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Brexit: the great disappointment

2018-12-30 08:03:17

Booker has dedicated his last column of the year to Brexit matters, with the heading: "Europe's 'great deception' fooled our politicians for decades. Next up, the great disappointment...".

As we move on from enjoying our last pre-Brexit Christmas to thoughts of the year ahead, he writes, only one prediction can be made with absolute confidence: that the national mood next Christmas may not be quite so merry.

From there, he has managed to circumvent the usual Telegraph ban on mentioning my name by the device of referring to our book. Booker regards it as one of his most significant moments in the 27 years he has spent seriously reporting for The Telegraph on the EU and its impact on British life.

This, of course, is The Great Deception and, says Booker, it brought to light the true origins of the EU, as well as many long-hidden details of its history.

Writing this 600-plus page book was certainly an experience and far from being value-free. What we found in the process of writing convinced us of one unavoidable conclusion: that one day we would have to leave the EU.

The reason Booker has decided to mention it now is because some aspects of our research has particular relevance to where we find ourselves today. The first is that, to a much greater extent than is generally realised, the "European project" has only ever had one real agenda underpinning everything it does.

This is a desire to integrate the countries of Europe so closely under a new system of government centralised in Brussels that it would be extremely difficult for any country to leave it.

The reality of this is something a lot of people have difficulty coming to terms with, choosing to believe that what is now the EU is simply a benign trading bloc. Conservatives in particular have their own variation on this myth.

Many believe that the EEC started off as a nice cuddly trading agreement but somehow went off the rails and became "political" as continental politicians decided to exploit it in order to pursue a centuries-old ambition to unite Europe.

That this is a false picture is borne out by our research, which led to the title of our book. The original "great deception" stemmed from a deliberate decision by Jean Monnet and his "co-conspirators" including former Belgian prime minister Paul-Henri Spaak.

Their action came after the successful creation of the Coal and Steel Community when Monnet's ambition over-rode his natural caution and he pushed for a full-blown European Political Community (EPC) with its own constitution and its own European army.

When this hubristic plan was rejected by the French Assembly on 30 August 1954, Monnet, his ambition undiminished, changed tack. Rather than declare the agenda openly, the strategy was changed to pretend that the purpose of the European project was to set up an internal free trade area, a "common market" established behind a protectionist tariff wall.

The very term "common market" was a deception, spearheading a policy called engrenage, later labelled by the academics as the "neo-functional theory of integration". In this, the common market was simply a means to an end, using economic integration as the first step towards the true goal welding all of the countries involved together into full political union, in other words a "United States of Europe".

The scope and depth of this process has been such that, after 46 years of "ever closer union", there is now scarcely a single aspect of our national life which is not in some way or another governed by the EU. There is hardly any branch of economic activity which is not only now dependent on EU law but which has not become enmeshed with that of our EU partners.

Picking up the story, Booker observes how he has long been struck by how little the British, and especially our politicians, have ever really understood the full extent of this entanglement. When it comes to "deception", the central dynamic here is "self deception". The political classes have been in denial.

As we researched our book, we became more and more aware of the scale of this entanglement, which few people in political circles either understood or were prepared to admit. And that is why, even before the referendum, we were pointing out that to disengage ourselves from the EU with minimal damage would require fully informed judgment as well as political leadership of the highest order.

With that in mind, was our view that our nation's real aim - which would have been entirely possible - should have been to liberate ourselves completely from all the political structures of the EU, while retaining access to the single market.

This obvious and to us sensible course would have achieved the aim of distancing ourselves from the political structures of the EU while safeguarding our exports which today provide around one pound in every eight we earn as a nation.

All that though was to come to naught when Theresa May chose to exclude us from the wider European Economic Area, and from other countries outside the EU such as Norway and Iceland. Sadly, it is all too clear that she did this without any real understanding of its implications.

That is why, the moment she made that fateful choice, we warned that this would put at risk whole sectors of our economy which rely on integration with the EU to function successfully.

At risk are the manufacture of cars, chemicals and pharmaceuticals and our role as the EU's financial centre and the rights of our airports to operate and our airliners to fly. And, as the government is now at last admitting, we risk "severe congestion" between Dover and Calais and "significant disruption to the economy from customs checks", affecting the corridor through which we import 30 percent of the food we eat.

That brings Booker to his word limit for the column but we both have plenty more to say. No amount of space, however, could properly convey our disillusionment with the political process and frustration with the handling of events. Although nothing of this was predictable, in detail, much of it was avoidable.

What we did say, though although perhaps not loudly or often enough, was that a botched Brexit might put the whole process at risk. This will forever be an indictment of the managers of the Vote Leave campaign, who so cavalierly refused to support an exit plan or produce one of their own.

And now we see the prospect of chickens coming home to roost as Liam Fox tells us that Brexit is "on a knife edge". The chances of Britain leaving the European Union, he says, are "50-50" if MPs reject Theresa May's deal.

Undoubtedly, this is part of the political game-playing that is going on, leading up to the vote on 15 January, adding to the pressure on MPs to support the withdrawal agreement.

Fox's estimate, necessarily, is a personal view and others may differ. Some most certainly will, as we see the likes of the Telegraph pushing the "no deal" agenda. And while there is an argument for saying that a no-deal is better than a humiliating return to the fold (something with which many will disagree), there is no good argument for preferring this to the withdrawal agreement.

Not on any grounds could Mrs May's solution be the preferred option but we are where we are, and the alternative is too unpredictable to contemplate. Doubtless there are mitigation measures which could temper the worst effects of a "no deal" Brexit but the reality is that we cannot model chaos. There is no possible way of knowing what the full effects might be.

For what it is worth, my view is that we have to take what's on offer and then work towards improving it. To that effect, right from the very start, Booker and I have been consistent in asserting that Brexit is not an event but a process. Brexit day, if it comes, will be the start rather than the end and, in twenty years or more we will still be dealing with the aftermath.

But then, if it took us 45 years to get to this degree of integration, and the original Six nearly seventy years in what is still unfinished business there is no logic in expecting instant results. In terms of the evolution of a nation, twenty years is the mere blink of an eye.