The European Union is on the backfoot, but few seem to notice

Brian Monteith
The potential for parliamentary go-slows is immense – the vandals are at the gates waiting to lay waste (Source: Getty)

There is a very bad habit that many of our broadcasters have of focusing on what might befall us.

It reminds me of Frankie Howerd in Up Pompeii bemoaning “woe is me, woe is me” – as if he might warn his master against leaving the Empire without a deal.

It would be refreshing were there to be even a modicum of interest shown in how much the failure of the House of Commons to back the withdrawal agreement – or propose any alternative this week – has put the EU in real difficulty.

The deal between the EU and the Prime Minister is abominable, and should be rejected again if it resurfaces. It cedes sovereignty over key economic decisions, such as trade policy and City regulation, rather than pooling it as we do now.

So what catastrophes could Frankie Howerd warn the 27 EU member states about?

If the UK leaves without any comprehensive agreement, overnight many EU products will face tariffs pricing them far higher than now.

The Irish will especially be hurt, for not only is the UK their largest export market after the US, but the vast majority of Irish exports to the rest of the EU travel through the UK.

Likewise, price differentials between, say, German Audis or Porches, and British Aston Martin’s, Morgans, or TVRs will benefit our businesses at a cost to the Germans.

The last thing the becalmed Eurozone needs right now is an economic shock, and the UK leaving without an extension of tariff-free trade while a Free Trade Agreement is negotiated could tip the Eurozone into recession. The very fact that Chancellor Angela Merkel has suddenly become animated, and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is visiting Berlin and Paris tells you that they are worried.

Woe are they.

The Prime Minister might decide, or be instructed by the alternative government of Sir Oliver Letwin, Yvette Cooper, and Nick Boles, to apply for a long extension from the EU.

This would mean the UK remaining at least temporarily an EU member and taking part in both the European Parliament Elections and budget processes beyond 2020.

The prospect of Nigel Farage and a Pretorian Guard of Brexit Party MEPs adding to the likely disruption that will come from populist parties winning elections in Italy, France and across the EU will send a shiver up the Commission’s back.

The potential for parliamentary go-slows and the UK withholding approvals for necessary financial and regulatory agreements is immense. The vandals are at the gates waiting to lay waste.

Woe is the Commission.

To avoid these two harbingers of doom, the EU could of course withdraw the Irish backstop from the withdrawal agreement – but this would come at a great loss of face.

It would be a massive diplomatic climbdown after all the leadership have said, with Varadkar thrown under the Brexit bus in the rush to let it pass.

Strangely both Varadkar and Jean-Claude Juncker have made it plain in the last week that, in the event of a no-deal, new arrangements can be found to avoid a hard border – in which case, why was the backstop required at all? As Theresa May has failed to ask for it to be omitted, they will have to propose its removal to her at the European Council meeting on 10 April – making the change of heart an even bigger climbdown.

Woe are they.

It does not look especially clever from the EU’s perspective. And yet, despite having correspondents in Brussels, Strasbourg, Berlin and Paris, the BBC, ITV and Sky are all very poor at reporting the EU’s difficulties.

It’s as if the broadcasters don’t want the British public or our MPs to know.

Instead, they fixate on the possibility of a General Election and the replacement of the Prime Minister. What they fail to appreciate is that May cannot call an election, but needs parliamentary approval, which Tories, fearsome of losing, will not grant.

At the moment, the real power lies not with Remainers like Letwin, but with the DUP MPs like Nigel Dodds. If there is just a whiff of the withdrawal agreement being passed without the backstop being removed, the DUP will bring the government down by dropping their confidence and supply.

The Tories will then need to find a new leader, and he or she will have to be approved by the DUP – or it will be pointless.

These are the realities that our broadcasters are missing. Woe are they too.

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