Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

Mrs May’s ‘Scrap of Paper’: will it be ‘Peace for our time’?

A 'scrap of paper' was how the German Chancellor famously dismissed the Treaty of London (19th April, 1839), in which Britain, France, Germany, Austria and Russia all agreed to recognise the existence, neutrality and sovereignty of the newly – formed country of Belgium. "Peace for our time" was what PM Neville Chamberlain promised Britain, after meeting with Adolf Hitler, and returning with a signed agreement, on 30th September 1938; one year later we were at war with Germany for the second time in a century.

The problem Mrs May now faces is that she leads a minority Government, some of whose MPs voted 'remain', and would love to see a second referendum campaign, during which they could initiate 'Project Fear' (part two). In this, the Conservative 'remainers' would be backed by a majority of Labour MPs, and all the remaining Liberal Democrats. Before the departure of the Cabinet Ministers (and Vice-Chairs of the Conservative Party), there was at least a slim chance that we would have a 'proper' Brexit.Now the likes of Phillip Hammond will be able to press their 'remain' agenda with renewed vigour, safe in the knowledge that there are very few members of the Cabinet to oppose him. My estimation is that there will be even fewer 'leavers' by the end of July, as more details emerge of May's muddled minefield of EU appeasement. There is also likely to be a resurgence of interference from 'yesterday's men' - Tony Blair, John Major, Neil Kinnock, and Peter Mandelson - and other metropolitan liberal elites who voted remain, and who cannot accept the outcome of a democratic referendum. What does all this mean in political terms?

In view of the perceived (and actual) weakness of the government, it is highly likely that Brussels will seek to take advantage of the situation, reject the Chequers agreement (in effect akin to Chamberlain's infamous "Munich Agreement", which, it was said, would bring 'Peace for our time' and press for further concessions. Why not? The EU negotiators have, till now, shown themselves to be unhelpful, mendacious, and aggressive, and have demonstrated that their objective is to cripple the UK economically, whilst keeping us politically beholden to the corrupt EU club. People tend to forget that to arrive at an agreement requires goodwill from all parties concerned. Brussels does not want us to leave – at least not before they have destroyed us financially – and have no intention of negotiating over anything. The longer the 'negotiations' are allowed to continue, the nearer we come to 29th March 2019.

When this point is reached with no deal, Brussels will blame the UK government for being intractable, unbending, disinterested, and in array – "one only has to see the current Cabinet in-fighting" I can almost hear Barnier explaining! They will claim that the UK government has been so unreasonable that, despite their best efforts, they cannot broker a deal, and will give us one last chance to see things from their point of view. If May gives in to this blackmail, as indeed she appears to have done so far, the Conservative Party will be out of power for at least a generation, Jeremy Corbyn is likely to become PM, and the referendum result will either be nullified and/or there will a second referendum.People then will be even more heavily encouraged to make the 'correct' decision – ie. vote 'remain.'

The difference between us and the EU Commission is that the UK government is answerable to the people and Parliament. By contrast, as the Commission is appointed, not elected, it is answerable only to itself and to Juncker - who wishes to punish us for having voted to leave. Furthermore, Juncker has admitted that he tells lies (Pop, 2014). As May appears incapable of understanding the basic imbalance of power in these talks, and the futility of trying to negotiate with a brick wall, then the only thing to do is to leave now, without an agreement. This, at least, will prevent May and Hammond making more concessions and her 'scrap of paper' will be confined to where it belongs – the dustbin of history!

Leaving without an agreement (a 'hard Brexit') would have a number of significant advantages one of the most immediate being there would be no deal.We would be under no obligation to pay the 'so-called' Brexit-Bill, estimated to be some £40 billion - although it the actual amount varies according to who you ask.Whatever the actual amount, it is a considerable sum, and one that could be put to much better use for the benefit of the UK, rather than subsidising the inflated expense accounts of unelected Eurocrats.

