It is just possible as of today that by 17th/18th October at the European Council meeting, using perhaps even its well-tried mechanism of stopping the clock, an agreement on a EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement under Article 50 can be achieved and the UK leaves the EU on 31st October with Conservative, DUP, some Labour and Independent MPs’ support. That would be by far the best outcome. Yet it is much more likely that there will not be a positive response in Brussels and that there will be no EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement before the House of Commons for the fourth time.
In which case, on 19th October, on instructions from the European Union (Withdrawal) (No 2) Act 2019, more commonly referred to as the ‘Benn’ Act passed into law on the 9th September, the Prime Minister will be forced to write to the EU asking for an extension under the terms of Article 50. But issuing that letter cannot preclude the executive taking other legal actions to protect UK national interests. A rather neglected part of the full Supreme Court judgment on prorogation in paragraph 55 says remember “always that the actual task of governing is for the executive and not for parliament or the courts”. Extension is a device to delay again a decision. It probably does stop a so-called ‘no deal’ under Article 50 but it need not stop the UK leaving on 31st October.
What we need to do before writing any extension letter is for the UK Government to write, preferably now, to all of the 31 other countries who are contracting parties to the European Economic Area Agreement (EEAA), as well as to the EU, indicating that whether or not an extension is granted by the EU, the UK intends to continue in the EEAA as from the 31st October. A separate letter to the three non-EU EEAA members would also ask that the UK can participate in the EFTA governance pillar. If the extension is granted by the EU, the UK will have to continue to talk about a Withdrawal Agreement but it will then be in tandem with the UK being no longer in the EU and still being a contracting party to the EEAA.
Preparations for an exit from the EU on 31st October 2019 must not be reduced but stepped up. The Government has to do this for there is no doubt that some MPs and some in the EU see an extension as the mechanism for the UK to remain in the EU. It is a well-used technique in the past for other EU countries which after unacceptable referendum decisions were subjected first to delay and then forced to repeat referendums. Fortunately, continued membership of the EEAA for a transition period outside the EU can only be challenged in law within the Vienna Convention on International Treaties which the UK will fight. In the EEA Single Market there will be no need for the UK to take recourse to WTO tariff schedules for intra-EEA trade. Irish border problems associated with leaving the EU would be more manageable by virtue of the regulatory harmonisation on SPS and other trade issues that the continued membership of EEA would bring. Even some problems over cross-border customs duties could be reduced and it would be wise for the UK Government to start to unilaterally implement in Northern Ireland the new cross-border trade and customs provisions suggested to the EU as part of the Withdrawal Agreement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Throughout the last three years I urged Theresa May not to foreclose the option of transitioning out of the EU through the EEAA option as we leave the EU because I believe all of Europe would benefit from an EEA transition, rather than to leave with no deal at all. It is important to recognise that the former Prime Minister came very close in March 2018 to submitting the necessary letter giving the mandatory 12-month notice, but at the last moment our Ambassador in Oslo was stood down from delivering the signed letter from Theresa May. That letter would never have been even contemplated if it was not thought to be legally desirable before signing a Withdrawal Agreement under Article 50 a year later, as she planned to do.
Without having delivered the letter, the former Prime Minister has fortunately, intentionally or unintentionally, left open the option of our continuing membership of the EEA but outside the EU. In an EU extension period, the UK can compare any likely Withdrawal Agreement stemming from those talks with continuing in the EEAA, having control of our own fishing negotiations on conservation and other fishing matters and starting our own trade negotiations with other non-EU countries worldwide.
Single Market transitional arrangements underpinned by the European Economic Area Agreement is something which we were anyhow continuing under the terms of all the drafts of the Withdrawal Agreement so far, albeit in an attenuated form, since it prevents us from exercising our rights on fishing and to enter free trade agreements. This relationship to the EEA was purposely obscured for those MPs who wanted to pretend that there was no involvement with the Single Market for a transition period in all the three Withdrawal Agreements offered to us by the EU. Had we accepted without giving the statutory notice, we would have claimed it was justified by saying de facto we were still in the EEAA in the Withdrawal Agreement. The minor legislative changes necessary eventually for completing this move for the UK leaving the EU simply mirror the changes but in the opposite direction to when Austria, Finland, and Sweden – members of EFTA – acceded to the EU. The changes in legislation then were so minor that the legislative changes to the Treaty were not completed for nine years. So, there is no need at this stage to put these minor changes about non-EU membership into the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 which states we are leaving our current status as EU members of the EEA. It is noteworthy that Croatia is already in a different category for EEA membership called ‘provisional’. What is being done is making a minor adjustment to an existing Treaty and such international documents quite often only make the legislative adjustments much later.
