The European Union is facing one of its biggest challenges with the departure of one of its largest financial contributors in the midst of a widespread debt crisis. The United Kingdom on the other hand may have avoided one by implementing the 2016 referendum results thanks to Boris Johnson’s thumping majority at the last General Election in December 2019.
There are still resistant elements in our midst, which foreign opposition could rely on to frustrate our exit from the European Union. It is clear that lessons have been learned; lines have been redrawn in preparation for an invisible warfare, an insidious confrontation with those opposed to Brexit both domestically and internationally.
Since 31st January 2020, Macron and his ministers have upped the ante telling us that it may not be possible to sign a deal by 31st December 2020 and warned us that we should be prepared for a ‘bloody battle’. And let’s not forget that bizarre letter to the British People written by the president himself. Still unsure what he was trying to achieve but with the yellow vest protests showing no sign of stopping, Macron is probably keen to get any semblance of positive coverage abroad.
Amelie de Montchalin, Macron’s Minister of State in Charge of European Affairs accused Boris Johnson of trying to blackmail the European Union into a bad deal, stating the following: “What I know, and I go back to my passion and reason, I think it will be very difficult for people to understand we did not protect them as much as we could’ve done just because we wanted to stick to a date while we had the opportunity to delay the negotiations for six months more, 12 months more.”
Time is the EU’s sole strategy at this point – and has been for over three years. De Montchalin hopes negotiations drag on interminably because a sovereign and economically strong United Kingdom could spell the end of the European Union. It would further impede on France’s attempts to lay their hands on Germany’s surplus to cover its expansive debt. This is probably the sole reason for pension reforms, which culminated in the clash between French police forces and firemen. Whilst markets are searching for yields, French technocrats are hunting for cash wherever they can. It should not come as a surprise that Macron effectively bypassed French lawmakers to pass his pension overhaul.
French fishermen would be forgiven if they took Macron’s words that he would fight for them with a pinch of salt. Macron and his Sherpas do not seem to recognise that we are now aware that we hold the cards to our success. Macron, de Montchalin or even Barnier (just to name a few) are still intent on using all sorts of subterfuges by seeking loopholes into our system that would make us adhere to supremacy of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). This would give the European Union the ultimate power to overturn decisions taken by our legal system and set precedence for the benefit of the European Union. We would be subjected to European laws without any power to challenge them. Thankfully, Boris Johnson has ignored EU’s demand to bind the United Kingdom to the European human rights laws. We must remain vigilant because it will not be their last attempt. In the absence of economic power, France is using the European superstructure to throw its weight behind negotiations i.e. the appointment of Michel Barnier as Brussels Chief Negotiator.
The European Union does not want a tax heaven at its doorstep despite Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg and Malta offering attracting rates. France is aware that a capital flight combined with negative growth would spell the end of its French technocratic ruling class hence why France’s Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Yves le Drian warned that he would be monitoring any measured designed to make the United Kingdom economically attractive.
We should not forget that several British MPs (a lot of whom are former MPs!) were suspected of colluding with members of the French Embassy in London when drafting the first Benn Act Bill. This only came to light weeks after Priti Patel became Home Office Secretary. The then French Ambassador Jean-Pierre Jouyet was brought in-house as Permanent Representative of France to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
De Montchalin’s speech at Chatham House followed by her appearance on the Andrew Marr show may have been designed to seek sympathetic ears to the European plight of a closer legal and fiscal relationship with the United Kingdom as it leaves the European Union.
Let’s be honest. Our exit from the European Union would not have been as frustrating if it was not for the open resistance from several members of the establishment. A chapter we are keen to close. Nevertheless, it is an episode we cannot currently put behind us as one permanent secretary has embarked on an open warfare with his boss. By that of course, I mean the saga embroiling our Home Secretary and her permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam, which resulted in his departure on 29th February 2020.
It has been reported that Patel belittled and bullied staff, but one must question the motives behind such spurious attacks at such a critical time in our country’s history. Further concerns were raised when it was alleged that our spooks were withholding information from Patel questioning her competence, however the security agency swiftly denied this.
There also appears to be an ongoing campaign of destabilisation targeting Boris Johnson’s team including No 10 adviser Dominic Cummings and now Home Secretary Priti Patel. Reports that a few recalcitrant mandarins may be in the firing line are welcome but do not go far enough.
Audentes Fortuna Iuvat
This is the perfect time to reinvent or upgrade the art of tact and diplomacy whilst defending the realm.
For instance, Boris Johnson should not meet Emmanuel Macron when he comes to London to deliver his Legion d’honneur to the city of London this Summer. Additionally, members of the Brexit Party could build bridges with François Asselineau, the leader of the Popular Republican Union Party and the only French politician to advocate for Frexit.
We could also ensure that French funds deposited within our realm are not used for terroristic activities as le Drian warns of a bloody battle.
We could impose tariffs on French imports to explain to our neighbours that we mean business. There is no harm in engaging in bilateral talks with countries unwilling to engage in an acrimonious separation with the United Kingdom.
I guess it is all about ‘Acta non verba’ (deeds, not words). France has nothing to lose with negative growth on the cards, the country is tethering on the verge of a revolution (and we all know how the last one ended). It is our opportunity to make the most of Brexit – no ifs, no buts and most importantly no doubts.
Magic and Tricks
In some corners of the establishment both in the United Kingdom and in France, there is still hope that Boris will change his mind and opt for a BRINO (Brexit in name only) whilst attempting to sell it as the real deal to his newly found electoral base.
Sylvie Matelly, deputy director of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs argues that the best way forward would be for Boris Johnson to pursue BRINO. Two key takeaways from Matelly – rely on key Labour MPs to enact BRINO in parliament and convince people we have left when in fact it would not be true – and in this case ladies in gentlemen we would end up in an illusory world of magic and tricks.
Boris Johnson has surprised his critics with his decisive stance on Brexit but there is still some time to go as Nigel Farage watches on for any mishaps. Johnson would do well to remember that the future of the Conservative Party still hinges on a successful Brexit so once again only time will tell but so far so good.
Scarlett Spencer is a former alumni at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. She is a member of Bruges Group who works for Children’s Services.
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