Category Archives: Europe

It’s identity theft

Here is the gist of a semi-impromptu intervention I made in the sleet at the #FinalSayForAll rally  in Brussels on 11 December.

I was radicalised by Thatcher’s Bruges speech. I’m a lifelong advocate of European integration and at times it has felt like a very lonely furrow to plough. I’ve been arguing with anti-EU types for years. In the end, every argument I’ve ever had with an anti-European can be reduced to an argument about identity.

They’ll dress it up in lots of ways – sovereignty, democracy, red tape – in the end, they’ll say: “the EU doesn’t have a demos”. The EU can’t be democratic, however hard it tries, because there is no EU identity. Our identity is illegitimate, they say.

Theresa May says that if we call ourselves citizens of the world then we’re citizens of nowhere. She says that the EU never felt part of our national story. She is wrong!

They lack the imagination and empathy to see that identity is rich and multifaceted. Because they can’t accept a multilayered identity themselves, they want to take away ours! I’m British, I’m German, I’m a Londoner, I’m a Brusselaar, I’m European. They don’t get to take away my identity and they don’t get to take away your identity.

If the referendum has done one thing it is to prove them wrong. Once, speaking out for Europe felt like a lonely undertaking. Not any more. Millions of British people are speaking up and acknowledging their European identities. Where is the European demos? It’s right here!

They rejected the emphatic win for pro-Europeans in the 1975 referendum and they fought for forty years to overturn it with a second referendum. They think we’re going to roll over and let them walk away with this? We’re never going to give up. And it’s not going to take us forty years. If I was radicalised in the 1980s by Thatcher’s Bruges speech, just imagine how our kids are being radicalised by this disgraceful mess. We are not going away, we will get our chance to reverse this, and we’re going to be ready to take it.

Remembrance Day and Brexit

This year, I made this little blue and yellow poppy and posted a photo of it on Twitter. I knew that this might prove controversial and also that some people might take offence. To them, I offer the following arguments:

Marking 11 November as Remembrance Day has a long international history. Many countries mark it. In Belgium, where I’ve lived for many years, it’s a public holiday. It does not ‘belong’ to the Royal British Legion nor to the UK, and I feel it has been appropriated in Britain by people who want to make it about the country’s current armed forces. That’s not what it is to me. To me, Remembrance Day is first and foremost about the awful horror, stupidity, and waste of the First World War. Then, by extension, it’s about the Second World War, and the way European civilisation turned in upon itself in fratricidal conflict. That’s what Remembrance Day is to me, and while I respect other people’s wish to make it about something else, something more than that, or something less than that, I reject their wish to impose their interpretation on me and everyone else. My understanding and experience of Remembrance Day is as valid as and arguably historically more valid than theirs.

Those who serve in the military are public servants who make great sacrifices for their fellow citizens. In the modern era, they are volunteers, so they have chosen this path knowing that it might entail great sacrifice. However you feel about the state’s use of arms to achieve its objectives, I think this choice by individuals is worthy of respect, and I do respect it. Respect that is forced isn’t really respect, though, is it? So-called “poppy fascism” (by which we mean pressure to conform in wearing a poppy) is, I think, fundamentally disrespectful. It’s disrespectful to people who serve in the armed forces because it poisons public debate around their service; it’s disrespectful to those who so pointlessly gave their lives in the First World War; it’s disrespectful to those who gave their lives in the Second World War to fight *actual* fascists, and defend our fundamental freedoms; and it’s disrespectful to all the other public servants who make sacrifices on a daily basis, even if those sacrifices are (thankfully) rarely mortal.

Given my personal views set out in the previous two paragraphs, it can hardly come as a surprise that my understanding of Remembrance Day is intimately bound up with my passionate belief in the European Union. To me, the EU flag is a far more potent symbol of Remembrance than a poppy. To me, Brexit is an offensive act of disrespect for the sacrifice of millions in past European wars. As soon as the idea occurred to me, I felt I had to make this EU poppy and show people that I had made it. This is the very opposite of trivialising Remembrance Day. Brexit trivialises Remembrance Day. And to the author of the Spectator piece who feels that talking about Brexit politicises Remembrance Day, I can only say that Remembrance Day is and always has been profoundly political, and his article only serves to prove that.

