The EU is at risk of betraying everything it claims to stand for in vindictive looking opening Brexit gambit.

Part 2 of Article 1 of the UN’s founding charter on its purposes and principles could not be clearer:

“To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace”.

Article 15 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris in 1948, is equally definitive:

  1. Everyone has the right to a nationality.
  2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Both texts date from the aftermath of the Second World War, the second global war to originate in Europe, and the UN was founded with the explicit intention of preventing another human catastrophe on that scale.

The EU, which was awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, has long trumpeted its own peace-building, human rights and ‘free club’ status. It has a lot to be proud of. Whilst many would argue credibly that NATO has done more to bolster peace in Europe, the EU has played a significant role in bringing European countries together amicably and supporting fragile new democracies. Some critics have argued its recent support for the imposition of extreme austerity measures and technocratic governments in parts of Southern Europe go against that democratic spirit, but the EU throughout its history has unquestionably been a positive supporter of human rights.

So it was to the surprise of many of the EU’s defenders in Britain that the draft Brexit negotiation guidelines published today by the European Council included this clause:

Gibraltar

Now, these are only draft guidelines yet to be approved by the EU27, who will agree the final text at the end of April at a special Council meeting, but the optics are terrible.

The EU said it wanted to put citizens first in the Brexit negotiations. It said it did not want a punitive divorce. It said it wanted to remain close partners with the UK and its people.

Now, in one sentence it risks appearing to cast aside all that goodwill and undermines its reputation as a global champion of human rights, democracy and self-determination. It seems to be setting itself against self-determination of people and the UN’s founding charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As one of its key 26 priorities in negotiations it wants to give Spain a veto over the future lives of the people of Gibraltar. There was understandable upset and anger on the Rock today.

Anonymous sources in Brussels said the EU was only looking after the interests of the remaining 27 members, i.e. Spain, but does the EU really want to do that at the expense of its commitment to fundamental human rights?

Judging by twitter (always to be done with caution) many people who voted Remain in the UK referendum, and I include myself in that, were saddened and dismayed by the EU’s abandonment of its core principles in apparent pursuit of a bargaining chip in the upcoming divorce negotiations. It appeared to give credence to many hard Brexiteer criticisms of the EU just at a time when reasoned voices in the UK are trying to help foster support for an agreement that will necessarily involve compromise on both sides.

All divorces are difficult, but people’s lives and identity are not playthings to be trifled with.

Some voices in the circles of power in the EU believe it is fighting for its survival, and that Britain must be seen to suffer to discourage others from leaving. Quite the opposite is true, if the EU seeks to frighten its remaining members into staying it will sow the seeds of its own destruction. The Union’s unique selling point in comparison to other efforts to unite the European continent has always been that it is a free club.

Growing up in the Soviet Union, Donald Tusk gets that, and has emphasised he does not want to see a punitive divorce. Those words, seemingly undermined by today’s draft guidelines, need to be put into action.

It is in everyone’s interests, both people and governments, for the UK and EU to part on good terms and remain close partners. The UK stands ready to ensure just that, but there needs to be goodwill on both sides.

After today’s blip, let’s hope the voices of humanity and reason will hold sway in the ensuing 24 months, and beyond, because the UK remains part of Europe. It is only leaving the EU, which is not and never has been the same thing, as the 200 million Europeans who are not EU citizens can attest.

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