Given the build-up of negativity in the EU over whether a Withdrawal Agreement under Article 50 can be negotiated twenty days before the 31st, now is a good time to indicate to all EEA members, including the three non-EU members, that we will be continuing our membership but as a non-EU member after 31st October. This non-EU EEAA transition period can in no way be reasonably depicted as ‘crashing out’ of the EU. In the absence of agreement under Article 50 it takes every possible measure open to us to soften leaving while not being forced into an EU customs union. It renders the Irish backstop null and void. which all along has in reality challenged the core principle of consensus between the parties to the Good Friday Agreement. After a period of adjustment, non-EU EEA membership for the UK during the transition offers a better chance of restoring consensus in Northern Ireland and it is a weakness in the Good Friday Agreement that the Assembly can stay suspended for such a long period and one we all need to try to bring to an end.
What was never given any civil service consideration by David Cameron’s Government was Article 50. He simply announced we would exit through it without any understanding of the very nature of Article 50. It is not a conventional international negotiation. It was designed by two distinguished figures, the former UK diplomat, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, and by the former Italian Prime Minister, Giuliano D’Amato, both ardent federalists who have made it abundantly clear in public and private that their design of the Article 50 for the Lisbon Treaty was deliberately weighted against the country wishing to leave the EU, in a way that no sensible government would ever invoke it. I have never ceased to argue that the UK should not have used Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, since it was a mechanism fraught with so much difficulty for us and that we should have exited through the arbitration procedures within the terms of the Vienna Convention on International Treaties.
The crucial error that the UK Government made in presenting their case before the Supreme Court which started on 17th September 2019, following the Government’s decision on a long prorogation of Parliament on 9th September, was in not demonstrating that the concept of parliamentary sovereignty involves much more than just how long and when Parliament sits. It involves governing in a complex, increasingly international world. We in the UK have evolved over the centuries two separate systems: firstly a separation of powers between the judiciary and Parliament; and, secondly, a fusion of powers between the executive, consisting mainly of MPs on the frontbench of the House of Commons, and the official Opposition who communicate through the “usual channels” and backbench MPs from different parties as well as a few independents. The current deadlock in Parliament and postponement of exiting the EU after the referendum, which has gone on for three years, has meant that the functioning of the fusion of powers between the executive and MPs has broken down and that should have been stated from the outset by government lawyers to the Supreme Court.
The fact that the Withdrawal document proposed by 27 EU countries has been defeated three times by the present Parliament raises profound questions for the government about UK MPs readiness to ever endorse the EU referendum decision. This political change in the conduct of government and accountability to Parliament following a referendum should have been the central argument raised by government lawyers during the hearings in the Supreme Court to explain the background to the decision of the government on prorogation. Nor did they bring before the Supreme Court the Government’s view, repeatedly expressed in Parliament and elsewhere, that Speaker Bercow, whose favourable views on the UK’s continued membership of the EU he had made abundantly clear, had called in question the most precious attribute of a Speaker – namely, their impartiality. Nor did the government in the Supreme Court question in depth the legality of the very recent but highly relevant changed procedure of the House of Commons allowing the ‘Benn’ Act to pass rapidly into law on 9th September 2019. Nor did they challenge the Cooper/Letwin Act passed earlier. The Supreme Court was never told in unequivocal terms that prorogation was a failsafe against this type of legislation affecting the ability of Her Majesty’s Government to fulfil the referendum result through Article 50. Now it may be argued these events coming after prorogation were not relevant to the case, but clever advocacy could have got around that objection.
The UK executive has had, over many centuries, powers in relation to Treaty negotiations to preserve the confidentiality of their negotiating position, to trade positions around difficult compromises and settle on an overall deal without the interference of Parliament in the negotiating process. But the Supreme Court is not like the US Supreme Court; it does not have the power to ‘strike down’ the ‘Benn’ Act. It is the last Act which is the law and our Supreme Court does not have the power to declare an Act of Parliament illegal. The US Supreme Court does have that power as does the French Constitutional Court. For this reason, it is fanciful talk to say we can ignore the ‘Benn’ Act. We have to circumvent it with another legal way of leaving the EU and what I propose is, I believe, the only way.