Play up, play up, and play the game

Michel Barnier has warned the UK that Brexit is not a game. This was in response to Theresa May’s comment in Parliament that “the ball is in the EU’s court”.

Language matters. Tone is important. Ever since the EU referendum and throughout the negotiation process, it seems that everyone on the UK side has been using the language of conflict and confrontation, sport and gaming, winners and losers. This fundamentally colours the UK’s approach to the process, and in my view handicaps us. By seeing this negotiation as a contest, with winners and losers, the UK sets itself up to fail. I’ve already written about this in two posts: Brexit – a negotiator’s observations, and Brexit negotiations – how is the UK doing? To summarise, a confrontational, zero-sum approach rarely makes sense in a negotiation, and never when you are the weaker party, which the UK is.

Why is the UK adopting this unhelpful tone, when there is no need for it, when it is counter-productive, and when the other side would greatly prefer (indeed expected) to do this in a spirit of cooperation? Here, I want to move beyond the tactical aspect and briefly explore a more fundamental cultural question. Because this tone of confrontation is not new in UK-EU relations. I think it is symptomatic of a deeper culture clash between Whitehall and Brussels, Westminster and Strasbourg. It is a cliché that Westminster’s politics, with first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all, government and opposition benches set facing each other a sword’s length apart, is at odds with the continent’s politics, with rainbow hemicycles and Jamaica coalitions, proportional representation, and tiny centrist parties perpetually in government as junior partners. Certainly it is true that people raised in other political cultures find it hard to identify with the martial tone of British politicians and press. When aggressive, conflictual language has had real consequences within living memory, you take more care. In Whitehall, it is normal to think in terms of alliances and enemies: reflexive instructions to “follow the Germans”, antipathy to “Club Med”, not-so-secret away-days with “like-mindeds” from the Netherlands and Denmark; Paris and the Commission as the enemy. Others do this too, of course, but my sense is that no-one revels in it to quite the same extent as the British, nor takes it quite so seriously. Because this is serious, grown-up business. Building Europe is not a game. The nations of Europe once played the Great Game, the result was two world wars.

“Play up! and play the game!”

Hang on Chris, you say, did you not complain bitterly when Theresa May said that the EU never felt an integral part of the UK’s national story? Isn’t this what she meant? Isn’t it true that the UK and the EU are just a bad fit – clashing personalities? Well, dear hypothetical reader, you may have a point there. People like me hoped that membership of the EU would begin to wean the UK off its oppositional approach to politics. We had hoped that forty years spent marinading in the cooperative pickling vinegar of Brussels might transform British politics, take the edge off so to speak. It hasn’t. We knew this when we saw our first attempt at continental-style coalition government fail so dismally. It’s not that the coalition didn’t deliver consensus politics – arguably, it did – it’s that no-one wanted it or understood it. It was too alien for a country tuned to winner-takes-all. Nevertheless, I do not accept that this culture clash meant the experiment was doomed to fail. The EU is made up of 28 countries, all of which have different cultural and historical experiences, and each of those countries is made up of regions with diverse cultures and histories. None of this is a legitimate reason to abandon the experiment of European integration, in fact the opposite: given the conflicts which have arisen as a result of this diversity, integration was essential and remains essential. Integration is perfectly compatible with respect for diversity, and preservation of differences. The point is not to homogenise; the point is to understand, and respect.

