After the great divorce from Brussels there are indeed multiple signs of one side turning its face against the wider world while the other forges ahead as a force for global good. Only events are unfolding the opposite way around from that forecast by Project Fear. While the United Kingdom has just co-ordinated an international agreement to make tech giants pay a fairer share of tax, while pushing for a much more ambitious global Covid vaccination programme and is in the lead on tackling climate change, it is the EU that is failing to adapt to the modern world.
Indeed, its behaviour towards Britain these days resembles one of those US high school movies in which a clique of pupils responds to one of its number daring to do something different by declaring: “You can’t be friends with us.”
The latest tactic of EU member states is to prepare a “code of conduct” for dealing with Britain to make sure that nobody gets too close.
Reports last week suggested that Brussels is perturbed by the contacts Britain is making with European countries on a bilateral basis. We are offering friendship while they wish to treat us as a pariah.
The real fear in Brussels is that if Brexit Britain proves a roaring success then other countries will start eyeing the EU exit door enviously.
So penalising us has become an end in itself in the eyes of the European Commission. In the spring this was seen in its absurd attempts to prevent EU-based pharmaceutical companies from fulfilling legallybinding contracts with the UK in respect of vaccine supply.
Our vaccines task force, under the direction of the brilliant Kate Bingham, had left their slow and overly-bureaucratic approach exposed to ridicule. So we had to be punished.
Not that it caused us much trouble in the end – after all, Ms Bingham had ensured that we had vaccine supplies to spare.
Far more dangerously, the EU is now seeking to penalise the UK via a draconian approach to implementing the Northern Ireland protocol in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
Its pernickety checks and failure to live up to advance promises of goodwill have caused shortages of some goods in Northern Ireland and stoked fears among the Unionist population that they are being cut adrift from mainland Britain.
Former senior Commission official Martin Selmayr was alleged to have said after the referendum that Northern Ireland was the price that Britain would pay for Brexit. That certainly fits with the posture adopted by Brussels.
As a result, sectarian tensions are rising and there was a large Unionist demonstration against the protocol in the town of Portadown on Saturday.
Ultimitaly, if the EU won’t adopt a much lighter-touch approach to checking consignments of goods from the British mainland, then the British government will be fully justified in ditching the protocol on the permitted grounds that it is causing “economic, societal or environmental difficulties”.
Many on the UK side now believe the EU is cutting up so rough precisely because Brexit is going so well. UK unemployment has remained low throughout the Covid crisis, with joblessness across the euro area much higher – around eight percent compared to our five percent.
Most economic forecasters now expect the UK to leave the EU trailing in terms of growth. The influential Paris-based OECD last week predicted the British economy will return to its pre-pandemic size by the middle of next year – several months ahead of the likes of France and Spain – and raised its UK growth forecast from 5.1 percent to 7.2 percent.
This week we will see an increasingly confident Boris Johnson leading calls at the G7 summit in Cornwall to get the world vaccinated against Covid by the end of next year and Chancellor Rishi Sunak basking in international congratulations for brokering the Big Tech tax deal. Expectations are also rising for autumn’s UN climate change conference in Glasgow. And British trade deals with other countries continue to be struck with impressive regularity.
Rather than cavil at our success or waste time plotting to scupper it, the movers and shakers of the EU should finally come to terms with Brexit and focus on getting their own house in better order. Otherwise they will end up turning “Little Europe” into a laughing stock.