The Guardian – 15/07/2016
During the referendum campaign Boris Johnson likened the EU’s ambitions to those of Nazi Germany. “Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically,” he said. “The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods.” Perhaps it was not, with hindsight, the most diplomatic opinion for a foreign secretary to have aired in public.
Johnson’s appointment as foreign secretary was certainly not a surprise that anyone in EU circles was hoping for. But there may have been a logic to Theresa May’s decision. For a start, it will oblige the former mayor of London to exercise self-control. Plus, he will be surrounded by highly professional civil servants loyal to the national interests of the UK – which, in a complex world, require more than Johnson’s oversimplified views.
Quite quickly Johnson will also be forced to recognise that there are more than a few differences between the methods Napoleon and Hitler used and the way the EU functions, which is through cooperation and commonly agreed rules. For all Europeans, including the British, the crash course in diplomacy May intends to impose on Johnson could yield a positive outcome.
As all those now responsible for the Brexit negotiations reflect on their strategy, I would recommend that they listen to Jonathan Hill, UK commissioner for financial services, who stepped down from his position in the EU after the referendum. At a hearing in the European parliament on 13 July he had some wise words. He said that “constructive relationships are needed between the UK and the EU”. I can only echo this sentiment. For him, “these relationships are more likely to be built by people who listen to other people in Europe rather than insulting them”.
Dialogue between the UK and the EU is first and foremost what is now required. And before that dialogue begins, it is crucial that the UK negotiators understand three things.
First, that the EU, with its 27 member states, including the 19 countries of the eurozone, has their legitimate interests to defend – in particular in the financial sector – and both sides of the Channel need to achieve an agreement that will be accepted across Europe. After months of inward-looking conversation, the British must realise that they are now negotiating a divorce – and divorce requires the assent of both parties.
Of course our interests are linked, and nobody wants things to get to that point. The UK is a major ally, as well as an major global economy, and it is in the EU’s interests to maintain close, and as constructive as possible, ties with it. It is also in the UK’s interest to negotiate the best possible exit deal, as the EU remains the UK’s largest trading partner.
Some models of cooperation “from outside” exist. They, however, also come with obligations. When deals were concluded, Norway and Switzerland accepted that they would contribute to the EU budget and apply EU legislation in exchange for access to the market – and also allowed the free movement of people.
The British public has voted, and that vote must be respected. Few voices on the continent contest this. But Britain must now help us to find a mutually acceptable solution.