Here is a scenario: the British vote, by a narrow margin, to leave the EU. The British parliament decides to respect the result of the referendum and mandates the British government to begin the process of withdrawing from the EU. The government sets up a broad, cross-party panel of senior legislators, judges, and individuals from business and civil society, to prepare a road map for Brexit. Studies are commissioned and published. Proposals are developed which achieve consensus. At every stage, those responsible in government and in the panel carefully consult and inform their EU counterparts, and jointly they determine a way for the UK to leave the EU, respecting the result of the referendum, while minimising the impact on the EU itself and on the UK. That would be how a grown-up country would go about this complicated and sensitive task. But that requires a habit of consensus building and respect for dissenting voices which does not exist in the UK of 2017. So instead we have a chaotic and divisive process framed in a narrative of conflict which is reminiscent of Christopher Clark’s Sleepwalkers.

Brexit negotiations: how is the UK doing?

Last year, before Brexit negotiations got started, I wrote this short piece outlining my thoughts – as someone with many years of experience negotiating with and on behalf of the EU – on how the UK should approach these talks. It is no coincidence that my friend and former colleague Steve Bullock shared similar thoughts a couple of months back. We are now well into the negotiation phase. How has the UK side been doing? Time to take stock.

Those negotiating tips I gave can be boiled down to three golden rules:

 

Goodwill is your most valuable resource, hoard it and spend it sparingly.

As I said, you negotiate better with partners, not with opponents. International negotiations are rarely a zero-sum game, and usually the two sides will have broadly overlapping objectives or goals which are for the most part compatible, mutually achievable. For example, both the UK and the EU want a future trading relationship that is as frictionless as possible. If we accept that, outside the EU, there is going to be some friction compared to the status quo, nevertheless it is definitely possible to find a way to reduce it while respecting each other’s red lines. But to do that you need to be working together towards this common goal.

From the outset, the UK has burned through goodwill as if it were an inexhaustible, ever-renewable resource. It is not. Compiling a list of examples demonstrating how the UK has damaged goodwill since the referendum would take me all day and fill far too much space. Just off the top of my head: accusing the EU of meddling in the UK’s election; ad hominem attacks on Juncker and Barnier; treating EU citizens living in the UK with contempt; telling the EU it can “go whistle” for the money which the UK had already committed to spending; threatening to withhold cooperation on security and counter-terrorism… the list goes on and on. None of this was necessary, none of it did anything whatsoever to advance the UK’s negotiating objectives, all it has done is squander goodwill where we most desperately need it.

 

Know yourself.

The first advice given to anyone going into an auction is: know your limit. Self-awareness is generally a good idea when undertaking any project. Know what you want, know what you need, know what you are capable of getting, and have a sense of how you are going to achieve it.

“And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” The UK is hopelessly divided. And yet not only have British leaders done nothing to try to mend that schism, they have repeatedly and consistently denied that it even exists. The country is coming together behind Brexit, says Theresa May, again and again, against all the evidence. This comes across as panglossian self-delusion because it’s plain to everyone else, inside and outside the UK, that it’s not true. But not only is the kingdom divided against itself, so is the government. Minister briefs against minister, civil servant after civil servant quits, policy papers take an eternity to see the light of day, and when they do they are contradictory, implausible, short on detail, or just plain vacuous. Positions are taken, then reversed, then reasserted. Stakeholders cannot trust anything they are told because they are told very little and what little they are told is demonstrably false or contradicted by previous and subsequent statements.

 

Know your negotiating partner.

This isn’t rocket science. Good intelligence is always essential. Know your opposite number’s strengths and weaknesses, know their red lines, know their personalities. Luckily for the UK, it is negotiating with an organisation it knows intimately from the inside and which shares its DNA. So how is it that the UK shows again and again that it doesn’t really understand the EU and even that it doesn’t have much interest in understanding the EU? Oh, I know that key people on the UK side know the EU very well – civil servants have spent years working with and often in the EU institutions and they are not stupid. But these are the same civil servants that keep quitting, or being shunted aside. “The UK has had enough of experts” we are told. The German car industry will ride to the rescue, we are told. We will have our cake and eat it, we are told. We can be in the Single Market and yet not in the Single Market, we are told. The Prime Minister scorns an invitation to speak to the European Parliament but goes instead to Florence to give a speech. She gets to work on Merkel and Macron rather than Tusk and Juncker. Sat here in Brussels watching events unfold, the UK government’s actions scream ignorance of basic EU realities. They scream wishful thinking. The UK government seems to be dealing with a fantasy EU that resembles the caricature presented in British tabloids, not the real EU of which it has been a core member for over four decades.

