Richard North, 17/09/2017  

Picking up on Juncker's state of the European Union address, Booker writes in this week's column that, if ever there was a reason why Britain should leave the EU, it was that blueprint for its future laid out by Juncker, in his speech.

The moment Britain leaves, he proposed, the EU must take a further giant leap forward to becoming a single state, with a single president, completely controlling the financial affairs of the countries making it up, which will all have to join the euro.

In fact, writes Booker, there is so little new about this plan that in essence it is merely fulfilling a blueprint first sketched out 84 years ago, in a book called The United States of Europe. It was written by a close ally of Jean Monnet, the man who years later was to do more than anyone else to shape the details of what would eventually become the EU.

The only difference was that, by the Fifties, Monnet realised that their dream could not be realised overnight. It should, therefore, be assembled stealthily, bit by bit, without for a long time declaring its real goal. And they should begin by pretending that it was just an economic arrangement, a "Common Market"; which was why, when Booker and I first unearthed this story, we called our book The Great Deception.

Nevertheless, however pleased we may be to be no longer a part of it, it is little comfort to contemplate what a mess we are making of leaving it. Ever more people are recognising the consequences of our choice to become what the EU calls a "third country", facing much of our £230 billion a year export trade to the EU with crippling border controls.

Even Philip Hammond told MPs last week that to leave without a deal threatens an end to the traffic which currently rolls "frictionlessly" across the Channel from Dover.

The Irish are waxing even more apocalyptic over the realisation that there is no possible practical solution to the “devastating” problems which will arise between them and the UK. Three thousand delegates to the National Food and Drink conference last week heard one speaker after another warning that in 2019 their trade with Britain could collapse.

To build and staff the facilities needed to check loads coming across the frontiers from Britain and Northern Ireland will take years (the same applies to our trade with the continent). The real problem, said the director of an EU-wide trade association, is that the EU "is negotiating with people who haven't done their homework".

This, Booker concludes, looks alarmingly like the epitaph for one of the greatest catastrophes we have ever walked into, with both our eyes and our minds firmly shut.

Interestingly, these words are written in the week leading to the Prime Minister's intended speech in Florence – so closely guarded that next to nothing of it is being leaked. Possibly, it is the case that Mrs May herself doesn't yet know what she intends to say.

We can be fairly well assured, though, that on the eve of the Labour Party conference, she will not want to be giving any hostages to fortune. And when she goes in front of her own conference the following week, she will be fighting for her political life.

These two key elements must surely be influencing the tenor of the speech but one might expect that the dominant influence is the need to break the negotiating logjam in Brussels. That, at least, is the logical inference.

However, ever since her Lancaster House speech, we've been aware that logic has not been the driving force behind Mrs May's actions. It would be unwise, therefore, to assume that the purpose of the speech is anything that we would recognise or regard as logical.

Earlier on, we were getting intimations that Mrs May was poised to pull the plug on the Brussels talks and invoke the "nuclear option" walking away without a deal. This would have been on the basis that her advisors are convinced that EU negotiators are bluffing, and will be prepared to give the UK the deal we want if only we hold our nerve.

More recently, there have been straws in the wind that have suggested that the game plan is to give formal notice of the intention to withdraw from the EEA and then to invite the governments of Efta and the other EU Member States to join with the UK in an all-nation conference with the view to reforming the EEA Agreement – thereby taking the trade discussions outside the ambit of the EU negotiators.

This in part explains Florence as the venue. It takes her outside the Franco-German "motor of integration" but puts her in the territory of one of the original Six and in the country most likely to be sympathetic to an appeal for direct talks.

Should this be acceptable, that would then just leave the "housekeeping" issues to be dealt with in Brussels, with Mrs May being prepared to sugar the pill by offering cash up-front on the financial settlement, sufficient to allow the existing talks to be kick-started. The fourth round in September would then enable the Commission to make progress in settling the outstanding issues, sufficient to give a positive report to the European Council in October.

Nevertheless, even if this is informed speculation, it is still speculation. We cannot claim to know what Mrs May has in mind. Outside her notorious inner circle, no one has any firm idea of what may come to pass. Worryingly though, the Prime Minister has been consulting with our joke Foreign Secretary Johnson, although it is near impossible to determine what effect that might have in the light of his incoherent intervention in the Telegraph, where he published his "10-point plan" for Brexit, laughingly called a "bold vision" by some of his more moronic supporters.

Even more worrying is that recently Mrs May had a private session with Patrick Minford, doyen of the "Ultras" and High Priest of the "walk-away" doctrine. This can only reinforce our concerns that that option is still on the table.

Brussels officials are already warning that they have low expectations of the speech and if in pursuit of her domestic political agenda Mrs May goes for a crowd-pleaser, the game will be over.

For a start, it seems unlikely to the point of near-certainty that Member States would not entertain the idea of cutting out the Commission and negotiating directly with the UK. And then, unless Mrs May is prepared directly to address the Phase One "housekeeping" issues, and put forward concrete proposals, the Commission talks won't be going anywhere either.

Here - whatever the rumours might be – it hardly seems plausible that Mrs May will concede post-Brexit payments to the EU, much less allow ECJ oversight over expat rights or even a "one-Ireland" solution to the Irish border problem. Labour would have a field day and she would be eviscerated by the Right in her own party.

We are left, therefore, with a series of imponderables to which there are no obvious answers. But, for all the delusional rhetoric pouring out of some quarters of the legacy media, there are no short cuts. Either Mrs May delivers the goods on Friday or we are precipitated into a crisis of unprecedented severity.

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