Boris is currently quite busy in the kitchen; and after tranquil votes in the House, there is little doubt that furnished with his majority, he will now bake the Withdrawal Pie without interference from disruptive chefs – the Benns and Bercows and their like. It will come out of the Westminster oven perfectly cooked and we shall be formally out of the EU at the end of January. And then? To anticipate that moment, now is the time to change the analogy to something less culinary and more martial.
All the nice words about healing and moving on and changing the play from one in which dead Montagues and Capulets litter the stage are good and right and true; but it is already clear that the hard remainiacs will not surrender that easily or gracefully. Hilary Benn has said as much in the House. The Illiberal Anti-democrats have had a hissy fit when the new Speaker didn’t let them re-debate the referendum. Or look at the ‘Today’ programme’s choice of interviewees and, more importantly, listen to its one-sided hectoring, and we know already that its next narrative will be sniping and negative. More ‘project fear’. After three years running riot, the confirmation bias in Remainia is an entrenched habit of mind; they can’t help themselves. Therefore, prepare for fresh attempts to subvert Brexit. Such is their sense of entitlement and of affront.
It was the Duke of Wellington, another general who, like Boris, made his own luck by fighting on chosen terrain that he had in his pocket, who famously observed that “the whole art of war consists of guessing at what is on the other side of the hill.” After Big Ben’s bongs fade away on 31st January, what shall we see on the other side of the next hill? In a word – aggregation.
As entrenched in EU thinking and action as ‘project fear’ and learned helplessness is in British Remainia, is the Monnet (or Brussels) Two Step.
This dance is one of always approaching the objective of federal political union obliquely and of linking everything to everything else so that a victory in a seemingly unrelated area can be used, via EU law, to drag the entire caravan forward. These dance moves are old in origin, and were Jean Monnet’s reaction to the defeat of Aristide Briand’s plan for European political integration that crashed and burned in 1929. The EU side cannot help themselves either: it is in their political DNA. However, acutely aware of the fragility of the entire EU ‘project’ which is now well into the zone of risk of collapse, the van der Leyen Commission of hard federalists is shifting the emphasis. In its ‘one last push’ strategy, it is trying to use aggregation of issues still to obtain obliquely its Brexit goal of injuring and ideally humiliating the UK as we leave.
Surrender to (or active compliance with) this tactic was at the heart of May’s toxic Deal. The deadly automaticity built into the May texts, in the defence and security area notably the infamous May PD Clause 104, has been excised. But be in no doubt that Boris’s people will be faced with joint efforts from the Commission (Barnier) and from rogue elements within the British Civil Service (we know their names), to entangle and to overcomplicate by trying to attach conditions to the straightforward matter of a bare-bones Free Trade Agreement. Indeed, Barnier’s speech to the European Defence Agency on 28 November repays close reading. There he spelled out in detail the EU’s hope to lassoo the UK in defence, security, intelligence, cyber and defence procurement. Having lost other traction because of Boris’s majority, expect them to throw energy into this area. In the New Year, returning to speak at her alma mater, the LSE, during her first visit to Boris, Ursula van der Leyen, was mainly at pains to bare her aggregation teeth with a crocodilian glint – after telling us how much she loved us.
Elements in the Civil Service will almost certainly advocate more entanglement and alignment than is required and will support or advise reflexive deference to EU demands that unrelated conditions – in fishery access, for example, or regulatory ‘ dynamic alignment’ – must be made because an FTA with the EU is more important to the UK than it actually is. Watch out for planned hanky-panky over Northern Ireland: the penny has not yet dropped in some quarters that that game is over.
But the area of greatest concern to me is the one where I sense the greatest willingness to concede something to the EU. Last year revealed that it is the area least well understood in general across Whitehall and Westminster, including among strong Leavers (although that is not true of certain well-informed and strongly Remain MPs). This last became clear in the debate on the Johnson Withdrawal Agreement on 20th December in which Mrs May urged that security concessions should be a ‘consideration’ in forthcoming negotiation. Osborne said much the same in his LBC grumble. But facing the inevitable, and now, rather nauseously, discovering virtues in Brexit and brilliance in Boris, demands for alignment with the EU on security issues are rapidly becoming central to the Rejoiner re-invention. But security is at the very heart of our sovereignty and should have no part in any of these discussions. None whatsoever.
