In 2017 the EU’s chief negotiator mocked the foreign secretary’s claims that the EU can “go whistle” if it expects a large Brexit divorce bill from the EU.

The EU is reportedly expected to demand up to €60 billion from the UK as part of Brexit negotiations. Boris Johnson told the House of Commons that the EU were demanding “extortionate” sums from Britain. “The sums they [the EU] propose seem to be extortionate and I think ‘go whistle’ is an entirely appropriate expression,” he said.

Asked about Johnson’s comments, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned that time was running out for the UK to get a Brexit deal. “I am not hearing any whistling, just the clock ticking.”

Barnier said the UK must meet its financial obligations or risk breaching trust for its future relationship with the EU. “How can you build a future relationship with a country where you don’t have trust?” he said.

One has to concede that the relationship between the UK and the EU is bad. With this opening statement, Prof Melanie Sully started her long-awaited lecture on Wednesday evening at the British Embassy. There is too much negative baggage, she continued, and problems will flare up “over and over again”, and we should not be surprised if things are staying pretty sour.

That this is so has nothing to do with Brexit, Brexit did not start this! The fault lines were there long before. The political system is broken, ultimately leading towards Brexit, which demonstrably is not the solution.

The fault lines can be found in the backlog of societal division: the division between the North and the South, the Rich and the Poor, Race, Religion and Woke or not Woke. “Woke” standing for “to be alert to injustice in society, especially racism”.

The fault lines can also be found in the ambiguous attitude towards the Royal Family, a relic from the “White Imperialist Era”. When in the 1930s, almost all of Europe was in the grip of some form of dictatorship, the institutions, like the monarchy, parliament and the Anglican Church, which has held society together for so long, prevented the English fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts to have more than their 15 minutes of glory. But the Empire is no more, and the institutions are now on the defensive.

Something completely new and unexpected started to take place: The Elite, enjoying privilege and education, turning against the Establishment, these institutions, that offered them these opportunities! Like Eton-educated Boris Johnson or in the 1930s the famous spy ring “The Cambridge Five”, who were recruited as Soviet spies while at Cambridge University. Only the Working Class still clings loyally to monarchy and monarch. How paradox!

The United Kingdom has no written constitution. During the Brexit negotiations, Britain was constantly referring to “Sovereignty”. What does it mean? You can’t be sovereign in this modern world, or can you? Well, for the British, Sovereignty is their substitute Constitution! Sovereignty rests with parliament so parliament can hand back Sovereignty to the people, for example, in a referendum. That complicates matters a great deal, particular since the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties.

She was discussing the problem of Northern Ireland, which according to Prof Sully, is also a European problem, not merely a British, and Scotland, who wishes to have her own state. We had to accept that the future for the UK is not all that rosy. A divided society is holding Britain back on the World Stage, and there will be no British return to the European Union. “The clock is ticking”, she concluded ominously.

Perhaps we should close with the famous words of Donald Tusk, former President of the European Council, “I’ve been wondering what that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted Brexit, without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely.”

Following a very lively and probing question and answer session, expertly moderated by our President, Prof Dr Kurt Tiroch, we all retired into the glorious garden of the Ambassador’s Residence to a small reception of delicious titbits and ample liquid refreshments. To those who didn’t manage to attend, a message of commiseration: You missed one of the highlights the Austro-British Society had to offer.

Wolfgang Geissler

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