We could, for example, use this money to institute a programme of overseas (non-EU) market research studies, scoping out potential new export markets in Latin America, Asia, or Africa for UK exporters. We could use it to help the inadequately funded Armed Forces – necessary in view of growing Russian aggression in the Crimea, the Ukraine, the Baltic states, and even within the UK itself. We could use it to further our diplomatic presence abroad – an essential adjunct to trade development, or to increase the number of people employed to protect our borders. Furthermore, we would no longer be under any obligation to continue paying into EU coffers during the so-called 'transition period', an issue that, without discussion, has been presented as a fait accompli. As I understood it, the two year negotiation period was to prepare the ground so that a further period of time would not be necessary. Once again, Brussels has duped us. Even before we have left the EU, there appear to be moves against the UK: the withholding of funding (what has happened to ERASMUS grants?) and the declaration by Brussels that the UK will no longer be privy to certain projects such as the new GPS system. Yet they expect us to still make a financial contribution.

With regard to payment, the big argument is whether Brexit is simply 'leaving a golf club' or having a divorce. We see it as leaving a club – albeit a rather corrupt, over-manned and expensive one – but a club nevertheless. This being the case, we should pay our 'membership fee' up until the time we leave, and nothing more. Brussels, unsurprisingly, wishes to regard it as a divorce, and seems to want to haggle over the 'matrimonial assets' that are jointly shared by ourselves and the EU.

If this is the line to be taken, then as in any divorce, ALL assets should be shared out! We must insist on our appropriate share of the EU wine cellar, the IT equipment, paintings that adorn the walls of offices in Brussels and Strasburg, the Ministerial transport which has been paid for jointly, the furnishings in all of the many offices that are owned by the EU, and the hugely expensive dinner service purchased for the Brussels Headquarters of the EEAS (European External Action Service – the EU's wasteful diplomatic presence throughout the world) not to mention other EU offices themselves. If the EU truly believes this to be a divorce (and not a cancellation of membership) then they must stop bleating about the money we "owe" them, and do some hard financial calculations. The problem is, as always, that they want to have their gȃteau and eat it.

Another advantage to a hard Brexit is that no politico-economic ties would remain with the EU.According to the Chequers agreement this is not a given scenario: In 'The Chequers Proposal' (HMG, 2018) "The UK and the EU would maintain a common rulebook for all goods including agri food, with the UK making an upfront choice to commit by treaty to ongoing harmonisation with EU rules on goods, covering only those necessary to provide for frictionless trade at the border." In other words, we will still have to put up with Brussels dictating trading arrangements.

It is of little use for May to suggest that "The UK would of course continue to play a strong role in shaping the international standards that underpin them...."For many years, the UK has tried and failed to reform the EU. Indeed, according to Nigel Farage, it was probably the EU's intransigent blocking of David Cameron's suggested reforms in January 2016, that led to the Brexit vote. In future, as we would not be an EU member, why would Brussels take any notice of the UK's desire to 'shape' (whatever that means) international standards? Since the Lisbon Treaty was signed by Gordon Brown, EU legislation is subject to majority voting, and as the majority now comprise states that are net recipients of EU largesse (as opposed to net contributors), they are highly likely to voice objections to a change in the status quo.

The Chequers White Paper also states that, "The UK and the EU would ensure a fair trading environment by incorporating strong reciprocal commitments related to open and fair trade into the legal agreements that define the future relationship." Once again, there is a problem here. Who would decide on the 'legality' of any such arrangement: a UK court, an EU court, an independent court? Even if a judgement were made in our favour, what guarantee is there that it would be implemented? Many of your readers may recall that, during the BSE crisis of the mid-1990s, exports of British beef were banned by Brussels on 25th March, 1996. This ban lasted until 1st August 1999, when EU vets certified that British beef herds were safe from infection and that British beef could now be sold legally. Despite the ruling, Germany refused to lift the ban, and in October of that same year, France joined Germany in refusing to obey EU directives. The French government was taken to the European Court of Justice, and was found to be in breach of EU law in December 2001. The French finally lifted the ban some 13 years after UK beef was declared safe by the EU. Even then, they only did so as they were facing an eventual fine of £100 million had they not complied (Poulter and Paveley, 2011). If this is how the Franco-German Alliance behaved when the UK was a full member of the EU, can we trust them to adhere to "…strong and reciprocal commitments…" once the UK has left?