Even though under ‘Benn’s’ European Union (Withdrawal) (No 2) Act 2019 ordering the Prime Minister to write asking for an extension of Article 50 in the event of no agreement on 19th October, when it may be clear to the UK Government and even the 27 EU governments that there is no realistic chance of reaching an Agreement under Article 50, the UK has to send the letter. If the 27 EU countries were wise they would in this situation refuse any extension request, and accept the UK’s intention to leave the EU under the EEAA and cooperate with the UK on this new transitional exit that would be to the mutual advantage of all countries in the EEAA.
The above is an abridged version of a speech delivered to the Cambridge Union on 8th October 2019.
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It’s hard to be surprised by anything surrounding Brexit these days, but sure enough the BBC did their best last week. This time it was the turn of playwright Bonnie Greer to weigh in on the debate as a panellist on this week’s edition of Question Time. What followed was fitting of an Alanis Morrisette song…
Firstly, isn’t it ironic that an American playwright would discuss international diplomacy in the first place? But especially a playwright so uninformed as to talk about the potential for the UK negatively impacting Ireland in the same week that the US did in fact negatively impact all of Europe.
For this week the United States had $7.5 billion worth of tariffs approved that will affect Ireland directly. The WTO approved 25% tariffs on Irish food and beverage products, meaning Kerrygold and Baileys will suffer significantly. This is a given, it’s been approved and it’s happening. However, Greer still feels compelled to comment on hypothetical future deals that may happen between the UK and the US?
However, I will forgive Greer for knowing nothing about international trade deals; after all, she is a novelist. But where she stepped over the line was with regard to the Good Friday Agreement. She incorrectly referred to it as a “truce” before going on to claim the peace process happened after the US and the EU sat the British down and told them to broker a deal. I had to pause at this juncture: was Ms. Greer brainstorming ideas for a sci-fi novel?
How dare anyone take from the peace agreement the tireless work of the Irish, particularly Bertie Ahern, and other unnamed civil servants who worked for years to get peace in Northern Ireland. Furthermore, the work of John Major and Tony Blair was instrumental in this whole process and the Good Friday Agreement should be a beacon of what we can achieve when working together, not a virtue signal for the Americans.
While I acknowledge that Bill Clinton broke ground in visiting Northern Ireland and he certainly helped, Greer’s comments were so far off the mark as to verge on absurdity. Clinton’s work on the peace process was important, but it was as a facilitator and not a heavy-handed US grand intervention. Yet these comments grew traction in the media and so the news cycle predictably lauded her. This isn’t the first time that unfortunate comments about Northern Ireland gained media attention: Leo Varadkar made similarly blasé remarks in January. However, at least Varadkar is relevant to Brexit and knew what he was saying. Bonnie Greer’s comments served no agenda other than her own and that of sensationalist writers looking for a quick puff piece to fill their word count (by the way, thanks Ms. Greer!).
The most spectacularly ironic comment was made by Greer in relation to a Polish friend in London. She told the story of a woman who was afraid to speak Polish with her daughter for fear of being attacked which is certainly sad and in no way right. Yet, this story was just another sign that Greer has no right to be talking about Brexit and Anglo-Irish relations; after all, this past summer Irish people with families and children in the US were forcibly arrested and removed from their families without warning. There was no mention of this from Greer, only an insulting platitude that the Chicago river is dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day. Really Bonnie, what good is that when you won’t be able to buy a Baileys coffee to keep yourself warm?
The reporting on Brexit and Ireland has increasingly become disparaging towards the British and is failing to be constructive. Greer’s misinformed remarks are the latest in a litany of damaging articles and publications on Anglo-Irish relations. What all these pieces have in common is the assumption that we Irish don’t care about the UK or their future or that they owe us nothing. That may be true, many people I talk to don’t care and certainly we don’t owe them anything.
But this monothetic way of thinking is wrong, because we owe something to the nearly 100,000 Irish-born people employed and living in the UK. We owe it to our countrymen and women to be concerned for their futures and livelihoods and misrepresenting the situation in public is not looking after them. Selfishly I want a prosperous Britain for my family in London, a place that I imagined wishfully as my father told stories of a lost summer spent working as a barman.
Let’s not listen to hyperbole from a talk show panellist – whose native country has catastrophic border relations. Let’s work together to maintain a sustainable relationship with Britain and Northern Ireland through this process.
