THERE is no plot to rejoin the EU. Not yet, at any rate.
But many Europhiles want us to carry on following EU rules and regulations in the hope that, at some point down the line, we might think again.
Whether or not their tactic succeeds, they will do a lot of damage along the way.
There has been a fuss about a reported conference at Ditchley Park country house, in Oxfordshire, which brought together leading Remainers with one or two Brexiteers to discuss how to get closer to Brussels.
For what it’s worth, the headlines were wrong.
According to those Brexiteers present — who included Michael Gove, Lord Lamont and Lord Howard — the meeting was not about rejoining.
It was about how to improve our relations with the EU — something that no one can object to.
Storm in Parliament
Most of our outstanding problems with the EU are the other side’s responsibility.
The UK allows EU passport holders to enter through our e-gates, but the EU refuses to return the favour.
That is an issue for them, not us.
The UK imposes no checks on imports from the EU, because we trust the other side’s standards.
The EU, by contrast, conducts more checks on goods crossing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland than it does along the whole of its eastern border.
The UK has offered to participate in joint scientific and research projects, as many non-EU states do, including Israel and Canada. The EU says no.
Britain offers equivalence to EU financial services companies.
The EU offers equivalence to, among others, China and Mexico, but not to the UK.
If improving our relations with the EU means helping the EU to overcome its sulkiness and to start treating us like any other neighbour, that is uncontroversial.
The concern is that the real agenda is to hold Britain in the regulatory orbit of Brussels pending a later attempt at re-entry.
This is what the row about the Northern Ireland Protocol is really about.
Brussels, encouraged by British Europhiles, wants Britain to adopt its future standards automatically.
It also explains the storm in Parliament about scrapping thousands of EU laws that have stayed on our statue book since Brexit.
Two weeks ago, the EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the door to membership was open.
“My only advice is just on divergence,” he declared. “If there is too large divergence, it will be more difficult.”
Which is, of course, why Europhiles are digging in so fiercely to keep the EU’s standards, even though the original reason for having those standards — making it easier to sell to the EU — has disappeared.
For what it’s worth, I don’t believe that Britain will go back in.
It is true that opinion polls currently show a small pro-EU majority, but they did the same in the run-up to the 2016 referendum.
An incoming Labour government won’t want to waste an entire parliament on trying to go back in when it is likely, in the event, to lose the referendum.
In any case, a vengeful EU is in no mood to offer concessions.
Rejoining would mean even higher budget payments than before and having to join the euro.
But refusing to diverge from the EU means we give up on the opportunities of Brexit.
In order to keep the dream of eventual re-entry alive, Europhiles must convince us that Brexit has been a disaster.
In fact, given the costs of the lockdown and the Ukraine war, Britain has not done badly.
Our economy outgrew the EU’s in six of the seven years since the referendum.
The exception was 2020, when many would argue that we suffered from a worse lockdown.
In 2021 and 2022, we were the fastest-growing major economy in the world.
Europhiles have a curious lack of interest in what is happening in the EU.
It is not just that its growth rates are slow.
It is that all the original reasons for our leaving have been reinforced.
Bags full of banknotes
Brexit means we have avoided 7,391 extra regulations.
We have escaped liability from the EU bailout fund established to deal with Covid.
Whatever problems we have with our MPs, they have not been accused of accepting paper bags full of banknotes — the charge made against MEPs in a recent row allegedly involving the Moroccan security services.
We have begun to set the rules in our own interest.
Brexit let us win the vaccine race.
It is giving us freeports and better rules on gene editing and biotech. It is setting us free from burdensome regulations in financial services. It has allowed us to scrap the tampon tax.
We set our own rules in farming, fishing and animal welfare. We have trade deals with Australia and New Zealand and are on course to join the Pacific trade alliance.
Yes, we should be going further and faster.
But let’s not give up just as the benefits are starting to flow.