by Ewen Stewart

IT LOOKS increasingly likely that the warning from former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was correct. Speaking of how his country was treated by the EU during its bail-out negotiations, he warned the UK to expect every dirty trick in the book to subvert a fair deal.

The early omens are not good and while observers should keep calm, as it is the 11th hour that really matters and not the noise just now, the recent leaks running in the press, that ‘Briton’s risk losing access to the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), allowing free medical treatment should they fall ill during their stay in an EU country, is another example of the EU deliberately trying to sap the will of the British electorate and subvert the democratic result. This is a naked threat which if implemented would be both vindictive and counterproductive.

Vindictive because membership of the EHIC is not exclusive to the EU, with many non-EU countries being members of this scheme including Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. Therefore what possible justification could they have for blocking the UK’s membership in a scheme that is mutually beneficial?

Counterproductive because for every British citizen living in an EU country there are at least three EU citizens living here! If the EU wants to be vindictive so be it, there are ways around it, and the total annual cost, estimated at £150m pa, shows that this is a headline grabbing inconvenience which could be easily and cheaply insured against. Frankly the EU is shooting itself in the foot and demonstrating just what an unaccountable and lamentable organisation it is.

If EU negotiators are determined to scupper any reasonable deal, they possibly can, but if the EU really wants to ‘make an example’ then Britain too has very substantial cards to play, which for starters would mean retaliation not just in healthcare, but also any mutually reasonable financial settlement, and potentially in terms of other areas where the UK offers substantially more than it receives – for example, education and research, diplomacy and defence and security cooperation. We sincerely hope it does not come to this as it is far better for both Britain and the EU to move to a special relationship based on mutual co-operation and free trade.

The EU’s childish “whatever the UK offers is not enough” and “let’s throw in some pain too to try and divide and rule” demonstrates very clearly why the British electorate was so wise to vote to leave. Ultimately we believe this type of behaviour – of which we expect more – is their last throw of the dice to try and unpick BREXIT and that ultimately when the reality kicks in – that we really are leaving – a satisfactory deal will be brokered.

The EU needs, however, to be careful for if it continues to poison the well it may find the reaction rather different from what was wished for. So far polls show the majority is more than happy with the decision to leave. The more the EU bullies and is manifestly unreasonable the more opposition to the EU is likely to harden.

Ewen Stewart is Director of Global Britain