Theresa May’s breathtaking claim that the EU is interfering in the general election has moved the Brexit negotiations to a whole new level of confrontation. Those who think that international negotiations on future trade relations are best conducted in an atmosphere of extreme mutual hostility, are nonsensical.
Good deals come from good relationships.
It is also extraordinary that May appears to be staking out her appeal exclusively on UKIP territory. I am quite sure she is following her own, natural, very right wing instincts. But by taking this aggressively right wing position, she is opening up a flank to the Liberal Democrats and severely endangering her prospects in Scotland, where UKIP never achieved anything like the traction it did in England. She also seems to be calculating that the ordinary Brexit voters take an extreme view and would welcome an absolute dust-up with the EU, irrespective of its long term effects on the UK.
Doubtless all of this was comprehensively polled and focus grouped, but I suspect she has miscalculated on a great many levels.
Now let us examine the truth of May’s claims of EU interference in a British election – a very serious charge indeed. These are May’s words today, presumably very carefully considered.
The European Commission’s negotiating stance has hardened. Threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials. All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election which will take place on 8 June.
Let us examine these claims. Firstly she says that the European Commission’s negotiating stance has hardened. But it has not. The European Council has just adopted the negotiating positions, which are precisely the same ones circulated by Donald Tusk before May announced the election. So those positions have not hardened. The Commission has today made plain that the financial settlement and rights for EU residents will have to be broadly settled before trade negotiations start. But again that was precisely their position before the election was announced.
So what has happened since the election was called which is new? Well, the European Council has affirmed that if, in accordance with the provisions of the Good Friday agreement, Ireland were to unite, the expanded Republic of Ireland would remain in the EU. But that is not a “negotiating stance” it is purely a reiteration of the pre-existing legal position in regard to the Good Friday Agreement.
Two things have arguably changed. An estimate of 100 billion euros has been put unofficially on the UK’s residual obligations, which is higher than previous estimates, but as this is a matter of collation of innumerable programme agreements different estimates are bound to emerge. As the Commission very reasonably pointed out today – while refusing to endorse the 100 million estimate – the residual obligations will depend on the date of actual Brexit, as yet unknown. The only real new point is the Commission’s legal claim that the UK is not entitled to a share of EU fixed assets. But the timing of this was dictated by a claim by Boris Johnson, so it was hardly an interference in the election.
So the alleged hardening of the Commission’s negotiating positions is a fiction. It simply does not exist.
May then says that threats have been made against the UK. I can find nothing that remotely constitutes a threat. To state that the trading position of a non-member must necessarily be weaker than the trading position of a member is not a threat, it is a statement of the obvious. May’s perception of threats is a paranoid delusion.
Finally, she claims that all this has been timed to affect the result of the general election. That is the weirdest claim of all.
The Downing St dinner at which May made a fool of herself was an initiative by May. She issued the invitation and she dictated the timing. It was not vicious foreign enemies who are all out to get her. She may be forgiven for being aggrieved that the poor opinions of her were leaked to the press. But anyone who knows anything about the EU knows that everything leaks, all the time. In general it is a very open institution. The Commission has in any case to report progress in the negotiations regularly to the European Parliament.
The other recent events – the European Council summit and the approval of the negotiating stance by the European Parliament – were all on schedules decided before May announced the election. So it was impossible that they were “deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election”, when nobody knew there was a general election at the point the timings were decided. The Council, Parliament and Commission press briefings which were set in train by these events were all absolutely routine and in no sense specially timed or orchestrated.
May’s attack on the EU is therefore demonstrably and indisputably untrue. All the events she alludes to happened either on dates agreed before the election was announced, or on dates decided by herself. It is an impossibility for them to have been timed to influence the election.
Having disposed of May’s cataclysmic rant, here is an interesting thought. From all round the country, TV news has been showing me constantly for days placards bearing Theresa May’s name but no mention of any political party. These placards therefore cannot count as national party advertising as they advertise no party. So they must count against May’s personal candidate spending limit in Maidenhead, where they are beamed wherever the placards may be held up, plainly doing no function other than to promote May personally as a candidate.