 

This morning as I write this, Twitter is once again abuzz with something Boris Johnson has said. He thinks Brexit talks will fail and that Theresa May “will be humiliated”. “Nobody ever beats the EU in a negotiation” he apparently ‘told a friend’. If he really thinks this, it’s odd that he worked so hard to put his country into a negotiation with the EU, and then to frame this negotiation in needlessly confrontational, zero sum terms, so that the UK can only win if the EU loses.

Boris is right, insofar as he says that the EU rarely emerges from a negotiation as a loser. But he is utterly wrong if he thinks this means that the EU’s negotiating partners must necessarily then be the losers. As I said back in October last year, the EU’s default approach to negotiations is to find a way for both sides to win. This is the best guarantee of success. By spurning this approach from the outset, the UK has engineered its own probable defeat.

It is this, I think, that has most shocked and alienated the EU side. Cooperative, collegiate, consensus building is so baked into the way we work that it has become a reflex. After all, it’s why the EU was created in the first place. In our daily lives, we look for solutions that work for multiple and diverse interested parties. If we did not do this, we would not be here. The UK has been part of this for forty years and has generally been a very good player of the game. In Parliament Committees, in Council Working Groups, in Commission inter-service meetings,  Brits have earned a reputation for finding creative solutions, skilfully drafting inclusive language, and putting the emphasis on pragmatism and results. The referendum result was a massive shock, yes, but surely the British would deal with it in a pragmatic and sensible way? There was a widespread assumption that the UK would implement the referendum result in its typically sober, intelligent way to minimise shock to itself and the rest of the EU and build a solid foundation for a mutually advantageous future relationship. The opposite has happened. This is simply shocking and will have a lasting impact on the country’s influence and reputation.

Out on a limb

It’s all about geography.

For most of their history, the states located on the British Isles have been peripheral and on the margins of their civilisation, that is to say Europe. To an extent, this has also reduced their exposure to that civilisation’s wars and allowed their societies and institutions to develop in more continuity than, say, Poland’s. This has bred a sense of exceptionalism and insularity.

For a brief period, as our civilisation perfected maritime travel, our peripheral states flourished as we exploited our geography to enrich ourselves. For a couple of centuries, this put us at the heart of our civilisation as opposed to its periphery. This brief period in our history is over, but many of us haven’t grasped that yet because it is still within living memory, just. This further feeds our sense of exceptionalism.

But the reality is that we are just another collection of European states, nothing special except insofar as that in itself is special. We are back at the periphery, and actively doing all we can to exaggerate our peripheral nature, isolating ourselves from the mainstream of our civilisation, limiting our influence and interest, turning in upon ourselves.

Geography can’t be changed. We were lucky in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. But this is the 21st and we’re back to where we’ve been for all the other centuries – out on a limb.

29 March 2017

Today the hammer falls and I feel sick. The decision to pull the UK out of the EU, and also the way in which the UK government has gone about it, leave me in a state of constant grief and anger. I am very bitter. I find myself with many of the symptoms of depression, but I’m aware of it and trying to tackle it. Writing this blog post is one of the ways.

I’m sure some people find it hard to comprehend how a political event like this could have such a profound effect on me personally. I’m quite sure that very many of the people who voted to leave last June took the decision very lightly without really giving it any much thought at all, or acting on the spur of the moment. Well, let me try to explain.