Following the legal, prudent and overdue termination of Qasem Soleimani, the directing genius of the Quds Force – the extra territorial and dirty tricks department of the IRGC – of special danger is the repeated waving of the Obama/EU Iran Nuclear Deal as a virtue signal in BBC coverage. It was always a bad idea and is now, thankfully defunct. Events since the drone strike have shown that the US strategy of maximum force is far more productive of restraint, incomprehensible and distasteful as this may be to the reflexively anti-american world view of Remainia. Therefore of special concern is the Prime Minister’s continuing advocacy of the EU line, no doubt under FCO advice, at a moment when we ought to be swinging in sharply behind the US, both because it is the correct choice in Middle Eastern politics and because it is the correct choice for our national security. Bluntly, the correlation of forces has changed. We have the upper hand and we do not need to humour the EU with unnecessary diplomatic gestures to get what we want. Nor, as van der Leyen’s peculiar speech at the LSE revealed, will it work, anyway.
As we end the unhappy detour of the last forty-seven years do not underestimate the degree to which those within the Remain/Rejoin bubble find all this utterly, mind-bendingly, intolerable. Let us take a pertinent example from within the world of Defence. The Dunne Report of 2018 on defence procurement is most revealing, especially now that we learn that Dominic Cummings has turned his lasers onto this notoriously ill-run area. It provides a clear example of the Remain mind-set which generates reflexive deference to the EU.
Philip Dunne MP suggested rather weirdly that “Brexit offers the opportunity [emphasis added] to consider whether it remains appropriate for Defence to operate as if [emphasis added] the Defence and Security Directive and Article 346 of the Lisbon Treaty continue to apply to defence procurements.”
‘Opportunity? As if the directive continues to apply’? We are leaving the EU. Why on earth would there be any ‘as if’ for any EU directive? Some big defence contractors like BAE, supported by certain senior MoD officials, have lobbied hard for it – these are documented facts. But those are not good reasons. Yet this line is now embedded in Whitehall responses. One, in detail, from the Minister for Defence Procurement to Veterans for Britain on 31 January 2019 pre-figured Barnier’s wording and incorrectly claimed that the UK ‘has secured sufficient guarantees’. We haven’t as I and colleagues have spent last year documenting.
The advice to the Prime Minister is simple. Stick to your guns, Boris, and refuse to allow any such aggregation of unrelated issues. And please align with the US over Iran as the Foreign Secretary is doing.
In the National Security area, the best protection and the strongest signal to the EU not to try this aggregation game, lies in swiftly baking early in the New Year – and ahead of any big review – the ‘oven ready’ Dearlove/Guthrie/Prins draft Defence & Security Treaty now known in higher Whitehall circles, I am glad to learn, as the “Dolce & Gabbana Treaty” after the initials of my two illustrious colleagues, the former Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and former Chief of the Defence Staff. (https://briefingsforbritain.co.uk/treaty-between-the-uk-and-northern-ireland-and-the-european-union-for-defence/)
Our treaty is designed to be protective. It establishes a general opt-out and annulment of all the many adhesions made illegitimately and still active, in breach of the Scrutiny Reserve Act November 1998, between November 2016 and now.
Secondly the Prime Minister needs to press on with FTAs with the USA, other anglosphere countries and around the world. The tables are now turned. So to borrow former President Obama’s lapidary phrase, the EU will be at the back of the queue if it dillies and dallies; and in any event it will be, from next month, in competition with those other deals which are actually more interesting to a global UK.
The voters – the patronised, scorned, ignored and usually silent people of Britain – have now spoken again, since the political bubble disrespected their instruction on 23 June 2016. “Getting Brexit done” means a fundamental and comprehensive reorientation of our national strategy away from the continental commitment of the last half century, back to our natural anglosphere and global alliances, back to the open seas. I do not expect that reorientation to change in my lifetime. Nor does Remainia/Rejoinia. Which is why it will not go quietly and will rage against the dying of its light. On guard!
Professor Gwythian Prins is Emeritus Research Professor at the LSE, is Academic Board member of Veterans for Britain and was a member of the Chief of the Defence Staff’s Strategy Advisory Panel 2010-16