the momentum towards treaty reform that would scrap national vetoes on foreign policy has largely evaporated, the direction of travel is towards more political integration, not less.
Besides, rejoining an organisation that you recently left so acrimoniously is not an easy task. It’s hard to imagine that the EU would agree to the opt-outs that the UK had on justice and home affairs and euro membership, plus the billions of euros from its annual budget rebate. Without these opt-outs, particularly on the euro and the rebate, support for rejoining the EU would drop like a stone.
Opinion polls suggest a hefty majority of Britons think that leaving the EU was a mistake that has left the country economically and politically weaker. But it would be a mistake to conflate this with popular support for rejoining.
The EU paradise lost – in Remainers’ eyes – is no longer on the menu.
French politicians and industrialists widely welcomed the European Commission’s newly announced ‘Green Deal Industrial Plan’ to challenge the US and China’s clean subsidy push but are hoping for upcoming discussions to lay out specifics on funding.
The Irish government is “grateful and somewhat surprised” that the European Commission did not reject their draft regulation for health warning labels on alcohol, despite renewed attempts by other member states to block the proposal.
And finally, don’t forget to check out our Agrifood Brief: The cows’ days are over and Tech Brief: EUCS options, ‘fair share’ questionnaire.
Look out for…
- Commissioner Mariya Gabriel in Vilnius on official visit on Monday.
- Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni meets with Europea Parliament President Roberta Metsola.
- General Affairs Council.
Views are the author’s
[Edited by Alice Taylor/Nathalie Weatherald]