GOSH, isn’t this whole Brexit thing all going terribly well so far?
At least it is when you define “terribly well” as doing well at going terribly and alienating your best friends in order to turn them into implacable foes who are determined to undermine you by all and any means at their disposal.
Under that definition, the UK Government is a world beater and in a class of its own. Where Brexit is concerned, a Conservative like Michael Howard or Norman Tebbit has the Sadim touch. It’s Midas in reverse, everything he touches turns to dust.
Loading article content
Not so long ago, the best pals of the Tory Party in Europe were their Spanish conservative colleagues in the Partido Popular. Now, the Spanish are public enemy número uno, what with their threats of a veto on any Brexit deal that involves Gibraltar. Anyone who had been paying attention could have seen one that coming, but the Tories were so drunk on Rule Britannia and the prospect of Empire 2.0 that they forgot that the UK is now a smallish European power that’s only able to imagine it can punch above its weight because it’s teetering on a stool borrowed from the Pentagon. It was obvious to everyone except a Union flag-waving Brexiteer that leaving the EU handed a massive negotiating advantage to the other EU member states, and that they were going to use that to the fullest advantage.
Once the Conservatives discovered the entirely predictable, they reacted like spoiled toddlers who were told they could no longer play with a toy that they’d never shown any interest in playing with to begin with.
The Tories have a habit of using former leaders and ministers to air views that the current leadership doesn’t want to say in public, and so we had Howard threatening war over Gibraltar.
As a result of this, during the debate in the European Parliament this week, the Spanish MEP Esteban González Pons accused the Conservatives of taking Scotland out of the EU against its will. The Tories can’t help themselves, though, and just keep digging. Tebbit was so annoyed that he appeared on telly threatening that the UK might support Catalan self-determination. Because whenever you think of supporters of independence movements, Norman’s name is the first on your lips and his views had nothing at all to do with a petulant objection to Spain’s change in mood music about Scotland.
Naturally, this only annoyed the grown-ups even more, and on Friday in retaliation González Pons tweeted that the EU should enter talks with Scotland. It was all very different a few years ago.
González Pons has a long history in the Scottish independence debate. Back in 2012 when the first independence referendum was looming, he went to the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham and had a meeting with Ruth Davidson and other representatives of the Scottish Tories. The meeting was revealed in the Spanish media. At the time, not a single UK media outlet reported on it.
According to the reports in the Spanish language press, the purpose of the meeting was to agree a common strategy for dealing with independence movements, and to co-ordinate a common response to them. González Pons claimed in a report in the Spanish newspaper El Periódico on November 5, 2012, that he had negotiated the signing of an agreement of political collaboration with the British Conservatives, which was to be put in black and white the following month in Madrid. He also claimed the was due to come to Edinburgh for further meetings with the Scottish Conservatives, and also with representatives of Labour.
The Partido Popular was keen to establish a pan-European alliance among members of the European Popular Party, the EU grouping to which the Partido Popular, and formerly the UK Conservatives, belonged. The meeting with Davidson and other Scottish Tories was a key part of this strategy.
Only the pro-independence digital newspaper Newsnet Scotland reported on the meeting in the Scottish media. Asked by Newsnet about the reports in the Spanish press, the Conservatives vehemently denied there was any deal with the Spanish Partido Popular, but refused to answer questions about whether they had been having meetings with them. Labour refused to answer any enquiries at all. You can see why they might be keen to disassociate themselves from González Pons’s remarks. Having secret meetings with a foreign power in order to influence a democratic vote in your own country doesn’t look good, not even by Tory standards.
Despite the Conservative claim that there was no deal and no agreement, González Pons attended their party conference in Manchester the following year, and again met with Ruth Davidson. The meeting was reported in the Spanish edition of the Europa Press on October 3, 2013.
Despite claims that there were no deals, no agreements, and no common anti-independence strategy, it was very noticeable during the independence referendum that most of the prominent EU figures who spoke out against Scottish independence were associated with the European Popular Party, including the former Belgian prime minister Herman van Rompuy and the Swedish politician Carl Bildt. Statements opposing Scottish independence from both received huge publicity in the Unionist press.
The significance of the recent statements from González Pons is about far more than Spain.
He was instrumental in organising European-wide opposition to Scottish independence in 2014. His recent statements make it clear there will be no such concerted anti-Scottish independence campaign this time. The Unionist armoury is going to be very depleted, and there will be no supporting fire from Europe.