The EU is no land of milk and honey – let’s be optimistic about our future as an independent nation

This is a momentous year in the history of the United Kingdom. The voices of 17.4 million voters who took part in the biggest act of democracy in our history will finally have been heard and in the decades to come, history books will pronounce 2019 as the year that the UK once again became […]

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This is a momentous year in the history of the United Kingdom. The voices of 17.4 million voters who took part in the biggest act of democracy in our history will finally have been heard and in the decades to come, history books will pronounce 2019 as the year that the UK once again became a proud, independent nation.

And it won’t be forgotten that it was the Conservative Party that gave people a chance to give their verdict on the EU in the 2016 referendum, and which entrusted the people with such a momentous decision about our constitution and destiny.

Of course, as we approach the pivotal moment of 29th March when we leave the EU, we are once again being force-fed a diet of doom, gloom and despondency from those who wish the result had turned out differently.

But we must remember that these people have a democratic right to propel these arguments, just as 17.4 million voters had a right to rubbish their claims during the referendum – which they did, resoundingly.

And it turns out that they were absolutely right to do so. This really is a time for hope and optimism, not despair and fear. Since 2016, in spite of dire predictions made during the campaign, we’ve seen a tax windfall, the fastest growth in wages in almost a decade, record employment levels and steady economic growth. Our future has never looked brighter.

If we had have chosen to leave some sort of Utopia, I would understand people’s concerns. But the EU is no Utopia and if it were, voters would have had the wisdom to recognise this during the referendum.

In Italy, months of uncertainty and inconclusive elections have resulted in two populist parties – the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and right-wing League – forming a coalition.

Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) entered the federal parliament for the first time last year. As with Italy’s League, it is an anti-euro party and it has strong anti-immigration policies. In 2017, next door in Austria, the Freedom Party (FPÖ) become a junior partner in coalition with the Conservatives and talk of banning headscarves for girls under 10 in schools and seizing migrants’ phones is now a part of mainstream Austrian politics.

In April last year, Viktor Orban secured a third term in office in Hungary with a landslide victory in an election dominated by debates about immigration. Orban once warned of the threat of “a Europe with a mixed population and no sense of identity” – comments unheard of in the UK political context.

The Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) was the largest party in last year’s general election in Slovenia. Its party leader, Janez Jansa, formed an alliance with Mr Orban in opposing migrant quotas, Poland has also condemned the EU’s handling of the migrant crisis and in Denmark, the police are now allowed to seize migrants’ property to pay for their upkeep and has pledged to boost contraception aid to developing countries to “limit the migration pressure”.

And of course we’ve seen the distressing scenes in France. Weeks of street protests have erupted into a full-on anti-government movement leading to the worst violence in central Paris in a decade.

The EU is not the land of milk and honey many would have you believe. The tide is turning against the EU and the way it does business in scores of EU countries and our friends on the continent are being forced to make their voices heard through the prism of extreme political parties.

Turning to the economy, around 90 per cent of global economic growth will come from outside the EU over the coming years and the EU now accounts for less than half of our overall trade.

The EU’s economic clout is also falling, with its share of the global economy almost halving over the last 30 years. That’s why people voted to Leave so that we could take back control of our trade and regulatory policy and strike trade deals with the emerging powerhouses of the world economy.

And for every unemployed Brit, there are two people unemployed in the euro area. Unemployment is five times higher in Greece, almost four times higher in Spain, double in France and between 17-19 per cent in much of the south of Italy.

As much as my opponents like to whip up a fevered frenzy about Armageddon scenarios, cliff edges and crash outs, the truth is that we are doing well in the UK. We are also lucky to have had a chance to register our discontent in a referendum, and fortunate to be having such a thorough, engaging and relatively peaceful debate about what our post-Brexit future should look like.

We haven’t seen a rise of extremist parties in the UK, nor have we seen riots on our streets. We have simply concluded that the EU is not capable of change and that it doesn’t have our best interests at heart and we’ve done all this without making extreme political choices.

But we must be careful to ensure that we keep our debate within the political mainstream. Many people who voted in 2016 did so for the first time in their lives and there would be disastrous, political consequences if we decided to ignore or reverse the result.

