There is a simple fact that is too often forgotten by both supporters and opponents of Brexit: if the UK leaves the European Union, it has no right to impose any kind of conditions or demand any kind of ‘deal’, it can only ask for one.
And, if the EU decides this request is not in its best interest and declines, then it would be perfectly entitled to make that judgement and the UK would have no grounds for complaint.
So it was disappointing to hear Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt claim that history would “judge both sides very badly if we get this wrong” and then add what could be interpreted as a veiled threat: “We want to remain the best of friends with the EU. That means getting this [Brexit] agreement through in a way that doesn’t inject poison into our relations for many years to come.”
Just to be clear, if the UK ends up leaving the EU without a deal, it will be the UK Government’s fault.
It is Hunt and co’s responsibility to come up with a deal that is acceptable to both the EU and a majority of MPs, although the latter may share some of the blame if they insist upon unreasonable demands or allow a no-deal out of a misguided sense of party loyalty. Hunt’s attempt to spread the blame comes as we prepare for one of the most momentous weeks in modern political history.
MPs are set to hold another vote on Theresa May’s deal on Tuesday, then, if that is defeated, a vote on a no-deal Brexit is expected on Wednesday, and finally, if that ridiculously reckless option is rejected, a vote on delaying Brexit, likely on Thursday.
Wags have already pointed out that the following day, the 15th, is the Ides of March, the date Julius Caesar was told to “beware” in Shakespeare’s play – a warning he ignored – and the date of his assassination. His mistake was a failure to recognise friend from deadly foe.
Hunt should be doing everything he can to ensure the UK and EU do indeed remain “the best of friends” – given our main alternatives include Trump’s America, China and Russia. His attempt to shift blame onto the EU for what would be the UK’s failure sounds worryingly like the Government has given up hope for May’s deal and already started its no-deal PR campaign with a “blame Brussels” theme.
If it happens, a no-deal Brexit, followed by a recession so bad it could affect the global economy, will be no one’s fault but our own.