Theresa May has put herself in the worst negotiating position in history

It’s reported that Theresa May has agreed to pay the European Union €45-€55 billion as a ‘divorce bill’ when we leave the European Union. To put it into perspective, that’s around £1,000 for every adult in the UK.

I desperately want Britain to leave the EU. It’s not just about the economic benefits that we could reap if we were to do it properly, but also about regaining our freedom to make our own laws, having full control of our borders, abandoning failed EU policies in agriculture & fisheries, and rejecting any form of EU Army (I wonder whether Nick Clegg is now going to apologise for claiming that was a fantasy, like he had to apologise over tuition fees?).

If we were to leave the European Union with no deal, the World Bank claims our trade with the EU could drop by 2%. That’s 2% of 12.6% of our GDP, or potentially 0.25% of our national income. We currently spend 0.7% on overseas aid alone. Even if the overly-gloomy World Bank prediction were true (and it isn’t), the 0.25% drop could be offset by no longer paying our EU membership fee (gross 1%, and net 0.4%, of our national income). It would be mitigated by an uptick in the 70%+ or so of our economy that is internal – British businesses trading with each other would no longer have to be subject to clunky EU legislation. It would be mitigated by an uptick in our trade with the rest of the world once we regain our ability to sign trade deals (a less spineless government would be opening negotiations right now, ready to sign on Brexit Day and steal a match on the EU), which is already slightly more than our trade with the European Union.

That ‘no deal’ prospect isn’t what UKIP wants. It’s not even what Labour or Conservatives want. It’s not what the European Union wants, it’s not what business wants – and certainly not what the German car industry wants. Nobody wants a ‘no-deal’ scenario. What we do want, however, is the final deal to be better than a no-deal scenario. Protecting that 0.25% of GDP is worthwhile, laudable even, but not absolutely paramount.

But for all of her talk that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, she’s agreed to hand over £1,000 of your money just to open talks. That money comes with no guarantee of anything tangible in return. That strikes me as the worst negotiating position in history. May started out holding most of the aces: as net importers from the EU, a ‘no-deal’ scenario would mean more money coming to the UK exchequer in tariffs than going to the EU. The UK’s global place in academia, research, security and intelligence should be another ace. The ability to walk away without paying a penny, leaving the EU budget over-subscribed if we give them nothing? Another ace.

Instead, the EU has been allowed to dictate the pace. In any negotiation, you have to come to the table confidently as equals. You have to be prepared to walk away, temporarily or permanently. Want the best deal on a new car? Try walking towards the showroom’s exit door and the impossible suddenly becomes possible.

Theresa May has been bullied, allowing the EU to set out the process for withdrawal and present the British government with a series of hoops to jump through. Instead of resisting, May has complied just like a seal jumping through a hoop. Instead of playing her high cards, using them as leverage to obtain what the UK wants from the EU, she’s meekly surrendered every single one of them. She’s not been helped, admittedly, by a Labour Party that has consistently been little more than a mouthpiece for the European Union’s negotiating position. It’s almost as though they want negotiations to go badly to give them an excuse to criticise the government. Oppositions should oppose, of course, but they shouldn’t conspire against the interests of the British people.

Theresa May has just undertook the biggest sellout of British taxpayers in my lifetime, goaded into it by those who haven’t fully got to grips with the referendum result. Some of them would still, even now, have us remain in the European Union despite the way they’ve treated us. In any divorce, surely, if your ex-partner becomes nastier, that isn’t a good sign to suggest that you ought to get back together. Brexit: right decision, appalling negotiation from the Tories.

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