I’m both British and German, and I grew up in 1970s England. TV, comics, books, everything still seemed obsessed with the war. My parents and grandparents all had war stories, from opposing sides. At the same time, we thought we’d die in a nuclear holocaust when the Cold War went hot. (We really did.) My holidays were spent driving down to southern Germany and spending time with my family there. Europe, and Europe’s divisions, meant something very concrete and real to me, with heavy emotional significance. As I grew up and became politically aware, so European integration became an issue, the issue, that meant most to me. And, as a student, I watched Thatcher’s reign disintegrate over the issue. I joined the Young European Movement, I went to federalist conferences, I idolised Jacques Delors and dreamed of working for the EU one day. And I did it. I passed the famous ‘concours’. In 1995, I realised my dream and came to work for the European Commission in Brussels.

Like all dreams, it didn’t live up to its billing. It’s a job. I could rant for a week on ways in which things could be improved. But this is also, still, a vocation, and I believe in it as much as I ever did. I have no doubt at all that the people of Europe need to come together if they want to be more secure, and have a better quality of life. Effective government at the European level seems to me to be more important than ever, as I look around the world. So this monstrous idiocy on the part of the country where I grew up leaves me reeling. I still can’t really believe it, I don’t want to believe it. All this energy which should and could have been spent on making things better and instead it’s being used to destroy.

So here comes the uplifting closing section of this post. Here is what I’m telling myself. I know it’s true, and so it ought to help me deal with it.

The UK is leaving, but the EU is still here. This isn’t the end. Life for most of my colleagues continues more or less without interruption – I’m struck by how, for most people around me, Brexit is just another issue which is happening to other people, like Syria, or drought. Yes, there are implications for the EU, and we need to work up policy solutions, but already the UK is seen as something outside which is in big trouble of its own making but it’s not our problem any more, we just need to find ways to defend our interests. I don’t think they are being complacent, but they are being realistic, and they have a sense of perspective which I don’t. Brexit carries considerable risk for the EU but it also brings opportunities. We have a job to do to minimise the risk and maximise the opportunities. Meanwhile I have a cause that will occupy me in my home country for the rest of my political life. Theresa May wants the country to unite behind her as she rips the UK out of the EU. Not as I live and breathe will she ever get that wish. Never. No way.

Why I will be campaigning for Scottish independence

My British half is, as far as I know, purely English. But I am rooting for the Scots to vote for independence in their next referendum. It would be good for Scotland. It would be good for Europe. And it would be good for Britain.

I consider myself a patriot. My patriotism is not some arbitrary attachment to a flag, or to a piece of earth, or to a person descended from a Dark Ages robber baron; my patriotism is a love of community, society, and an attachment to a set of values. To me, patriotism is multilayered and fuzzy at the edges. I have a romantic fondness for the England of Arthur Ransome and E. Nesbit, I feel a connection to Marylebone Station and Tottenham Green Lanes, I’m moved by the music of Bach and Boccherini and the architecture of Durham and Rouen and Ulm. These emotional responses give me roots in my culture and they bring a sense of security and continuity which is an important component of human wellbeing. They are the foundations and load-bearing walls which support the practical, rational manifestation of my patriotism: my public service, my campaigning for our values, my politics. There is no inconsistency in my loving England, and Britain, and Germany, and Europe; and in my feeling contempt for the British parliament after what it did on the evening of 13 March 2017. On the contrary, anyone who loves our society and its values must necessarily feel rage at how these have been challenged and weakened by the very people whose job it is to protect them.

Scotland would be better off outside the UK but in the EU. Scots are not represented by Westminster nor have they been for a long time. I don’t see how Scotland’s interests can be adequately represented by Westminster without a fundamental reform of how British government works. After the 2014 referendum, the Scots were promised meaningful devolution. This has not happened and it is obvious to me that it won’t happen, because exceptionalist Westminster cannot understand the concept of meaningful devolution. The very existence of the West Lothian Question proves this, as I’ve argued. To have meaningful self-governance within a meaningfully federated governance structure, Scotland must leave the UK and remain in or rejoin the EU.

