Panicky and desperate moves by Brussels to bully Boris Johnson are going to backfire.

Boris Johnson may well be guilty of massively misjudging the coronavirus impact in the UK and leaving it way too late to implement counter measures. 

Indeed, press reports which suggest thousands of people need not have died simply by his hesitation of a couple of weeks are probably accurate. But what UK media doesn’t report on is how he accurately guessed how Brexit negotiations would play out.

Johnson insisted on a maximum period of one year for talks, issuing an ultimatum to Brussels that the UK would leave the EU – with or without a deal – on the last day of this year.

And if the petulant Michel Barnier, chief Brexit negotiator, cannot back down from what is a very churlish position – bullying the EU or freezing talks – then the deadline to extend the talks, June 30, will pass and there will be no time to negotiate a deal.

Simply, it is looking increasingly unlikely that the EU can strike a deal of any kind before the December deadline – even if Johnson makes token concessions on tariffs on certain goods entering the EU market, as he did recently. 

Both sides have stepped back from talks and are accusing one another of not being able to take important steps to negotiating on a swathe of prominent issues. 

Glass houses

There are numerous areas of disagreement between the two sides, with whether the UK can take back control of the English Channel and North sea for its fisherman topping the list.

But the interpretation and “maintenance” of a level playing field once the UK begins to trade with the EU is also a large area of dispute as is labour standards, foreign aid, security and conditions for future access into the single market. 

Britain has long argued for a deal similar to the one that Canada has, but this has been habitually rejected by the EU as Britain’s proximity to the European continent makes it different and throws up a number of problems which Canada doesn’t present.

In the coming days in June, the talks are likely to collapse entirely and this will be a huge blow in terms of credibility to the EU as sceptical member-states like Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands and even France will look at the move by Michel Barnier as weak and ineffective –  despite ‘le blockage’ on fishery rights coming straight from member states and not Barnier.

A breakdown would likely coincide with another crisis which highlights how divided the EU is over the pandemic: EU leaders will meet in a Brussels Summit and – supposedly – sign off what was hoped would be a $2 trillion dollar rescue fund for Eurozone countries which have been hit hard by the virus, namely Italy and Spain. 

The rescue plan has many holes in it as northern European countries want it to be a loan which member states have to pay back, whereas the southern countries want it to be a ‘grant’ which the EU itself borrows and pays back. 

Even the figure of 2 trillion has been scrapped in the last days of May only to re-emerge as a tad over $565 billion in grants.

But where does this money come from? The trillion pie-in-the-sky idea was supposed to come out of the next seven-year budget (and borrowed from international markets). 

The more modest 'grant' is expected to be drawn from existing member-states' purses. And it’s this which is really a thorn in the side of the EU as Boris, rightly, responds as you would expect: We left the EU, remember?

A crisis of credibility

As Italy begins street protests and the call for Rome to actually leave the eurozone begin, Brussels seems to be drowning in its own confusion and an overall credibility crisis. 

A lot of talk comes from the EU machine, but during these difficult times, European citizens want to see action – which is not happening. Brexit talks are seen as a distraction from the overall credibility crisis that the EU is desperately trying to smother.

And another real body blow to the European Union’s credibility is coming when at some point during June, the EU giants – France and Germany – will take control of the colossus of a mess which Barnier has produced as the so-called “negotiator”.  

The EU’s worst nightmare is a good deal for the UK and so it plays dirty with its game of smoke and mirrors, by delaying talks so as to attempt to panic the UK team. But it won’t wash. 

Johnson was way ahead of the game, and this month will tell British business leaders that they have 6 months to prepare themselves to leave the EU, come what may. 

The European Union has a long track history of never negotiating fairly. 

In the case of Brexit, it will be ultimately France and Germany who will decide if the UK crashes out of the EU. Merkel and Macron will have to weigh up just whether the project itself can sustain one more body blow, while it is disturbing to read reports of retaliatory measures Macron is planning against Britain in the scenario of a hard brexit.

It’s not only the EU in Brussels which is panicking, it seems.

A clue to this is buried deep in the threatening exchanges of letters from Barnier to the UK team, one of which actually uses the coronavirus as a reason for Britain to lie down and accept what they have to offer. 

Britain will face a number of difficulties on a logistical level in the early months of 2021, but the EU could be facing an unprecedented internal crisis.

In Brussels, there is a sense of delusion in that the EU believes that it can keep the UK in the common fisheries policy – which presently allows the farce of Dutch fisherman to catch fish off British shores and then sell them to British consumers – and that Britain should put its hand in its pocket to partly finance a padenmic bail out. 

But the real fear is about how the UK crashing out of the EU will make its currency devalued and its products cheaper – therefore being in a position to undercut overpriced EU suppliers, even with a WTO tariff slapped on. 

The EU’s in real trouble with June set to be a hot month in Brussels.

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