The British people have boldly trodden where no other EU country has yet dared to tread and we are leading in Europe, as we always have done.

Let’s hold our heads up high and show how you can be a proud European nation without belonging to the institutions of the European Union. And let’s lead our friends and allies into the 2020s as we forge a strong, peaceful and prosperous path together.

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Was the Withdrawal Agreement drafted by civil servants seeking to make remaining in the EU look attractive?

The Withdrawal Agreement has been drafted by a small number of Remain-inclined civil servants under the direction of a Prime Minister who campaigned for Remain. It will pay £39bn in reparations without any agreement on a future economic relationship with the EU. It isolates Northern Ireland as a colony in preparation for its future absorption […]

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The Withdrawal Agreement has been drafted by a small number of Remain-inclined civil servants under the direction of a Prime Minister who campaigned for Remain.

It will pay £39bn in reparations without any agreement on a future economic relationship with the EU. It isolates Northern Ireland as a colony in preparation for its future absorption into the EU. Martin Selmayr, the European Commission’s secretary-general, known as the “Monster of Brussels”, admits that this will be the “price” that the UK must pay for Brexit.

It locks the UK into a “single customs territory”, where the UK is subject to the laws of a foreign power without having any influence on how those laws are determined and without any unilateral right to leave – thereby protecting the EU’s trade surplus in goods with us of £95bn. This foreign power would determine the regulations for goods sold in Northern Ireland and for the UK-wide labour markets and would also set common rules for the environment, social standards and state aid “with the aim of ensuring the proper functioning of the single customs territory”.

During the transition period – which could be extended indefinitely – there would still be free movement, we would not regain control of our fisheries, the EU would still send us bills, and it can veto our foreign policy. Parliament would be required to pass laws to ensure public authorities and judges follow EU rules during the transition. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) would have supremacy over not only UK judges, but over the UK government transposing its EU obligations, and would also be the final arbiter of the Withdrawal Agreement.

And it gets worse: the EU can inhibit us competing against it, while it remains free to compete against us. Take financial services, one of our most important industries. For every £1 of financial services we buy from the EU, we sell £6 to the EU.  It will now seek to force significant parts of our financial services industry to move to the EU. Further, it has refused to agree a guaranteed enhanced equivalence declaration, so we will have to negotiate that in the transition period, while it continues to poach our business. Indeed, the agreement covering services – where we currently have a trade surplus with the EU of £28bn – will have to be negotiated during the transition period.

In terms of defence, the UK would be required to collaborate on future projects of the European Defence Agency, under conditions of EU law, with a European Army as the ultimate objective. Indeed, it is much more serious than this. The Prime Minister has secretly given away control of significant aspects of UK defence policy to the EU in a way that undermines NATO and our Five Eyes intelligence and security alliance with the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The clear intention by the EU is to destroy the UK’s relationship with the US and the Commonwealth.

And to top it all, the “single customs territory” will form the basis of our future trading relationship with the EU, thereby blocking any of the trade agreements that Liam Fox’s International Trade Department has been negotiating from ever coming into force. The “backstop” is permanent, thereby locking the UK into certain EU laws indefinitely.

And if we dared to defy the EU on any of this, it has threatened to block our planes flying into and out of our country and stop Eurostar trains from running.

All this amounts to little more than unconditional surrender. Yet the Prime Minister believes with “every fibre of my being” that the Brexit deal is the “right one for the country” – a country with the sixth biggest economy in the world, where only 8 per cent of companies trade with the EU, and where we buy £67bn more in goods and services from the EU than it buys from us.

The Withdrawal Agreement is so full of absurdities that neither Leavers nor Remainers could possibly accept it. It is not just a bad deal, it is the worst possible deal. The clear purpose of the British civil servants who drafted it is for people to think that, if this is what Brexit means, we’d be better off remaining in the EU.

In short, the Withdrawal Agreement is not intended to be the final stage of a transition to a “softer Brexit”, but rather the next stage in the establishment’s campaign – which began the day after the referendum – to reverse Brexit. Confirmation for this comes from comments made by senior EU officials heard by Patrick O’Flynn, the UKIP MEP for the East of England.  The plan – fully endorsed by British officials – is to get the UK back into the EU in time for the European Parliamentary elections in 2024, as he recently explained on BrexitCentral:

“Further comments suggested that a ‘purgatory backstop’ would be used to persuade the UK to reapply for membership rather than languish in the equivalent of EU solitary confinement on a diet of bread and water. Far from having left the prison, we would have to beg to go back on the wing and probably only get accepted on inferior terms – no budget rebate, fewer national vetoes – and possibly an undertaking to be absorbed into the euro and Schengen in due course too”.

