Former chef des phlegms (that’s Walloon French for Belgian leader,) Guy Verhofstadt is not someone who likes to be out of the headlines for long. With Brexit a done deal and other stories including the Trump impeachment fiaso, climate change and the coronavirus epidemic pushing European Union matters down the running order for news poor Guy must have been feeling a little starved of attention because the day after we left the EU on Jan 31st Guy, in a rabid, rambling rant predicted that in around 30 years Britain, reduced to failed state poverty by Brexit, would beg to be allowed back into the failing Union.
Obviously M. Verhofshit does not pay attention to the news, anyone who did would be aware that Italy, Poland, Denmark, Netherlands and Hungary are jostling to be next out of the exit door, while nationalism is on the rise in France, Germany, Spain, Austria, Portugal and Findland so one has to wonder what makes m. Verhofshit believe there will be an EU for Britain to rejoin in 30 years.
Her’s an excellent response to the Verhofstadt claim from my Quora colleague Barney Lane.
The extraction process from the EU has absorbed an awful lot of political and emotional energy. The formal departure is nearly a year late and the kerfuffle around it has been front page news for four years, during which we’ve lost two prime ministers had three general elections.
Whether supportive of or anti-Brexit, much of the media has been in uproar; either (depending on their leanings) at the supposed stupidity of those voting for it, or the shenanigans of the politicians who’ve been busily working to undermine it.
It’s been a stressful time but today, the situation is different. We have a majority government with a clear sense of direction, one that’s supported by a united parliamentary party. The light at the end of the tunnel is finally coming into view.
By the unspecified time in the future that Verhofstadt has in mind, the UK will have its own political and economic relationships, throughout the world. It will have trade deals with the US and other major global economic players.
With all we’ve just been through, and especially considering the other relationships we’d have to unwind, the case for rejoining the EU would really have to be overwhelming. But it’s very difficult to see the circumstances in which there could be such an overwhelming case, that we’d be prepared to go through that all over again.
The EU will have a share of global output that’s considerably smaller than it is today; by 2030 over 70% of UK trade is likely to be with non-European partners, and the EU will have proceeded further down the path of ever-closer union.
In other words, all the arguments that led to the Leave vote in 2016 will be even stronger. Objectively, it’s only possible to see a weaker case for EU membership than we have today. But a weaker case clearly won’t be enough. The case would have to be considerably stronger and it’s hard to imagine how, with all reasonably predictable trends, this could possibly be the case.
Perhaps the only hope for a rejoin movement is in the short term, not the long term. Hope the government makes such a mess of everything, that a party fights the next election on a rejoin ticket, and wins.
But the probabilities we’re talking about here, are somewhere between infinitesimal and negligible. The government have to make so much of a hash of it, that Labour loses its fear of upsetting its Leave voters. Given what happened in 2019, Labour won’t want to touch a rejoin manifesto with a barge pole.
Take the Treasury’s “immediate and profound economic shock” forecast (which didn’t happen) and treble it. That’s probably the sort of scenario we’d need, for a party to have any chance of winning an election on a rejoin ticket. No predictions (within the bounds of objective rationality) have come anywhere near suggesting an outcome that bad.
Guy Verhofstadt has always been a rather emotional person. He also has a track record of fairly rude outbursts against the UK, including during the period prior to the 2016 referendum. He is almost certainly revealing his conceit. He wants to believe EU membership is the be-all-and-end-all, such that life outside it for a country like Britain is impossible.
See (for example) the video below, from 2011, criticising the UK’s objections to the EU’s proposed budget increase. This was at a time when the global economy was in crisis and everyone else was cutting back, yet the EU wanted its tax payers to cough up more.
Listen to his opening line. Verhofstadt reads a letter from a ”Representative of Her Majesty’s Government” (spat out with undisguised contempt).
“It states that Her Majesty’s Government is disappointed with the Schu report.”
“That means we must have a very good Schu report” he says sarcastically, to applause all round.
As you’ll probably agree, he comes across as a bit of a madman. Notice also the EU’s Martin Schultz, nodding smugly in approval.
This typifies his, and the EU’s attitude towards dissenting opinion. Verhofstadt, acting as the mouthpiece for the EU, was expressing open contempt for a member government, such that if one government (the UK) disagrees with a proposal, that means the proposal must be very good.
In the end, the UK vetoed the EU’s budget increase, so what did the EU then go and do? It removed member states’ rights of veto over budgetary decisions and rammed its budget through.
What you see here from the EU, is not cloak and dagger or passive aggression. It’s active aggression combined with openly expressed contempt for the interests of a member country.
As the saying goes, sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never harm you. Not here. The EU followed through, adding injury to insult by changing the law so it could impose its wishes, regardless of dissenting opinion.
The arrogance and aggressive behaviour of this organisation sometimes beggars belief. At no point did it appear to occur to it, to cast its actions in a favourable light.
How to paraphrase his message? How about “We despise you. Your views count for nothing. You can’t vote us out so we’ll oppose your interests with impunity. But you need us so much that, mark my words, you will be back”.
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Britain has a history of not bending to people who behave like that and I don’t expect that will change in the foreseeable future.