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Further to this piece of 19th September investigating the risk of increased smuggling across the Irish border after Brexit, we set out below a legally operable cross-agency operational plan to be established between the Customs and Enforcement Agencies of the United Kingdom, Ireland and the European Union to protect both the EU Single Market and the UK Border from abuse by illegal activity after the UK leaves the European Union on 31st October 2019. It should be read in conjunction with the Prosperity UK report on Alternative Arrangements for the Irish border, and associated documents.
The draft Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration, and the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, set out the intention and legal frameworks by which the British, Irish and EU Member States may to work together to protect their respective countries and communities from international organised crime and smuggling, after the UK withdraws from the EU.
Article 43 of the Withdrawal Agreement requires the market surveillance authorities of the EU Member States and the UK to exchange without delay any information on any goods placed on the market during the transition period.
Article 50 of the Withdrawal Agreement allows the UK to have access to relevant networks, information systems and databases for this purpose.
Article 62 of the Withdrawal Agreement provides for ongoing police and judicial collaboration in criminal matters.
Article 63 of the Withdrawal Agreement provides for ongoing law enforcement cooperation proceedings, police cooperation and exchange of information including cross border surveillance.
Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement
Strand 3 of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement established a British–Irish Council (BIC) and a British–Irish Intergovernmental Council (BIIC) to facilitate cooperation between all law enforcement agencies in both the United Kingdom and Ireland on security matters.
Paragraph 19 of the Political Declaration recalls the determination of the parties to replace the backstop solution in Northern Ireland by a subsequent agreement that establishes Alternative Arrangements the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing.
Paragraph 26 of the Political Declaration states that the Parties will put in place ambitious customs arrangements in pursuit of their overall objectives; including through the exchange of information to combat customs fraud and other illegal activity.
Paragraph 82 of the Political Declaration states that the future relationship will provide for comprehensive, close, balanced and reciprocal law enforcement and judicial collaboration on criminal matters, with the view to delivering strong operational capabilities for the purposes of the prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of criminal offences.
Paragraph 84 of the Political Declaration states that the future relationship should cover arrangements across three areas of cooperation: data exchange, operational cooperation between law enforcement agencies and judicial cooperation on criminal matters, and anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing.
Paragraph 85 of the Political Declaration recognises that effective and swift data sharing and analysis is vital for modern law enforcement; and permits the parties to put arrangements in place to reflect this in order to respond to emerging threats, disrupt terrorism and serious criminality, facilitate investigations and prosecutions, and ensure the security of the public.
Paragraph 90 of the Political Declaration enables the parties to consider further arrangements for the practical cooperation between law enforcement agencies, such as joint investigation teams.
Paragraph 120 of the Political Declaration states that the future relationship should be based upon an overarching institutional framework that allows for specific governance arrangements in individual areas.
In order to mitigate the potential risks of smuggling posed by any tariff differentials in the transition period – and to investigate any evasion of Anti-Dumping Duties into the EU single market – the relevant enforcement agencies in the UK, Ireland and the EU must be empowered to act in accordance with the aforementioned provisions to prevent criminal activities as well as to monitor, investigate, disrupt, deter and prosecute offenders.
Such cross-border activity already exists in non-European jurisdictions such as the US/Canada border – and between EU and non-EU Member States at the Norway/Sweden Border – based on bilateral agreements. In this context, the EU (Sweden)–Norway technical cooperation has several elements that have been in operation for some considerable time, with successful results.
The key to successful law enforcement in disrupting and preventing cross-border crime lies in the timely acquisition of accurate data; and a collaborative approach between customs and enforcement agencies on both sides to analyse and refine it into intelligence packages to inform interventions, which are then shaped and targeted for maximum impact.
The ending of free movement of goods between the UK and the EU – and the consequential access to commercial data through the increase in import and export declarations – on both sides provides significant opportunities for law enforcement agencies to identify risk-based intelligence profiles to protect their respective communities from crime.
Modern-day border checks rely entirely upon intelligence-led interventions, which may take place at various points and timeframes in the supply chain and – with appropriate legal authorities – by agents from multiple jurisdictions. Targeted interventions are far more effective than routine physical stop and search at the border itself. These interventions may take place in facilities at the point of origin, transit or delivery, based on strategic and tactical intelligence assessments.