This clearly has a ring of truth – and it means that the entire British negotiation has been an elaborate charade. Yet this deliberate deception is dangerous and delusional because of the way that the EU is heading.

The EU is an increasingly protectionist trading bloc with big business lobbying Brussels for more regulations to make it more difficult for small companies to enter the market and compete, and a Customs Union which imposes more than 13,000 tariffs on imported goods. As a result, EU consumers are paying an average of 17 per cent above world prices on food.

The EU is a political project that is fundamentally anti-democratic, as a whole range of European leaders have made abundantly clear. Jean Monnet said:

“Europe’s nations should be guided towards the super-state without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps, each disguised as having an economic purpose, but which will eventually and irreversibly lead to federation.”

The “purposive” nature of EU law allows the ECJ to interpret and reinterpret the wording of EU laws in line with the European Commission’s (often changing) intentions. 

The euro currency is a disaster – and has led to unsustainable trade and capital flow imbalances between the southern and northern states, as well as wrecking the economies of the former. Most of the EU’s big banks are in very serious financial difficulty. There is increasing euroscepticism in the EU – dismissed as “populism” by europhiles – demonstrated by the East/West split over the immigration and internal security crises.

And to top it all, there is massive corruption in the EU, with the EU’s accounts not having been approved for the last 20 years by the EU’s chief auditor in respect of around €100bn of expenditures.

The EU, far from uniting Europe in an ‘ever closer union’, is slowly destroying Europe.

It is now quite obvious that the Prime Minister’s deal would not mean a meaningful Brexit, despite the clarity of her Lancaster House speech and the promise that “Brexit means Brexit”. Indeed, the deal shows complete contempt for the clearly expressed wishes of the British people in the referendum.

And what does a meaningful Brexit look like? Given the fact that the EU is not willing to cooperate in delivering a deal that is in the best interests of all the citizens of Europe, then the only solution is a non-cooperative one based on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. This is not “no deal”. It is precisely how we conduct around half of our international trade with the rest of the world. And it works.

According to the IMF’s Direction of Trade Statistics, 15 of the 22 largest exporters to the EU trade under WTO rules and increased their EU exports by 135 per cent between 1993 and 2015. The other seven had bilateral trade agreements and increased their exports by 107 per cent. The 12 original EU members increased their intra-EU trade by 70 per cent, while the UK increased its trade with the EU by just 25 per cent. UK goods exports to the 111 countries with which it trades under WTO rules have grown at 3 per cent pa, three times faster than UK trade with the EU.

In due course, a “Canada plus plus plus” deal might be agreed which involves services, and especially financial services, as well as goods. But none of this can be done under the terms of Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement.

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We must not allow ourselves to be bullied by idle threats from politicians in Paris

In 2016 the greatest democratic event in this country’s history took place. 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU. They wanted us to become a strong, independent trading nation once again – a country unafraid of standing on its own two feet. That is why we’ve got to stop allowing ourselves to be bullied […]

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In 2016 the greatest democratic event in this country’s history took place. 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU. They wanted us to become a strong, independent trading nation once again – a country unafraid of standing on its own two feet. That is why we’ve got to stop allowing ourselves to be bullied by our EU counterparts and start believing in Britain.

It’s only by accepting that we’re strong enough to walk away from the negotiating table – and thoroughly preparing to do so – that we will secure a trade deal with the EU that is good for our consumers and businesses.

We’ve heard some ridiculous suggestions from France recently. Apparently it will grind the Port of Calais to a halt unless we hand over £39 billion of taxpayers’ money, even if we don’t finalise any deal at all.

There are around 60 sailings to my constituency port of Dover from Dunkirk and Calais every day. The cross-Channel trading route is a huge success story. More than £120 billion of trade moves through Dover’s docks every year and when you add Eurotunnel to the mix, the Channel Ports account for about a third of the UK’s trade in goods.

