The UK voted to leave for political and not economic reasons, so the EU will negotiate a deal on the same grounds

A week after Theresa May committed, via an amendment to a Labour motion in parliament, to publishing her Brexit plan before triggering Article 50, we’re still none the wiser about her plan.

In Brussels, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, and others are slowly getting their ducks in a row. But Brussels insiders and commentators are at pains to remind the UK that this is a UK ask, a UK negotiation, and frankly not top of the Brussels priority list where issues like banking and migration continue to dominate.

When I spoke to Brussels insiders last week, they were also at pains to point out that this will be a political negotiation, and not an economic one. The overwhelming message was: that Britain would do well to remember that in preparing for the negotiation.

Arguments about how much the EU and its member countries would benefit from the UK continuing to play a role in the single market, for example, or those made by the Governor of the Bank of England last month about EU governments depending on loans which emanate from the City are all accurate.

But the clear sense from Brussels was this. The process of leaving the EU will be an emotional and political negotiation, rather than one based on cold hard facts.

Protecting the European project will come above all else; and therefore demonstrating to other anti EU movements in member states that exit is painful and difficult.

And this is not a new approach in Brussels. If we want a recent example of the EU putting political issues head and shoulders above economic or financial based decisions, we need only look at the handling of Greece and the Eurozone crisis.

Greece should have been bailed out early on. And, if the EU were making decisions only for economic and practical reasons, should have done so. Yet, in this case, they chose not to. It would not have been politically acceptable.

Later on, the EU should have kicked Greece out of the Eurozone – this would have been the only logical economic conclusion – but didn’t. Instead, again, they kept them in for political reasons which flew in the face of economic reality.

A few commentators even told me that since they felt the UK had voted for exit from the EU on political and emotional grounds rather than on economic data, we couldn’t really expect the EU to approach the negotiation about our exit in any other way.

The real question is how far Brussels will go on this occasion in defending the project. And how much Theresa May is willing to call their bluff.

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