The confirmation by a government source that the Prime Minister will not be attending the 60th anniversary celebration in Rome on 25 March of the signature of the EU’s founding treaty in 1957, despite being invited to do so, marks another error of judgment as the government moves towards the opening of the most problematic and risky negotiations in Britain’s recent diplomatic history. As a means of generating goodwill among our future negotiating partners this scores “nul points”.

How does this decision fit with the government’s frequently reiterated assurances that we remain a fully participating member of the EU until the day we leave, on the government’s own target, in March 2019? It does not; any more than absence from the Bratislava summit last September did so.

How too does it fit with the government’s proclaimed desire to see the EU, even without the UK, prosper and succeed? Again, it effectively contradicts those sentiments. Do we really believe that the decision taken 60 years ago by our closest neighbours, allies and partners to put behind them definitively the internecine warfare which had led to two world wars, on the explicit advice of Winston Churchill in his famous Zurich speech of 1946, is not an event which we should be celebrating too?

So how did the government come to take such a narrow-minded and dog in the manger decision? No doubt we will be told that the government did not want to embarrass our EU partners by being a spectre at the feast. That is not a sensitivity for their feelings which is always apparent in what the government does and says.

Or is it because the Prime Minister did not want to face the criticism from her own benches for attending a celebratory gathering of an organisation which many of them sincerely hate and would be happy to see broken up, irrespective of the negative consequences for our own prosperity and security? Far-fetched? I doubt it.

It really cannot be repeated too often that the Brexit negotiations will succeed only if a spirit of mutual benefit to both sides can be engendered. A “them and us” approach, of which this decision is symptomatic, is more likely to lead to a train-wreck. It is not difficult to identify those, from Moscow to Washington, who will raise a glass of prosecco to that outcome.

by David Hannay | 16.02.2017

Edited by Bill Emmott

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