Clearly the French and the Europeans want to keep this flowing after Brexit day next year. Indeed, a desire for any other outcome would be irrational economic self-harm. EU nations sell twice as much to us as we do to them, so any extra tariffs or traffic slowdowns would hit French farmers and German car-makers twice as hard.

Yet the public continue to be spoon-fed doom and gloom about border chaos, food shortages, price hikes, gridlocked motorways and even civil unrest from within this country – the latest manifestation of Project Fear. These vacuous threats from across the Channel represent a serving of Projet Peur 3.

To find the source, look no further than the Élysée Palace in Paris. President Macron and the EU want to bully us into accepting a bad deal. They think Britain’s greatest days are behind us and that we must be punished for daring to leave.

They are wrong about the British people. We know what it takes to stand up to bullies.

Fortunately, Xavier Bertrand – the forward-thinking boss of the Calais and Dunkirk region – takes the opposite view to President Macron. M. Bertrand knows the Port of Dover is an economic powerhouse that benefits the people of Calais and Kent. He wants to do the right thing, keep trade flowing and look after the people he serves.

But while calling out empty threats from across the Channel, we’ve got to strengthen our hand in the negotiations as well. We need to turbocharge preparations to leave the EU on World Trade terms and get serious about preparing to strike a World Trade deal. Unfortunately this week’s Budget did no such thing.

The truth is this work should have started the day after the 2016 referendum. I have long argued we need to be ready on day one for every eventuality – deal or no deal. No-deal preparations seem to have been held up by Whitehall officials who never believed Brexit would happen, and certainly don’t want it to now.

This week was crunch time and the Chancellor had the perfect opportunity in his Budget to prepare, ambitiously and positively, for a no-deal outcome. Instead he chose to set aside an extra £500 million – a drop in the ocean in terms of both government spending terms and what is actually needed.

He should be announcing an expansion of off-road lorry parking and committing to significant investment in our borders. The M2/A2 to Dover needs to be upgraded and widened. And we must start modernising our border systems, joining the likes of Singapore as world leaders in frictionless trade and security.

I state again that 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU – well over three million more than have ever voted for a political party in an election. They all believed in creating a better country for our children and grandchildren, where everyone has the chance to get on and succeed, where we are free to run our own nation and economy in a way that works best for us – not Brussels. Remainers are right when they say Brexit is the most important challenge our nation has faced since the Second World War. But they are wrong when they ignore its exciting opportunities, and dismiss what we must do to take them.

We need our leaders to start demonstrating a full commitment to making it work – no matter what happens in the negotiations. By continuing to talk our country down, allowing us to be bullied by idle threats from abroad and failing to prepare for any eventuality, all we’ll achieve for our country is a bad deal.

A bad deal would shackle us forever. EU rules are bad for hard-working taxpayers, as they allow giant corporations to dodge taxes. EU regulations are bad for business, as they protect those firms from honest competition. EU tariffs are bad for consumers, as they increase the cost of food and clothing. And all of it is bad for the rest of the world, as we cut off developing nations, as well as allies who not so long ago fought beside us for our freedom.

That’s why it is so important to agree a deal with the EU that works for us. And if we can’t agree one, we will walk away. Many countries are waiting in the wings, ready to strike free trade deals with their old friends. We cannot let the opportunity slip.

We must believe in Britain. We are strong enough to go our own way. Future generations won’t forgive us if we become so desperate to secure a trade deal with the EU that we do so at the expense of Brexit’s great opportunities.

Let’s stop being defeatist. Let’s become a truly free-trading, global nation again. We have had some great days. But if we hold firm, the greatest yet lie ahead.

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In so many areas the EU’s negotiating stance is sadly defined by the politics of punishment, rather than economics

The news that Boeing has just opened a £40 million manufacturing facility in Sheffield to make parts for their latest 737 and 767 aircraft, which are assembled in the United States, serves to remind us that our world-class aerospace business is global and to torpedo the claims of Airbus – and some car manufacturers – […]

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The news that Boeing has just opened a £40 million manufacturing facility in Sheffield to make parts for their latest 737 and 767 aircraft, which are assembled in the United States, serves to remind us that our world-class aerospace business is global and to torpedo the claims of Airbus – and some car manufacturers – that Brexit will threaten jobs in the UK because it will cause havoc to the just-in-time manufacturing process. Boeing’s plans call for the production of 52 aircraft a month with thousands of parts being shipped every month to Portland, Oregon, so timely delivery will be just as critical to Boeing as it is to Airbus.