Europe would be better off with an independent Scotland. Scotland is European, and belongs in the family. (So does the rest of the UK, of course.) Scottish independence within the EU would be a demonstration of belief in Europe, in our values, in multilateralism, and a rejection of the binary zero-sum nationalism advocated by Putin-backed populist movements in England, France, the Netherlands, etc.

The United Kingdom would be better off if Scotland chose independence. British society is irredeemably broken. We might argue how we arrived at this juncture, but to me this is self-evident. Westminster’s exceptionalism means continued centralisation of power in national government at the expense of effective subsidiarity whether that means Brussels, the regions, or local government. And national government has shown itself to be unfit and captured by toxic special interests. Brexit is the proof. A ruling party captured by zealots for whom no lie was too much, any means justified the end, the end being a corruption of patriotism resulting in its polar opposite: the impoverishment of the country, its decline in status and influence, the undermining of its security, and the destruction of its citizens’ quality of life. Time and again we have seen that Westminster will not reform itself. Only a seismic shock can deliver change, and it’s hard to see what such a seismic shock could be short of civil discord unless it’s the actual break-up of the United Kingdom. A velvet divorce might be the greatest gift Scotland could give to English patriots.

To me, the choice Scots face is clear: they could stay in a dysfunctional United Kingdom ruled from Westminster, unable to rein in a contemptuous and entitled elite who have proven themselves guilty of serious and serial misgovernment; or they could emulate Europe’s other smaller countries which have thrived as independent states within the EU, enjoying higher standards of living and a better quality of life. For Scots, it’s what you’d call a no-brainer. But it should be welcomed by the rest of us, the citizens of the United Kingdom they’d be leaving behind. Because we like the Scots and want the best for them; and because it gives us a chance to mend what is broken in our own system.

Knitting pattern: the fairisle euroberet!

Calling all members of the Bresistance! Show your love for Europe with this unisex fairisle euroberet! May be worn Citizen Smith-style, Che Guevara-style, or René-off-of-Allo-Allo-style – however you wear it, it’s guaranteed to troll a kipper.

 

Disclaimer: this is my first attempt to write up a pattern, and it won’t lead you by the nose. I am assuming some experience with stranded colourwork and basic increasing/decreasing on the part of the reader, and that you will be comfortable adapting the pattern on the fly to suit your needs and address any errors. My beret (pictured at top and below) was improvised, and so is this pattern. If you don’t recognise an abbreviation, you probably won’t want to knit this pattern (but if you’re curious please search them on youtube where there are hundreds of great tutorials).

The beauty of a beret, knit from the top down, is that you don’t have to be too fussy about sizing. The only bit you have to get right is the very final four rows of ribbing which have to fit the head you’re knitting for. If you get to the end of the pattern and you find you’re still a bit too big, just add another decrease round or two.

The beret is knit in the round from the top down (beginning with an i-cord). Start using DPNs and transfer to circular needles as appropriate (once I’d complete the i-cord I transferred to a single set of long circular needles and used the magic loop method throughout). At the top and the bottom of the star section, there are long floats of up to 15 stitches, I recommend trapping the floating yarn every five stitches using a twist. Be careful to avoid making your floats too tight or the fabric will pucker.

Yarn: DK weight (I used Cascade 220 Superwash 821 Daffodil, Cascade 220 Superwash 1925 Cobalt Heather, Cascade 220 Superwash 1951 Sapphire Heather)

Gauge: 24 stitches x 24 rows per 10cm

Needles: 3.5mm circular, 3.5mm DPNs

1. With 3.5mm DPN, CO six stitches in light blue yarn

2. Knit an i-cord of around 2cm or 3cm

3. Arrange stitches evenly on 3 DPNs (2 stitches on each) or transfer to long 3.5mm circular needles (to knit in the round using the magic loop method). Next row is Row 1.

4. Row 1: k6, PM.

5. Row 2: kfb* x 6 (12 stitches total), SM

6. Now, knit rows 3-50 following the pattern with row 3 at the top (click on the thumbnail below). Each row in the pattern is repeated twelve times to complete a single round. SM (slip your marker) at the end of each round. At its maximum breadth, you will have 192 stitches per row.

