Brexit, pursued by a bear

"You can't leave now David- The Russians are back!"
“You can’t leave now David- The Russians are back!”

The deal on offer from Brussels to Cameron this week was given a further dramatic feel by EU Council President Donald Tusk’s use of Shakespearean verse;

“To be, or not to be together, that is the question which must be answered not only by the British people in a referendum”

His use of the lines from Hamlet Act III, Scene I did resonate with those who merely see the whole process as entirely stage-managed, played-out with artificial suspense before Cameron plays the hero and rescues his country (and his party) from the perils of an un-orderly EU-exit.

But the other 27 countries of the EU will also have their say at the EU summit in 10 days’ time. Given that the proposed deal involves non-Brits getting cut-out of welfare some governments might ‘lose the plot; thus scuppering the deal, as anyone with experience of EU summits knows the script is often torn-up and re-written many times.

David Cameron for his own part seems to being taking his lines not from Hamlet but The Winter’s Tale as he travels to Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary this week where he will attempt to convince the heads the government of mostly Eastern European states (from where it is imagined many recent migrants come) in order to get approval at the summit. How to get them to agree to discrimination against their citizens? The answer was alluded to in one of Tusk’s previous letters, when he wrote in December last year:

“In times when geopolitics is back in Europe, we need to be united and strong. This is in our common interest and in the interest of each and every EU Member State. The UK has played a constructive and important role in the development of the European Union and I am sure that it will continue to do so in the future.” 

Tusk is the first EU President from a former Eastern bloc country and to many on the EU’s Eastern edge the primary role of the EU, like that of NATO, is very clear: a bulwark to protect against Moscow. Given the manoeuvres of Russian armoured divisions in the Ukraine (just over 1,000 Miles from Warsaw), few could blame them seeing some very real ‘geopolitics’ getting closer.
While Paris and Berlin often like to sound conciliatory towards Moscow (partly due to their energy needs) London always takes a firm line with the Russians, something appreciated on far end of the continent, whose governments share none of France’s misgivings about the US’ presence in Europe and all backed Tony Blair over the invasion of Iraq in 2003. But while British conservatives see Brussels as hijacking control over their borders, many further East see it as the guarantor of theirs. Its weakening or the loss of a key strategic ally could be devastating to their new security arrangements.

It’s still unclear how the governments on Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia will feel about Cameron’s offer but Poland’s eurosceptic government is already sounding more optimistic. Yesterday Prime Minister Beate Szydlo said Brexit would be “unimaginable” and could well lead to the collapse of the EU. While discrimination is bad, isolation and exposure to Russia would be worse. Her party is allied to the Tories in the European Parliament which could help any agreement clear another hurdle on the road a referendum, now likely planned for 23 June.

Even before the EU offer was released their foreign minister called for a deal to be struck :

“It would be very difficult for us to accept any discrimination … unless Britain helped us really effectively with regard to the Polish defence ambitions”

Sure enough two weeks later the Ministry of Defence announced that over 1,000 British troops would be committed to Poland over the next two years.

Few would have predicted that it would be Vladimir Putin that helped an intrinsically Eurosceptic British Conservative Prime Minister in his bid to reconcile his party to the EU (for now at least) but such may be the new realities of 21st century Europe.

Arguably the most famous part of A Winter’s Tale is the stage direction: Exit, pursued by a bear.
It seems that in the event of Brexit many on the EU’s eastern fringes are worried about pursued by the Russian bear.