In order to maximise these opportunities, the relevant law enforcement agencies must be empowered – in so far as the legal framework permits it – to share data and intelligence with each other. Furthermore, the parties should establish a legally operable framework on the island of Ireland which grants cross jurisdictional powers to the customs and border agencies to intervene.
In order to give effect to these measures the parties should establish governance arrangements under the existing BIIC structure, and under paragraph 120 of the Political Declaration, to give effect to a joint border action plan between the parties.
The aim of the joint border action plan would be to establish mechanisms and structures between the customs and law enforcement agencies from all sides to identify new and emerging threats to the border security arising from the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union. This would be based entirely upon the aforementioned provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement, Political Declaration and Good Friday Agreement to facilitate a deep and meaningful international collaborative approach to the investigation, disruption and prosecution of all forms of cross border crime.
International best practice already demands that law enforcement agencies work across borders to investigate and disrupt international organised crime and smuggling. The EU has long established structures for collaboration between Customs agencies from Member States which include intelligence-sharing, officer exchange programmes and a joint interventions strategy. Such arrangements are not restricted to EU Member States; they extend more widely to source and transit countries through third country agreements, and international law enforcement structures such as Interpol and the World Customs Organisation.
Lessons can be learned from other countries on the development and implementation of joint border action plans which do not require membership of a Single Market or Customs Union between the parties.
In North America, the US – Canada “Beyond The Border” initiative established comprehensive arrangements for joint working between US and Canadian law enforcement agencies to disrupt cross border crimes. This includes the development of National Targeting Centres on both sides of the border with information sharing agreements to identify external threats; officer exchange programmes; and integrated border enforcement teams empowered to develop and implement investigations and operations on both sides.
In Europe, the Norway-EU (Sweden) border permits single inspections and cross-border investigations by Customs agents on either side of the border. There is a framework for exchange of intelligence and risk management data, profiles, patterns on all levels – namely strategic, tactical and day-to-day operational level. Both countries work actively to manage and monitor the international supply chain based on agreed objectives; and to share access to all relevant intelligence and risk management data.
Given that the UK and Ireland are starting from a point of regulatory conformity – and that both the EU and the UK have already committed to ongoing collaboration on matters of criminality and security – work should commence immediately on the establishment of a joint border action plan between all the relevant enforcement agencies on both sides.
Terms of reference should include:
- A joint border threat and risk assessment, covering the concerns of both sides including the protection of the integrity of the UK Border and the EU Single Market;
- A deep and comprehensive data-sharing agreement between the parties which respects the EU regulatory framework whilst simultaneously enabling the parties to develop joint analytical units and intelligence packages;
- A joint targeting centre on the island of Ireland comprising of customs and law enforcement agents from both sides, with a joint governance structure aligned to the BIIC and the new joint UK/EU governance structure;
- A commitment that both countries should individually and collectively work together to increase access to relevant intelligence and risk-management data from other partners and the international supply chain; and
- Development of codes of practice for interventions on either side of the border, and at the airports, ports and harbours on the islands of Ireland and the UK, in furtherance of the joint ambition of the parties to protect the safety and security of their respective communities.
We commend these proposals to the attention of the respective negotiating teams, for their attention and consideration.
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What follows is the text of the letter Boris Johnson has today sent to Jean-Claude Juncker, setting out the UK Government’s proposals for a new Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland
A FAIR AND REASONABLE COMPROMISE: UK PROPOSALS FOR A NEW PROTOCOL ON IRELAND/NORTHERN IRELAND
There is now very little time in which to negotiate a new Agreement between the UK and the EU under Article 50. We need to get this done before the October European Council.
This Government wants to get a deal, as I am sure we all do. If we cannot reach one, it would represent a failure of statecraft for which we would all be responsible. Our predecessors have tackled harder problems: we can surely solve this one.
Both sides now need to consider whether there is sufficient willingness to compromise and move beyond existing positions to get us to an agreement in time. We are ready to do that, and this letter sets out what I regard as a reasonable compromise: the broad landing zone in which I believe a deal can begin to take shape.
Our proposed compromise removes the so-called “backstop” in the previous Withdrawal Agreement. I have explained the difficulties with this elsewhere, including the fact that it has been rejected three times by the UK Parliament. Equally importantly in this context, the backstop acted as a bridge to a proposed future relationship with the EU in which the UK would be closely integrated with EU customs arrangements and would align with EU law in many areas. That proposed future relationship is not the goal of the current UK Government. The Government intends that the future relationship should be based on a Free Trade Agreement in which the UK takes control of its own regulatory affairs and trade policy. In these circumstances the proposed “backstop” is a bridge to nowhere, and a new way forward must be found.
