The UK has to defend itself against predatory diplomacy, deal or no deal

The allegation is that Mr Barnier played these incendiary cards in an effort to browbeat Boris Johnson into submission on the broader trade talks. Once such a card is played, there is no going back to the status quo ante.

It is a near reflexive tendency in EU circles to argue that the UK brought this state of affairs upon itself (which I dispute, but that is to relitigate Brexit) and that as the smaller party it should expect to be pushed around, that ‘strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must’ as the Melians were told.

This has consequences. “If you start playing the relationship talks in the spirit of a geopolitical power game, don’t be surprised when the other side plays in the same spirit,” says Eurointelligence. 

We now have a stand-off and an EU ultimatum of 20 days, and no flicker of recognition yet from any EU leader that their own side might be behaving badly.

German finance minister Olaf Scholz says a no-deal outcome will have “very harsh consequences” for the UK economy but that the EU will muddle through just fine. Up to a point, Count Copper.

The question is whether the EU is willing to jeopardise its £95bn trade surplus with the UK and inflict damage on its own industries, for which it is less prepared than Mr Scholz pretends, and to do so for an ideological purpose: forcing the UK to accept the EU’s extra-territorial supremacy over state aid policy and standards, a means of eviscerating British independence.

The UK is being offered extremely little in these talks, and is asking for extremely little. Mr Scholz is therefore misframing the equation. If the EU wants to save a deal and preserve its large export acquis on this island, it will have to give up this colonial demand.  

At the end of the day, Europe’s refusal to offer its immediate neighbour and security ally even a bare-bones Canada trade deal is a hostile posture. 

The EU could have opted for subtler statecraft, recognising that Brexit requires a fundamental rethink about the EU’s near abroad, a chance to create an outer ring of friendly trading nations that do not wish to be locked into an emerging unitary state. Instead it has driven the UK further away. Historians will judge this to have been a strategic failure of the first order. 

This final squalid slide towards an acrimonious rupture is sad for those of us who love l’Europe des Patries. But the UK has to defend itself against predatory diplomacy, deal or no deal.

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