May appeared surprised. Presumably, no one had said it to her so plainly in a long time. She defended her vision, while alluding to earlier European negotiations: with Protocol 36 it proceeded like that, though - a mutually beneficial reciprocal agreement, which on paper changed much, but in reality, changed little. That set off alarm bells among Juncker’s people. They had already feared something like this, now it had surfaced.
Protocol 36 dealt with an addition to the Lisbon Treaty, the last major reform of the European agreements. Therein is the hodgepodge of special rules, one of which concerns the British. They had agreed on an opt-out of the entire interior affairs and justice policy. At home, that could be sold as defending British sovereignty. However, for two thirds of the approximately fifty laws concerned, London voted directly to opt back in, having just opted out – in its own interest. No one wanted to draw attention to it. And this is how May now imagined the future relations of the entire Union: officially a hard severance, but in reality, on the basis of self-interest, still together.
Confronted with a choice
Juncker saw himself confronted with a choice: either keep quiet and, if possible, sustain May’s illusions, or counter them. He chose the latter. “The more I hear, the more sceptical I become,” said the head of the Commission. The dinner was half over.
The second half wasn’t better. The subject of money came up in conversation. The EU estimates costs of 60-65 billion Euros for London. May argued that her country didn’t owe the European Union one penny; after all, there’s nothing in the treaty about a final tally due in the event of an exit. Her visitors countered: London accepted legally binding payment obligations with every budget decision and medium-term finance planning of the past. The EU is not a golf club one can join and quit at will (certainly not without losing one’s deposit). The European Union is much more like a lifelong partnership with the purpose of peace; the parents had children and with divorce, they must acknowledge their obligations.
Brexit Minister Davis proffered that the EU could not indeed push through its requirements if London was out and no more subject to the European Court of Justice. Alright, said Juncker, but then the others would refuse to enter into a free trade agreement. Moreover, the entire exit process would be entirely different. According to the EU-Treaty, only the Governments and the European Parliament must agree to an exit convention in each case with a majority. But if the negotiations were to go as Davis suggested, so that the other states sit on the British bill, each and every parliament must be involved. After all, national MPs decide what their governments are going to pay to Brussels. And why should they foot the bill for London?