On increase rows, M marks the increase. Use any increase you like – I used kfb, m1l and m1r. For the decrease rows, a backslash / marks decrease stitches (I used k2tog).

Chances are your head is smaller than mine, in which case you might want to repeat row 50 once or even twice until you arrive at a size that fits you more comfortably.

7. To finish, knit five rows in k1 p1 rib

8. Cast off in rib using an elastic bind-off (eg http://slipslipknit.com/?page_id=92). Weave in ends.

 

Also published on Ravelry.

Muddled mindsets

There is a good piece by Philip Stephens in today’s FT (£/€) arguing that differences in the way the UK sees the EU, compared to the way the other EU 27 see it, means that a “disorderly brexit” is more likely. This very much corresponds with my 25 years of experience in government on both sides of the Channel. But I think it goes beyond a mere difference in mindsets. Yes, I have long observed, and noted, that the UK approaches its foreign relations with a transactional attitude, on a case-by-case basis, always asking “what’s in it for us?” in very narrow terms. By this I mean that the calculation is quite deliberately and often explicitly made in terms of immediate trade-offs – winning a defence contract, or some other political victory that can be triumphed in the House of Commons and the tabloids. The calculation does not tend to give sufficient weight to the country’s longer term, strategic interest – for example the investment in goodwill which is hard to quantify but which is nonetheless very real. This is the mindset which led to a succession of EU ‘wins’ from Fontainebleu to Maastricht, Lisbon, and finally Cameron’s “reform” package. But all these wins had costs in terms of goodwill and influence, costs which were visible to many of us but downplayed or even actively denied by those who claimed the victory for themselves. And this speaks to a second aspect of this mindset: the UK’s confrontational, zero-sum approach to foreign relations in which there must always be winners and losers. Perhaps this is an echo of Britain’s winner-takes-all politics. Certainly, it’s something of a cliché that the Parliament in Westminster seats government and opposition literally against each other at sword’s length, while continental legislatures generally sit in a hemicycle configuration, facilitating a kaleidoscope of coalitions.

Well, after 40 years of trying, it seems that the square peg would not go into the round hole. The UK will step away from the EU and plough its own furrow. Viva la différence. But first we have to get past the Article 50 negotiations; and then we have to carve out a new UK-EU relationship. Years of difficult and very important negotiations lie ahead. As I said in my previous post, to negotiate successfully requires empathy and intelligence. Understanding the way your negotiating partner thinks is crucial to a successful outcome. And here we move beyond a mere difference in mindsets.

Philip Stephens

My observation over many years has been that not only does the UK (by which I mean Westminster and Whitehall) have a short-term, transactional approach to the EU, it thinks everyone else does, or should. It seems incapable of understanding that its partners’ different mindset might be a conscious political choice made in good faith and for sensible reasons. We see it in Whitehall’s reflexive focus on lobbying Paris and Berlin rather than Brussels and Strasbourg. We see it in the fixation on German cars and Italian prosecco. It is reflected in the “have your cake and eat it” attitude whereby Leave politicians in the UK seem unable to accept that EU politicians mean it when they say there will be no cherry-picking, that the UK cannot have a bespoke arrangement which allows it to benefit from the rights of EU membership without shouldering the responsibilities. The intelligence is there: the UK’s highly regarded diplomats are experts in communicating differences back to London in beautifully written telegrams. And yet this intelligence falls on resolutely deaf ears. The Leave ayatollahs don’t want to hear it. They shoot the messenger who dares to challenge their world view.

Philip Stephens

This is Westminster exceptionalism taken to a logical extreme. At the time of the Scottish referendum, I wrote about it and expressed a hope that devolution would in time introduce people to the reality and obvious benefits of federal, tiered government, undermining the Westminster exceptionalism that poisons the UK’s politics and public life. Perhaps it will, one day, but it will come too late for this generation and the next who will live in a Britain outside the EU, and much, much poorer for it.