Accordingly we are now proposing a new Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. We are delivering the draft legal text of this Protocol to Task Force 50 today. I attach an explanatory note giving further detail of the proposal and I am making this letter and that note public today.
It is based around five elements.
First and foremost, our proposal is centred on our commitment to find solutions which are compatible with the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. This framework is the fundamental basis for governance in Northern Ireland and protecting it is the highest priority for all.
Second, it confirms our commitment to long-standing areas of UK/Ireland collaboration, including those provided for in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, but also others, in some cases predating the European Union: the Common Travel Area, the rights of all those living in Northern Ireland, and North/South cooperation. These were set out in the previous Protocol and should be maintained in the new one.
Third, it provides for the potential creation of an all-island regulatory zone on the island of Ireland, covering all goods including agrifood. For as long as it exists, this zone would eliminate all regulatory checks for trade in goods between Northern Ireland and Ireland by ensuring that goods regulations in Northern Ireland are the same as those in the rest of the EU.
Fourth, this regulatory zone must depend on the consent of those affected by it. This is essential to the acceptability of arrangements under which part of the UK accepts the rules of a different political entity. It is fundamental to democracy. We are proposing that the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly should have the opportunity to endorse those arrangements before they enter into force, that is, during the transition period, and every four years afterwards. If consent is not secured, the arrangements will lapse. The same should apply to the Single Electricity Market, which raises the same principles.
Fifth, and finally, under these arrangements Northern Ireland will be fully part of the UK customs territory, not the EU Customs Union, after the end of the transition period. It has always been a fundamental point for this Government that the UK will leave the EU customs union at the end of the transition period. We must do so whole and entire. Control of trade policy is fundamental to our future vision.
This is entirely compatible with maintaining an open border in Northern Ireland. Goods trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland makes up a little over one per cent of UK-EU total trade in goods. It is entirely reasonable to manage this border in a different way. Any risks arising will be manageable in both the EU single market and the UK market, particularly as all third country imports will continue to be controlled by the EU and UK customs authorities.
We are proposing that all customs processes needed to ensure compliance with the UK and EU customs regimes should take place on a decentralised basis, with paperwork conducted electronically as goods move between the two countries, and with the very small number of physical checks needed conducted at traders’ premises or other points on the supply chain. To enable this, we should both put in place specific, workable improvements and simplifications to existing customs rules between now and the end of the transition period, in the spirit of finding flexible and creative solutions to these particular circumstances. These arrangements can be underpinned by close cooperation between UK and Irish authorities. All this must be coupled with a firm commitment (by both parties) never to conduct checks at the border in future.
Overall, we recognise that our proposals will mean changes from the situation that prevails in Ireland and Northern Ireland now. Our common task is to make sure that these changes entail as little day-to-day disruption as possible to the current situation. I believe that our proposals will achieve that.
Finally, in order to support Northern Ireland through this transition, and in collaboration with others with an interest, this Government proposes a New Deal for Northern Ireland, with appropriate commitments to help boost economic growth and Northern Ireland’s competitiveness, and to support infrastructure projects, particularly with a cross-border focus.
Taken together, these proposals respect the decision taken by the people of the UK to leave the EU, while dealing pragmatically with that decision’s consequences in Northern Ireland and in Ireland.
- They provide for continued regulatory alignment for a potentially prolonged period across the whole island of Ireland after the end of the transition period, for as long as the people of Northern Ireland agree to that.
- They mean that EU rules cannot be maintained indefinitely if they are not wanted – correcting a key defect of the backstop arrangements.
- They provide for a meaningful Brexit in which UK trade policy is fully under UK control from the start.
- They ensure that the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland will remain open, enabling the huge gains of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement to be protected.
I hope that these proposals can now provide the basis for rapid negotiations towards a solution, together with finalisation of the necessary changes to the Political Declaration reflecting the goal of a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, so that an Article 50 agreement can be reached, and the UK can leave the EU in an orderly fashion on 31 October. This will allow us to focus on the positive future relationship that I believe is in all of our interests.
I am copying this letter and paper to other members of the European Council and to Michel Barnier.
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Is there an alternative to the Irish backstop?