So, the question arises: if Boeing can operate a slick production process using parts made in Britain, shipped six times the distance to their assembly line compared to shipping Airbus parts from Bristol or North Wales to Hamburg or Toulouse (and BAE ship 15% of every single F35 Joint Strike Fighter to the Lockheed Martin plant in Dallas), what is Airbus’s problem? The answer lies not in economics but in politics.

As is increasingly clear, despite protestations to the contrary, elements of the EU really do want to punish the UK for having had the insolence to Leave and to deter other countries from following our lead. France seems to be the most determined to press for punishment, partly to try to seize the City of London’s business and partly to promote President Macron as the new EU leader as Angela Merkel’s grip weakens.

Recently there were reports, subsequently denied, that President Macron intended to require UK visitors to France to obtain visas whilst those Brits with homes in France would immediately upon Brexit become illegal visitors. Apparently, the word ‘not’ was omitted in translation and the proposed new law designed to prevent such action. However, Dominic Raab subsequently spoke about the possibility of France ‘deliberately’ delaying lorries entering the port of Calais.

Earlier this year, the EU announced the creation of a fund to develop new defence equipment, a programme from which the UK, home to Europe’s largest defence contractor and with the largest defence budget in Europe, was to be excluded. Furthermore, the UK is to be ejected from key parts of the EU satellite navigation programme, Galileo, despite having contributed £1.2 billion and constituting, through Airbus subsidiary Surrey Satellites, a key portion of the technology. Any reasonable person would ask where was the commercial, let alone defence, interest in excluding such a major European player. Again, the answer lies not in economics but in politics: the UK has to be punished even if it means damaging the defence interests of the continent.

As we approach the sombre commemorations of the centenary of the 1918 armistice which ended The Great War, it is worth pausing to reflect on the role of some of those nations who, in the famous words of Margaret Thatcher, ‘we either rescued or defeated’.  The British people have voted freely but decisively to Leave the EU, yet face punitive measures by some on the continent for whose liberation in two world wars this country and its Empire shed 1,300,000 lives. Whilst falling over themselves to secure favourable trade deals with the rest of the world, the EU’s leaders have adopted the reverse policy with their closest neighbour, refusing to discuss trade arrangements before sorting out an artificial problem of their creation by weaponising the Irish border, a clear solution to which has been proposed by the ERG and others.

In another example of the pathetic approach in Brussels, I understand that the EU’s aviation safety agency, EASA, is debarred from discussing with our CAA how we manage air travel post Brexit.  Given the UK’s prominence in air transport, with Heathrow being the most important transatlantic gateway airport in Europe, why is EASA not engaged in constructive debate? Iceland, Norway and Switzerland are members of EASA even though they are not EU members, so why remove the UK? Again, the answer lies in politics, not economics. They want to cause inconvenience, if not chaos, to rub home to the others the cost of recovering national sovereignty.

All this illustrates the fundamental naivety exhibited by the UK at the outset of the negotiations, namely that if we conceded and acted in a friendly fashion the EU would respond in similar vein, leading many Leave voters to question the motives of those in charge. We never acknowledged the determination of the Commission to protect The Project (to create the United States of Europe) and we failed to recognise the strength of the cards in our hands.

So we threw away the security card, offering unconditional support to the 27, only to be rewarded by exclusion from EU defence programmes. The Prime Minister offered to pay a staggering £39 billion of our money in return for – nothing. Well, if she thinks British taxpayers will tolerate that, I fear she is mistaken. I can no longer withhold my vote in Parliament, but I can withhold my taxes unless I see a fair trade deal is secured.

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If Czechoslovakia could be split up in six months in 1992, why should Brexit take six years?

