From Beijing, where I now am, the UK looks small. It also looks as if it has fallen into the hands of lunatics engaged in an astonishing act of national self-harm. But this, Brexiters will say, is an illusion. The UK is going to “take back control”. The slogan was brilliant. But it was the biggest delusion of all.
Control is different from sovereignty. As I argued during the referendum campaign, the UK was already sovereign: it could, if it wished, vote to leave the EU. It did so, but promptly discovered that, while it was sovereign, it was not very powerful. Yet control is about power.
In the post-referendum negotiations with the EU it has turned out, as informed people knew it would, that the EU was more powerful than the UK. This was so for a simple reason: it could impose far heavier penalties on the UK than the UK could on the EU. Britain sends 47 per cent of its exports of goods to the EU, while the rest of the EU sends 15 per cent of its exports to the UK. For the EU, the UK market is important. For the UK, the EU’s is vital.