With all the determined scaremongering about Brexit being conducted by very well-funded and well-connected establishment folk, there is one particular question that seldom gets asked – let alone answered – by the political media.
It is as follows: just supposing the anti-democrats of Continuity Remain were to get their way and Brexit failed to happen, what would the UK’s future as a brought-to-heel, continuing member of the EU actually look like?
Fortunately, there are a few occasions that do shine a media glare on the federalising plans of Brussels – and the State of the Union speech by the European Commission President is foremost among them.
It is not just the rather pompous title of this speech – aping that of the US President’s annual political scene-setter – that grates on many British ears, but also the content.
On Wednesday in Strasbourg, Jean-Claude Juncker made his fifth and final State of the Union speech and, just like all the others, it rendered denials that the EU is hell bent on “ever closer union” utterly pointless.
In his usual somewhat soporific speaking style, Mr Juncker set out his latest ambitions. Continuing internal borders within the EU should be scrapped, he declared, thereby blowing-up Remainer claims that there is leeway for Britain to control EU immigration without fully leaving the bloc.
After a somewhat less catastrophic 12 months on the economic front than usual, Juncker was soon waxing lyrical about the single currency, declaring that “the euro must become the active instrument of a more sovereign Europe”.
But the key moment came a little later. At the risk of mixing my metaphors, I am moved to observe that when he pulled his rabbit from the hat, some old eurosceptic chickens also came home to roost. The moment concerned the Lisbon Treaty (ah, remember that from back in the days when William Hague still had fire in his belly?).
Mr Juncker told the assembled MEPs that he wished to scrap an array of national vetoes in the areas of foreign policy and tax policy:
“The Commission is proposing to move to qualified majority voting in specific areas of our external relations… This is possible on the basis of the current treaties and I believe the time has come to make use of this lost treasure of the Lisbon Treaty. I also think we should be able to decide on certain tax matters by qualified majority.”
“Lost treasure” indeed. Isn’t it a good job that not very much of the British electorate believed Peter (now Lord) Hain’s description of Lisbon as a mere “tidying-up exercise”?
Worse still, Manfred Weber, the leader of the giant EPP parliamentary group and a close ally of Angela Merkel, supported this plan to get rid of national vetoes when he got up to speak.
So, no border control, ever-growing pressure to join the euro and the phasing out of national vetoes as permitted under Lisbon – these are just some of the federalising measures the EU is about to accelerate. As if to underline the point, later in the day the parliament passed by a two-thirds majority a motion of censure against the government of Hungary for, among other things, its imposition of national borders.
Oddly, amid the rush to federalism, Mr Juncker actually struck a more emollient tone about Brexit, stating explicitly that “we respect the British decision to leave our Union”. When I uttered a “hear, hear” at that point in his speech, he actually stopped and acknowledged it. This clear statement of respect for our great democratic decision is more than we have heard recently from many British politicians on the losing side of the 2016 referendum.
And Juncker also used conciliatory language about the thorny issue of the Irish border, telling the parliament: “We want to find a creative solution that prevents a hard border in Northern Ireland.”
Given the sterling efforts in this regard of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group, perhaps we are getting to a stage where the elevation of this issue will no longer be used by Brussels and by Remainers in Whitehall circles to try and keep Britain de facto in the Single Market for goods and other EU paraphernalia.
“If you leave the Union you are of course no longer part of our Single Market and certainly not only in the parts of it you choose,” said Mr Juncker. He was crystal clear that he wanted to see an ambitious free trade agreement, but that Britain could not remain a Single Market member.
So, if he is willing to be creative on the Irish border, wants a free trade deal and will not allow the regulatory cherry-picking envisaged by Chequers, then clearly the kind of Canada plus deal favoured by David Davis is the obvious way ahead.
Nigel Farage picked up on this in his own speech, telling Juncker that on Brexit he had “some very positive things to say” and that both sides wanted a free trade deal.
Brussels is ready to embark on its next great flurry of European political integration. Britain is ready to repatriate national democratic sovereignty and pursue a global trading future while both sides wish to maintain free trade between each other. As Lord Tebbit once remarked: “Goodbye, I hope we can still be friends.”
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