Philip Hammond’s Weak Diplomacy And Our Friends In The European Union

Philip Hammond - European Union - Remain - EU Referendum - 2

If the Foreign Secretary sincerely believes that other member states would punish us for leaving the European Union, he hasn’t been doing his job cultivating strong diplomatic relationships and standing up for Britain

Alan Johnson and Philip Hammond both clearly attend the same branch meeting of the Dewy-Eyed European Union Cheerleaders Association, because both politicians – one Labour and one Conservative – are both now peddling the same pathetic line to the media, namely the suggestion that Britain amicably leaving the European Union would be like “sticking two fingers up” at our allies and inviting some form of deserved retribution in return.

Alan Johnson writes in MailOnline:

In terms of our own borders, Britain is actually in the best possible position – in the EU, signed up to the Dublin Accord but outside Schengen.

Thus economic migrants have to register in the EU country where they first arrive (thousands have been deported from Britain in the past 20 years for breaching this requirement), and a visa is still required for anyone outside the EU to enter this country.

Furthermore, it was because Britain was part of the EU that David Blunkett was able to persuade Nicolas Sarkozy to, in effect, move Britain’s border from Dover to Calais.

If Britain put two fingers up to the 27 other nations in the EU the first reaction of the French would undoubtedly be to end that arrangement, thereby ending the security barrier that that arrangement offers us.

This was tremulous, scaremongering nonsense when the same idea was advanced by Conservative MP Mark Field, and it is tremulous, scaremongering nonsense when it comes out of the mouth of Alan Johnson, too, having been comprehensively refuted and debunked by many people, not least on this very blog.

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond – who one might have expected to know and conduct himself better, given the fact that he currently serves as Foreign Secretary – echoed the same cheap catchphrase to MPs in Parliament.

The Telegraph reports:

The Foreign Secretary has told MPs a leave vote the EU would be seen as “two fingers to European leaders and we can expect the same in return.”

He says that if Britain votes to leave the EU “the mood of goodwill towards Britain will evaporate in an instant”.

This is essentially an admission of incompetence by the Foreign Secretary. What Hammond is suggesting to us with this cheap attempt at scaremongering is that he has so mismanaged our relationships with key European allies, and so misled them as to the nature of British public sentiment toward the EU and the consequent possibility of Brexit, that our perfectly amicable and controlled departure would come as a complete shock to them.

Furthermore, if Hammond’s words are to be taken seriously, it means that he has presided over the worst diplomatic failure in recent British history – namely the failure of a declared nuclear power, as well as a leading military, economic and cultural power, to command such respect on the world stage as might survive us leaving a supranational arrangement which we no longer believe works in our favour. Is that really what the Foreign Secretary wants to tell the British people?

Europhiles and Remainers can’t decide whether Brussels is friend or frenemy; whether the other EU member states are dear friends who would be sorry to see us go, or bitter rivals who would seek to punish Britain for rejecting their vision of a politically unified Europe. And it is about time they made up their minds.

As this blog recently pointed out:

Of course, the cynical pro-EU “Remain” campaign tries to have it both ways. When it suits them in their campaigning, the EU is a happy-go-lucky club of like-minded countries who frolic and trade with one another. But when that hopelessly naive, childlike view of Brussels is questioned by eurosceptics and Brexiteers, out comes the other portrait of a snarling, vicious EU which will ruthlessly destroy Britain if we continue to drag our feet or think about leaving.

Good cop, bad cop. Europhiles will normally try the “good cop” routine first when engaging with undecided voters. But this tends to come unstuck as soon as eurosceptics and Brexiteers counter with their own positive vision of Britain restored as a sovereign democracy playing a full and engaged role in global trade and world affairs.

Since the pro-EU crowd are unable to share their own repugnant vision of a politically integrated Europe for fear of scaring people away, they are instead forced to go negative, hence the rapid and disconcerting pivot from “See how nice the European Union is, and all the wonderful things it does for us” to “If we try to leave the EU, they’ll rough us up”. Truly, their position is less a serious argument about governance and diplomacy, and more the tortured thought process of a battered spouse trying to rationalise staying in an abusive relationship.

