Only the EU, an organisation with four presidents, could have two ‘chief negotiators’ charged with agreeing the terms of Britain’s departure from the EU. I am not sure, then, how seriously to take the figure of Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian MEP who has been appointed the European Parliament’s chief negotiator. If we agree something with him, do we then have to agree it with Michel Barnier, the EU’s other ‘chief negotiator’, and if they can’t agree, which ‘chief’ is really in charge?
All I know is that what we have seen from the EU’s leaders in months since Britain voted to leave the EU is a good reminder of why the country made that decision. Far from proving itself to be the open, liberal organisation it claims to be it has revealed itself to be a closed, protectionist bloc which doesn’t want really want to do business with an ex-member and, worse, doesn’t want us to do business with the outside world, either. No wonder British voters decided that we were better off out.
That is not, needless to say, how Mr Verhofstadt sees it. Rather he sees Brexit as a little squabble inside our governing party. He said today:
‘A young generation that will see Brexit for what it really is – a catfight in the Conservative party that got out of hand, a loss of time, a waste of energy, stupidity.’
It is an utterly bizarre thing to have said. The Conservative Party has 150,000 members. The referendum was decided by 17 million votes to 16 million votes. How can a decision which was made by the British public as a whole be blamed on a squabble among the Tories?
It is true that we might not have had a referendum had David Cameron not concluded that it was the best way to manage anti-EU sentiment within his party. Had we had no referendum and Conservative MPs been left to squabble over the EU among themselves Britain would not now be leaving that organisation. But it wouldn’t just have been a handful of Tory MPs who were left feeling frustrated; the views of 52 per cent of the British public would have gone ignored.
EU leaders such as Mr Verhoftsadt would have seen no problem in that at all. While he calls himself a liberal he proves by his words that he is not much of a democrat. He shows not an ounce of respect for the democratic decision of the British people.
As with Mr Verhoftsadt, as with the EU as a whole. It was founded on a deep suspicion of democracy, and its institutions have been set up to thwart democracy at every turn. The EU’s ruling belief is that democracy gave us Hitler and therefore the people should never be trusted with real power ever again, only through the illusion of it – such as having a parliament to rubber-stamp legislation dreamed up by unelected officials behind closed doors.
Is Britain even the most Eurosceptic country in the EU? We don’t know. The likes of Verhofstadt might like to think of us as an aberration but we will only find out the true scale of anti-EU feeling if other countries were to be allowed to have a referendum, too. The views that Mr Verhoftsadt fantasises exist only in the minds of Peter Bone and a few other Tories might turn out to be rather widely-shared.