Views vary on what would follow from a No Deal No Deal – i.e: Britain leaving the EU without any agreement on anything much at all. One take is that the damage to some of our neighbours – especially Ireland, the Benelux countries and Denmark – would be so severe that all concerned would rapidly come to their senses. We would all then rapidly move to a Deal No Deal, roughly as described yesterday by Wolfgang Münchau in the Financial Times.
Another is that since a No Deal No Deal could only come about after fissiparous disagreement, and a refusal by Britain to stump up the £40 billion provisionally settled last December (“nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”), there would be no swift or easy move to a Deal No Deal. Those who think this is more likely tend to argue, too, that there will be no single negotiating mechanism to bring about a resolution, since the current structure, with Michel Barnier leading for the EU Commission, will have out-run its mandate.
What we know for certain is that, in the event of a No Deal, Britain will have to deal both with the Commission and the EU27 – since some of the matters concerned could be sorted at a bilateral level, but not all. Maybe the nation states would step in to take control over EU-wide business. Then again, maybe not. Which takes us back to the Commission and a third EU institution, namely the European Parliament.
The Commission will be in flux. The current team of commissioners will be replaced at the end of this month next year. So the jockeying and lobbying to replace them should be in full swing next spring. And European Parliamentary elections will take place next May, after the UK has left. So MEPS, like the soon-to-be-retiring commissioners, won’t have their eye on the Brexit ball next March, or indeed on any policy ball at all: they will be focused on that priority for politicians everywhere – getting re-elected.
You will see where all this is going.
Yes, the Secretary-General of the European Commission would, as Brussels’ most senior civil servant, have a lot of room in these circumstances for manoeuvre. And that person is Martin Selmayr. “The Monster of the Berlaymont” needs no introduction to our readers, though a recent part of his story may be worth pointing to: how he was hustled by Jean-Claude Juncker into his present position, after which the European Ombudsman found Juncker’s team guilty of maladministration on four counts. And they wonder why we’re leaving!
If the record isn’t enough for you, here’s the view of a Minister. “There are three layers to Selmayr. First, he is utterly committed to the federalist ideal. Second, he’s a workaholic. Third, he doesn’t like Britain.” The Secretary-General is legendarily resentful of the rambunctious British media, and its uninhibited reporting of his grandfather’s 15-year post-World War Two sentence for war crimes. Josef Selmayr had served as a Wermacht Lieutenant-Colonel in the Balkans.
He was released early, and went on to become the first director of the West Germany’s counter-intelligence service. His grandson’s sensitivity about Josef’s C.V apparently extends to him having edited the relevant Wikpedia page. At any rate, Selmayr is the power behind Juncker’s tottery throne, widely blamed for inserting himself, in effect, into his present position. The Budgetary Committee of the Parliament, no less, condemned the appointment as a “coup-like action”.
Ministers are apprehensive about having Selmayr in place in the event of a breakdown of relations. A fractious No Deal. Immense disruption. No clear mechanism to resolve it. Parliament in turmoil. Commissioners on their way out. MEPs preoccupied with elections. And Selmayr in place at the Commission. What could possibly go wrong?