Finally, there is the question of international trade. If we have no deal, then this will have to be conducted under the auspices of the WTO.This will mean delays at customs, increased costs associated with administration and the imposition of tariffs. Neither UK nor EU exporters want this to happen. However, while both share a lack of enthusiasm for such an outcome, a key factor is the imbalance of trade. The EU sells far more to us than we do to them. Our number one export partner is the USA, not the EU. Under normal circumstances, this imbalance of trade would work in the EU's favour, but in the event of mutually-applied import tariffs, the EU would suffer far more than we would. Furthermore, EU regulations and uncompetitive and restrictive practices would hamper EU traders in their search for new markets. Leaving without a deal would allow us to trade on mutually agreeable terms with any non-EU country we wished and most analysts agree that the big markets of the future are to be found in Latin America, Africa, and Asia – not in Europe.

Whilst UK exporters may be able to pressurise the government into adopting a specific stance with regard to trade, the same does not apply to EU exporters, who have no leverage over the people who purport to negotiate on their behalf. When we want a trade deal we expect our elected representatives to agree to one. Conversely, the wants and needs of EU exporters are of very minor importance to the Eurocrats.They want to prevent the UK from leaving the EU and, if this cannot be achieved, then they want to destroy us pour encourager les autres.

The EU is faced with a dilemma over the Chequers Agreement. If they accept it, then they will forever regret that they did not ask for more concessions. Making us pay is their key objective. In addition, EU negotiators must be aware that, were they to accept, this would only fuel the ire of the Brexit lobby which could spark a Conservative Leadership scenario, inevitably leading to the downfall of May, her probable replacement by Boris Johnson, with David Davis as Foreign Secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg as Chancellor and Michael Gove as Attorney General.

Such a pro-Brexit team would undoubtedly lead to a hard Brexit, with all the attendant negative connotations for Brussels described. On the other hand, Barnier et al may think that if they reject the Chequers proposals, this may cause a resurgence of 'remainers' wanting a second referendum, which could give them the result they want.

Given the actions and attitudes of Brussels thus far, a rejection of the Chequers 'scrap of paper' is most likely since this would cause maximum damage and embarrassment to the UK and probably lead to a Corbyn government. As Brussels represents, in the famous phrase of Margaret Thatcher, "Socialism by the back door", it is likely that a compliant Corbyn government would be far more acceptable to fellow-travellers in Brussels.

From the point of view of the UK, if we accept the Chequers deal, the UK will sink into oblivion. We will remain tied to the EU with little or no voice in the formation of EU regulations and policies, yet subject to the imposition of such by EU courts – over which we would have no influence. We would not be allowed to forge independent trade, being bound by May's "common rulebook" – which would be basically a Brussels-inspired and Brussels-regulated set of rules governing trade – probably at our expense.

It is for these and other reasons that we must do what Brusselss fears most: leave now without any agreement, and make our way in the world unhindered by the bureaucracy and corruption of what is basically a Franco-German mechanism for controlling Europe. Rather than being pilloried by the left-leaning press, the Brexiteers who have had the courage of their convictions to leave should be applauded for the courage of their convictions.

The fight is not yet lost and, in the words of Winston Churchill, we should 'keep buggering on' for as long as it takes to ensure that the will of the people is respected. The fight will be a long and hard, but again to quote Churchill concerning another fight with a dominant power on the European continent: 'Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.'


HMG (2018) "STATEMENT FROM HM GOVERNMENT" (Chequers 6th July);

Pop, Valentina (2014) "Who is Jean-Claude Juncker?" EUobserver (27th June);

Poulter, Sean and Paveley, Rebecca (2011) "French lift ban on British beef." Mail Online (22nd February).

See also:

1) Swift, J.S. (2018) "Go Now: Leave the EU Immediately and Without a Deal." The Bruges Group (Blog: 20th June);

2) Swift, J.S. (2018) Brexit: KBO. Cambridge Academic, Cambridge

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