MATT KELLY: Now is the time for the European Union to change its tune

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, left, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, centr

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, left, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, centre and European Parliament Brexit chief Guy Verhofstadt. Photograph: AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias. - Credit: AP

While we drown in the chaos of our domestic ineptitude, let's not let the European Union off the hook.

It's easy to become obsessed by how Theresa May's government has mishandled Brexit from day one, and how the Labour Party have fundamentally failed in giving the British people a clear, unambiguous alternative to the circus in Downing Street.

But those who say the EU has behaved brutally towards the UK are on to something. Whether you blame them for letting us twist in the wind is one thing, but it's a fact.

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The EU let David Cameron twist when they failed to give him something tangible go take back to voters to demonstrate they understand the fundamental issues many of us have with the union. It backfired on them then (though it was, of course, us who took most of the blast).

But the European Union is not an ideal institution. Some of its leadership is questionable. Some of its principles are applied dogmatically rather than with a pragmatism that would bring people with the project, rather than leaving them railing against.

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And that's not just happening here. In Germany, Spain, Greece, Italy and many other member states, there is serious public contempt for how Brussels has driven policies that have a fundamentally bad effect on local communities.

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If the EU takes the mess of Britain today to be evidence that they were right all along, they'd be mistaken.

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There's a golden opportunity now - a brief window where a conciliatory and comradely EU could reach out - not to our politicians but to us, their bosses.

If we could hear, clearly, that a Britain that remained in the Union would help lead its rebirth, and would be taken seriously as a country that bore the fresh scars of the fight to be a part of this community of nations, then both politicians and voters would not feel this desperate position of loss from all quarters.

Britain is too big a country, has played too big a part in Europe's remarkable continental progress, is - despite current appearances - too great a democracy to be forced to shoot itself in the face or slink back ignominiously to a table of scorn.

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If the EU thinks this story has to end in our humiliation, they are making a bigger tactical mistake than our government. And that's saying something.

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