Where the EU meets “Ordinary Joe”

Graham Charles Lear
5 min readOct 1, 2019

Boris Johnson is about to tell EU leaders of the Government’s plans for a new ‘deal’ on which the UK will leave the EU on 31 October (2019). The mood music out of Brussels is less than positive, as they do not appear to believe that Mr Johnson will go far enough for them.

Perhaps it’s time to stop, reflect for a moment, and ask ourselves a simple question.

Just why IS it so hard to leave the EU?

The latest EU Treaty (Lisbon) for the first time provided a specific exit mechanism for members wishing to leave, under Article 50. In effect, it allowed for a two-year notice period.

So far, so simple.

In fact, it really is simple. Any normal person — let’s call this person “Ordinary Joe” — can read Article 50 and understand it in everyday language. Here’s part of it.

“The Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.

For Ordinary Joe, this means that the EU negotiates the wrapping up of membership with the departing member state in the light of the new relationship going forward. It does NOT preclude new trading arrangements being negotiated at the same time. Nor does it stipulate what has to be negotiated and in what order.

So how did the EU make the process of leaving so hard?

It took the EU one year (bar a few days) from the date of the Referendum until they had their negotiating position agreed and were ready to start talks.

During that time, they had already declared that the UK could not start negotiating new trade deals with other countries, even though this is nowhere to be found in Article 50. They had also declared that no discussions of any kind could take place between the EU and the UK until the UK had formally triggered Article 50. Again, this is nowhere to be found in the treaties.

Ordinary Joe would no doubt have found it sensible to start talking informally as soon as the Referendum had taken place. ‘Non, pas possible,’ according to the EU.

The start of the talks

For absolutely no reason, the EU then stipulated that only three matters could be discussed. Until these had been agreed, all other matters were on hold.

Ordinary Joe’s response would doubtless have been “Don’t be silly, we only have two years so let’s get on with everything in parallel.” He might also have added “Any agreement on the first three issues depends on agreements on all the other issues, so it’s pointless to discuss three things in isolation. We need to discuss the quickest and simplest ways to leave all EU institutions and agencies, and talk about what kind of trading arrangement we all want going forward — at the same time.”

Sadly, Mrs May rolled over and allowed talks to proceed on the EU’s ridiculous basis.

Six months were then wasted on just three issues when so many other matters could have been discussed at the same time.

What did the EU really want?

There was no doubt from the start of the talks that the EU was going to make this as difficult as possible. The EU constantly used phrases such as “this is not about revenge”. Ordinary Joe might well have quoted the Bard at them “Methinks he doth protest too much.”

This happened again a week last Sunday, during President Juncker’s interview with Sophy Ridge on Sky News.

“People have seen what can happen if a country decides to leave. And what I wanted to tell the British public and your audience is that I have no sense of revenge.”

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Sep 2019

Credit: Sky News

At this point, we should talk about the EU’s negotiating team. They were all unelected Commission men and women. In practical terms, it meant that the UK was dealing with EU extremists — zealots who believe in the EU as if it is a religion. They are almost incapable of seeing that anything other than the EU’s ways are possible or remotely desirable.

Ordinary Joe might well have said to them:

“Look, I know you believe in all this stuff, but we don’t. The British people have voted for freedom, independence, and full sovereignty. Going forward we’ll do what we want, so get over it and then let’s carry on.”

Instead, the EU ploughed on, insisting on terms which made leaving the EU as close to EU membership as possible, strangling the UK in one clause after another which prevents any possibility of independent action.

Oh yes, the money….

One of the three golden demands of the EU before anything else could be discussed was money. Lots of it.

Article 50 clearly says that“The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement”.

That means rights AND obligations. The idea that the UK should voluntarily make any payments to the EU after exiting is novel, to say the least.

As Ordinary Joe might put it. “Forget it, pal. If you negotiate reasonably then at the end we might consider a gift, on top of the hundreds of billions we’ve already given you, but that’s for the end of the talks, not now.”

Boris and the Withdrawal Agreement

Within the next 48 hours, we will know what Boris Johnson is proposing to the EU. Certainly, some of the rumours out of №10 already seem to show that his proposed ‘deal’ does not “rip up” Mrs May’s surrender treaty.

The deal that the new Prime Minister said was “dead” may well rise from the grave. I prefer to deal in fact rather than rumour so its best to report further when the facts are known instead of spreading a rumour.

To be honest, the EU should have been told where to go when they first started with their demands. This is not to say that negotiations should have been aborted, but that the UK’s opening position should have been firm.

Within a few months, it would then have been clear that the EU was not negotiating in good faith. The UK could have presented the facts to the world and then the UK could have started serious preparations for an exit as soon as possible, whilst setting up trade deals internationally.

We all still hope that Mr Johnson is preparing for a clean break on 31 October — anti-democratic Remainer MPs and Remainer Speaker permitting — but to be quite honest we have to have grave concerns. We now have just 31 days to go before the third (extended) deadline.

[ Sources: EU-Lex law library | Sky News interview ]

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Graham Charles Lear

What is life without a little controversy in it? Quite boring and sterile would be my answer.