The Brief: Stop this Brexit madness

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

Stop this Brexit madness

After months of stalling and political upheaval, London’s Brexit chief David Davis finally sat down with his EU counterpart Michel Barnier in Brussels today.

For Britain, this marked the end of the phoney war. But the road to Brussels has already taken a heavy toll on the UK’s credibility, destroyed the unity of the British people and soured the goodwill of the European Union.

The political squabbling and back-stabbing that followed David Cameron’s resignation last June finally produced a prime minister the electorate did not really want and a government that did not seem to believe its own hard-line rhetoric.

From the Brexit brigade’s initial chest-beating and wild promises of reduced immigration and increased prosperity to Theresa May’s shrill denunciation of the EU’s “threats against Britain”, the British position has been chaotic and weak.

Meanwhile, from “no negotiation without notification” to “no single market access without free movement”, the EU has been consistent and cool-headed. With negotiations now under way, there is no reason to think this will change.

Back in the UK, the “will of the people”, once the unassailable justification for a hard Brexit, has clearly moved on. As the extent of the damage ahead has become clear, even the most obnoxiously pro-Brexit figureheads have softened their tone.

The staunchly anti-EU Mail on Sunday published a survey yesterday showing that the vast majority of Brits now want to stay in the Customs Union, believe that no deal is the worst possible outcome and that a second referendum should be held on the terms of an exit deal.

Another recent YouGov poll found that even most pro-Brexit voters now want to stay in the single market and that 62% of British people think mutual rights to work, travel and residence should be protected.

The EU doesn’t want the UK to leave and the British people don’t want to lose the advantages of EU membership.

Davis today said Brexit would be a “deal like no other in history”. But once the pleasantries are over and the talks get tough, even died-in-the-wool Eurosceptics like Davis will find it hard to dress up any Brexit scenario as an improvement on EU membership.

Barnier should encourage him to accept the olive branch offered by other EU leaders and put an end to this madness.

Otherwise it might just go down as the worst deal in history.

The Roundup

President Emmanuel Macron won a majority in France’s legislative elections yesterday, but not with the crushing landslide some polls had predicted.

NATO rehearsed its defence of the Baltic states in case Russia moves to cut them off from their Western allies. EU foreign ministers have agreed to enhance cooperation with the military alliance.

The EU’s new Unified Patent Court, based in London, currently has no plans to leave the UK after Brexit. Unlike the EU’s medicines agency and banking authority, its relocation will be subject to the Brexit negotiations.

A man ran over worshipers outside a London mosque early this morning, killing at least one person and leaving others injured, in what police are treating as a terrorist attack.

Federica Mogherini said two EU staff members were killed during a suspected terrorist attack in Mali.

The Commission has told Greece it must hand out food, not issue vouchers to its most deprived citizens, under an EU aid programme. Athens argues that vouchers allow poor people to live with “dignity”.

Greece has blocked an EU statement at the UN on human rights in China, saying it amounted to “unconstructive criticism”.

Forest fires in Portugal have killed at least 61 people. France, Spain and Italy have all provided equipment to help contain the blaze.

Helmut Kohl, the leader who oversaw the reunification of Germany and one of just three honorary citizens of Europe, died on Friday at the age of 87. The EU plans to hold a ceremony in his honour.

Retailers fear that efforts to tackle obesity will lead to tobacco-style regulation of food and drinks. They argue this disrupts the flow of trade for questionable health benefits.

Look out for…

EU Brexit chief Michel Barnier and his British counterpart David Davis hold a joint press conference today at 18:30. Bulgaria’s 38-year-old Commissioner-designate Mariya Gabriel will be grilled by MEPs tomorrow afternoon. Gabriel needs the Parliament’s approval before she can take up the post as EU Digital Commissioner.