In many ways, it is unsurprising that there is so much confusion over what would likely happen in the event that Britain declared our intention to leave the EU following a “Leave” vote in the referendum. Few journalists have taken the time to assimilate the information and share it with their readers, which then positively begs unscrupulous Remainers like Philip Hammond and Alan Johnson to exploit the public’s fear and ignorance.

The excellent Brexit blogger Ben Kelly lays the groundwork – and demolishes a lot of misconceptions on both sides of the debate – in this piece at Conservatives for Liberty, well worth quoting at length:

Negotiations undertaken after citation of the withdrawal clause of the Lisbon Treaty will be a matter of practical politics. Although the application of EU and international law is not a settled issue, especially in this as yet untested area, the notion that the EU would refuse to cooperate, or even seek to “punish” the UK in the event of secession – thereby clearly violating EU law as well as failing to comply with international law – is beyond the realm of realistic politics.

Although Article 50 negotiations conducted under a framework of treaty law will be first and foremost a political matter, it is clear that lawyers will be consulted regarding the laws application. What we can be certain of is that – as Sir David Edward, the first British Judge of the European Court, has said – EU law requires all parties to negotiate in good faith and in a spirit of cooperation.

Article 50 requires the EU to conclude an agreement with the seceding state, “taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union“. Notably, Articles 3,4 8 and 21 of the Treaty on European Union require the EU to “contribute to … free and fair trade” and to “work for a high degree of cooperation in all fields of international relations, in order to … encourage the integration of all countries into the world economy, including through the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade” and to adhere to the “principle of sincere cooperation […] in full mutual respect” and “assist each other in carrying out tasks which flow from the Treaties.”

Moreover, the Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties obligates negotiators to act in “good faith” and “good faith” itself is an underlying principle of international law, and certainly a principle of WTO law.

The EU negotiators must therefore endeavour to reduce trade restrictions in accordance with treaty provisions and, crucially, their actions are justiciable. If EU negotiators were to veer away from treaty provisions, or indeed if any other EU member sought to impose sanctions or restrict trade, the UK could opt to lodge a formal complaint with the European Court of Justice (ECJ), and block the discriminatory action.

It must be remembered that during the Article 50 negotiations the UK remains a member of the EU and enjoys the full rights and privileges of membership. The Commission itself may be legally obliged to step in and begin infringement proceedings against the offending member state.

It may amuse lazy political commentators to paint the hypothetical future Brexit negotiations as some kind of zero-sum game, trial of strength or fiendishly complex case study in Game Theory, but this would simply not be the case. The truth would be altogether more boring and pragmatic than the europhile naysayers would have us believe, with both sides obligated to negotiate with one another in good faith.

Kelly is right to eschew the tub-thumping “they need us more than we need them!” kind of language as he builds his case, but nonetheless it is worth pointing out that in the event of Brexit negotiations being initiated, all national governments would come under huge and sustained pressure by their local business leaders and lobbyists to avoid taking any retaliatory or counter-retaliatory action which might lead to the throwing up of onerous new barriers to trade.

Given the amount of money and reputational capital that many multinational companies are willing to spend lobbying and campaigning for a “Remain” vote, it is not unreasonable that they would make equally strong representations to the British and EU member state governments to ensure a smooth and orderly Brexit – one which this blog firmly believes is best accomplished by following a fully worked-through plan like Flexcit, in which we would minimise economic disruption from leaving the EU’s political union by maintaining our EFTA and EEA membership.

Those people on the Remain side who seek to dumb down the argument and reduce the nuanced situation of Article 50 Brexit negotiations to a cartoonish “sticking two fingers up at Europe” / “get punished by France and Germany in response” are being deliberately misleading in attempt to distract from the paucity of their case. But worse than that, they are also subscribing to the fatalistic, anti-British mindset which states that our country – the fifth largest economy and one of the most consequential actors on the world stage – is actually nothing more than a minor, third-rate country, easily bullied by its peers.

But remember: by peddling this nonsense, EU apologists like Philip Hammond and Alan Johnson are not merely demonstrating their lack of faith in Britain (particularly concerning coming from a Foreign Secretary). They also reveal their lack of respect for the intelligence of their fellow citizens, whom they lazily assume can be swayed and manipulated by their base scaremongering and dark warnings of EU reprisals.


British Foreign Secretary Hammond attends a news conference in Riyadh

Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.

Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on TwitterFacebook and Medium.