Two years, four months and a few days ago, on 23rd June 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU. The date of the UK leaving is currently set at 29th March 2019 – almost three years after the vote. It could be postponed further. In the case of a transitional arrangement that could last […]

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Two years, four months and a few days ago, on 23rd June 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU. The date of the UK leaving is currently set at 29th March 2019 – almost three years after the vote. It could be postponed further. In the case of a transitional arrangement that could last until at least the end of 2020, possibly even beyond the general election in 2022. That would be an enormous six years after the historic vote.

EU mandarins as well as Whitehall mandarins will tell you it must be this way because the relationship the UK has with the EU is too complex to untangle sooner.

However, history offers a different angle. World War I lasted four years, World War II lasted six. Perhaps it’s easier to conquer and then lose an entire continent than to separate two jurisdictions peacefully?

Instead, look at Czechoslovakia, the country where I was born, but a country I never think of as my birthplace. That is because before I even went to school, it had not only transformed from a socialist republic and a Soviet satellite to a liberal democracy, but it also split into two nations. All I have ever known, therefore, has been the Czech Republic. All the turbulent history – Václav Havel elected President, the Velvet Revolution, the first free election, the beginning of economic transformation, Václav Klaus elected Prime Minister, the Velvet Divorce – happened within the first six years of my life.

The curious thing about this is the Velvet Divorce. Let me just briefly remind you of the timeline: the pivotal elections that took place on 5th and 6th June 1992 saw Václav Klaus’s party in the Czech Republic and Vladimír Mečiar’s party in Slovakia both take the lion’s share of the vote in their respective state parliaments and the federal parliament (Czechoslovakia had already been a federation for over 20 years at this point).

Tensions erupted quickly. The Czech PM Václav Klaus met the Slovak PM Vladimír Mečiar in Brno on 8th July and they agreed to split up the federation. The agreement was signed on 26th August and Václav Havel resigned his seat in the meantime (20th July). By 13th November, a law had been enacted as to how the federal assets were going to be divvied up and twelve days later, an act was passed that set the dissolution date at 31st December. Complex matters such as the continuity of the Czech Parliament, continuity of laws, arrangements for courts and so on were all swiftly determined by December. A new Czech Constitution was passed on 16th December.

Czechoslovakia was dissolved at midnight on New Year’s Eve. When the people woke up the next morning, they had new nationalities and the Czech Parliament re-elected Václav Havel as President on 26th January 1993.

Within a mere six months, a comprehensive settlement had been agreed and activated. Immobile assets were distributed to the country where they sat, mobile assets and assets abroad were distributed according to the rough population ratio 2:1. Amendments to international treaties signed by Czechoslovakia were negotiated and signed very quickly by both new republics, confirming the continuation of such treaties. In 1996, the two countries signed a protocol specifying the distribution of duties enshrined by treaties signed as Czechoslovakia.

All of this happened whilst Czechoslovakia and its constituent countries were undergoing a massive economic transformation.

Czechoslovakia was privatising on an unprecedented scale and at an unprecedented pace. In a way, it was like Brexit and the UK’s 1980s privatisations combined, only a lot more complicated. Whereas the 1980s UK privatised two companies a year, the early 1990s Czechoslovakia privatised two companies an hour. Taken together, these companies’ accounting value was a big share of GDP. The voucher privatisation alone (there were other methods of privatisation) privatised companies worth one third of Czechoslovak GDP. All of this was taking place at the exact same time the republics were being separated.

Let us not forget the fact that Czechoslovakia was also a currency union. The original idea was that the currency would continue after the separation, but the Czechoslovak koruna outlived Czechoslovakia by a mere six weeks.

Where there is a will, there is a way. Two things made this possible: Klaus’s insistence that it must happen fast, before organised business interests as well as government could mount a successful defence of the status quo. Then the fact that the two newly-created governments, for all the tension between them, worked together to apply current or previous arrangements in good faith. Wherever questions or differences arose, they sought an amicable solution where none of the parties would score a win for their side but rather one where future cooperation could be maintained.

Nobody was proposing divorce bills or ridiculous notions of planes not flying, trucks stuck at the border, licences not being recognised, or one country continuing to have jurisdiction over the other for the next 100 years. Time, and good faith, were of the essence.

If Czechs and Slovaks were able to separate an entire country in six months, surely Whitehall and the Berlaymont can find a way to extract one member state sooner than in six years.

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