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Thursday 30 January 2020 – one day until independence

Yesterday, the European Parliament said farewell to Britain. Save for the odd “mission” of MEPs looking for a jolly somewhere nice like Bath or York this stupid institution, disconnected from the EU’s executive and diplomatic arms, will have nothing more to do with the United Kingdom. Yesterday was a painful day in the chamber for the majority of visibly upset MEPs. Nevertheless 621 of them voted for Britain’s withdrawal, only 49 against, 13 abstentions.

Naturally, the Brexit Party made a good show of it (see above). Nigel Farage was silenced – literally, his mic was switched off – by the chair for unfurling some union jack bunting together with his comrades. Mairead McGuinness was most unimpressed and admonished the Brexit Party leader for breaking the chamber’s rules, no flags allowed. The EU wonderfully encapsulated in the great man’s parting shot, pointless time-wasting rules!

The Brexit Party’s satisfying triumphalism was of course matched by Remainers’ deafening shrillness. Green Party MEP, Molly Scott Cato said she looked forward to re-occupying her seat one day. Poor woman. She was not alone of course in requiring an examination of her mental health.

“To the colleagues who will leave us, I tell you I hope our work in the next years will make Europe so strong, so attractive that your children and grandchildren will want to be part of the European Union once again,” said Manfred Weber, the man who tried to get the Parliament to make him European Commission President, nobody thought to tell him he’s too dull and incompetent. Lot of that going around in this institution. Weber and Scott Cato were joined by the usual characters: Guy Verhofstadt mouthed of as usual (see below) and the SNP organised an excruciating rendition of Auld Lang Syne, bagpipes included. Lots of tears. Pity them.

At least the European Commission president had a businesslike attitude to proceedings. “The Withdrawal Agreement is only a first step. We have to sort out how to deal with the United Kingdom as a third country,” said Ursula von der Leyen, before repeating the same old guff about Britain maintaining a level regulatory playing field.

Those concerns were raised in yesterday’s Brexit Brunch and for the time being at least they’ve been calmed. The Telegraph reports Boris will abandon his predecessor’s obsession with frictionless trade in favour of restoring national sovereignty.

The EU’s position has been largely predicated on the hope Boris would look to find an accommodation over trade in goods that would negate the need for border checks, thereby opening the door for talks towards Britain retaining the EU’s job-killing regulations. Thankfully, that avenue looks to be shutdown.  

According to Whitehall sources, Boris will tell the EU he will never give in to demands for a level playing field, no matter “the consequences that flow from that”.

It leaves the EU fast-running out of leverage in the upcoming trade talks. Its strongest line of attack in recent days has been to deny anything but the most basic trade deal, Canada or Japan is supposedly out of the question.

Strongest, but not strong. It’s all very well talking big, but it is simply not feasible to go for a bare minimum deal just to make a political point. The EU needs access to the British market. Export dependent economies like Germany and the Netherlands need it, as do struggling states around the Med. Eastern European countries primarily got onboard with the European project for access big markets and will not be at all impressed if flimsy ideology gets in the way of good business. Boris wants a deal so Brussels can’t blame its supposedly narrow ambitions on him.

The question now is when will the EU put together a realistic posture. In the Telegraph, Sir Robbie Gibb, Theresa May’s former chief of staff writes “the penny has yet to drop for the European Union” that “the whole landscape of Brexit has changed” since Boris conquered Parliament.

Again, this encapsulates the EU. The Eurocracy got into a nice little groove using May’s weak position against her for so long they don’t know how to re-orientate now that the circumstances have completely changed. And of course, it’s not just British politics, but the whole of the world that’s changed. 

As ever, the “European model” is unfit for purpose, but now that Farage has left Brussels, no-one there will tell you that.