The man who wrote the infamous Article 50 allowing a member-state of the EU to opt out said this week that it was never his intention that it would actually be used. It was only ever intended to keep the UK quiet and stop them moaning that there wasn’t a way out even if they never wanted to use it. And when the then Labour government sought the inclusion of such a clause, they never really wanted it either; it was all about showing how tough they were being and how nothing was irrevocable – a way of making the Lisbon Treaty more palatable for a sceptical audience at home. In short, it was a classic piece of spin rather than a serious statement of intent.
By way of retaliation and amelioration, the others agreeing to the inclusion of such a clause deliberately left it vague and imprecise, and it was always clear that the underlying intent was to make it difficult, not easy, for any state to opt out. It is against that background that we need to judge to what extent we should trust or believe those who argue that, of course, the other EU countries will want to make the UK’s exit as smooth as possible.
Simply reading the UK press, one could be forgiven for believing that the UK is so special and exceptional that the other 27 members will be only too happy to be flexible to suit us, but going into a negotiation with that sort of attitude and approach has a pretty negative impact elsewhere. Of course it’s true that the UK will remain a valuable trading partner for the EU even after Brexit, but from a more continental perspective, the UK is nowhere near as special or unique as our home-grown politicians would like us to believe. There are, as it were, plenty of other and bigger fish to fry.
Added to that is a degree of frustration – again a result of the UK’s continual attempts to demand a ‘special’ status – that for years the UK has been an obstacle to the progress which others would like to make, and now, from their perspective, the UK seems to want them to put everything on hold once more while it dithers about when to even start the process.I don’t expect much to change; those who consider themselves ‘special’ are rarely able to see things from the perspective of those who they consider ‘not special’. But I will be rather less surprised than they are if they don’t get the outcome that they’ve been promising so glibly.