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Bad faith from Brussels [updated]

This is an updated and expanded version of an editorial originally published on 2 February 2021.

Whatever the  limitations of the final Brexit agreement negotiated by Britain with the EU – and there are certainly a good few – it is now blindingly obvious that the EU has never been happy with it. 

It had thought it could browbeat Britain into a fake Brexit where we would remain bound by the terms of its single market and still under the thumb of its European Court of Justice. But Britain’s firm stand called the Brussels bluff, and in the end it had to settle for what is, in essence, the independence of a former member state. 

And there’s a vast contrast between the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and the TTIP treaty with the US that the European Commission tried and failed to foist on the peoples of the EU five years ago. In particular, disputes about the agreement will not be handed over to binding arbitration by international lawyers. 

International agreements, though, are meant to be followed in both letter and spirit. But the EU has shown it has no intention of doing this. The first months since the Trade and Cooperation Agreement  entered into force saw a host of minor and major attacks on the cooperation and transparency the EU was supposed to have pledged itself to. 

We have seen the extraordinary – if short-lived – invocation of Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol. A ban on British sausages being sold in Northern Ireland. Even the sequestration of a ham sandwich  from a truck driver. 

Meanwhile, containerloads of British pork  have been held up for weeks because of over-complex customs forms, and the export of live shellfish to the EU has been stopped. 

To cap it all, the vindictiveness shown by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and French president Emmanuel Macron to Britain’s stellar vaccination strategy underlines how desperately the EU wants Britain to fail. 

We can expect that spite to intensify with every success Britain notches up, whatever the cost to the EU itself. That’s been particularly obvious in the response of the European Commission and leading national politicians to Britain’s clearly world-leading vaccination programme. 

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. The unscientific campaign waged against the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has left Germany, for example, with hundreds of thousands of shots that none of its citizens want to take – while the pandemic rages there. 

All of which raises the question: If the EU has been negotiating in bad faith, why have an agreement at all?