Even before the Withdrawal Agreement was finalised last year this question has been central to the Brexit debate. The EU and the Irish Government have insisted on the backstop as a guarantee of maintaining an open border in Ireland. Although they have pledged to look at alternative arrangements and hope the backstop never has to be used, they still see it as the benchmark against which all other solutions must be measured.
The new Government under Boris Johnson has rejected this logic. In doing so, the Prime Minister has been accused of reneging on commitments made by his predecessor, causing great concern in Dublin and Brussels.
In recent weeks, the Government has outlined a possible compromise package, involving a mixture of alternative arrangements to the backstop as well as an all-island regulatory zone for agri-food purposes. While the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has said that “there is still a very wide gap” between the EU and the UK, the fact that talks are continuing is important. The Government is now expected to put forward written proposals after the Conservative Party conference.
Already there are signals coming from Brussels and other capitals that the proposals will fall short of what the EU expects. The EU has set a very high bar for alternative arrangements. They seem to expect the Government to agree to something like a Northern Ireland-only backstop, a solution which has been rejected by Johnson on numerous occasions.
Whatever form a solution takes, there is clearly more work to be done in addressing what Johnson describes as the ‘anti-democratic’ nature of the backstop. The Prime Minister now talks about the importance of securing the ‘consent’ of the people of Northern Ireland as the key to unlocking any deal.
Open Europe’s new report, Brexit and the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement: Finding a way through the backstop impasse, looks at this issue in some detail. It recognises that the Irish Government – and Nationalists in Northern Ireland – have legitimate concerns about Brexit and the future of the border, but also that Unionists have a very strong case for objecting to the backstop. The question is not about whether the existing approach breaches the Agreement but about finding a way through the impasse. This is a political problem and one that requires an imaginative response from the EU and Ireland as well as the UK.
Ultimately, some special arrangements for Northern Ireland after Brexit are likely. However, the suggestion that the existing backstop offered the ‘best of both worlds’ to Northern Ireland was always questionable, since it was designed to ensure that alignment with the EU was the default in all scenarios. There is a strong argument for saying that any special arrangements for Northern Ireland cannot be decided until there is greater clarity about the future EU-UK relationship itself.
What is possible now is to offer a roadmap about how the decisions will be taken as the negotiations proceed. One way of doing so is to set out a clear role for the Northern Ireland Assembly when divergence becomes an issue. Any decisions about alternative arrangements should also involve the North-South Ministerial Council, one of the institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement. Already the UK and the EU have accepted that these institutions should be involved in the process, but this was merely a domestic political commitment on the part of the UK.
An enhanced Stormont Lock is not about giving the DUP ‘veto’ as the Irish Government fears, but about ensuring that decisions about the future of Northern Ireland are not imposed from the outside. It is also about respecting Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom consistent with the consent principle in the Good Friday Agreement itself. The existing approach of the EU has overlooked this key point.
In the long term, it may be that divergence between Great Britain and the EU becomes so great that a hybrid model for Northern Ireland is not possible, and that it is forced to choose which regulatory regime it will follow. At that point it may be necessary to put the question to a referendum, as a very last resort.
But forcing people to make this decision now, at this stage in the Brexit process, would be problematic. The aim of all sides must be to find a solution that is acceptable to everyone, balancing the need for an open border with the concerns of the Unionist parties.
Would Ireland agree to such a package? Ultimately, the goodwill of the Irish Government is needed if the UK is to get a Brexit deal. The Nationalist parties in Northern Ireland also need to be reassured that the process would work for them. There is a risk that a Stormont Lock would simply put more strain on local politics, making a return to devolved government more difficult. That said, imposing a solution on Northern Ireland without addressing the consent mechanism would be inconsistent with the aim of getting the institutions up and running again.
In the end, an unratified Withdrawal Agreement offers no guarantees over the border question at all. Opting for a no-deal Brexit in the expectation that the UK will come back to the original backstop afterwards would not be a responsible route for the Irish Government to take.
If No Deal is to be avoided, there needs to be a compromise solution. This is not about Ireland backing down, but about finding a way to return to the principles of the Good Friday Agreement and restoring the bilateral relationship. It is about identifying a way forward that allows the parties in Northern Ireland to work together in the post-Brexit environment.
We are inured by now to the biased reporting of Brexit which those opposed to it perpetrate in the media. Even so, I listened with more than the usual incredulity and irritation to one BBC correspondent giving his opinion on the Operation Yellowhammer papers (a five-page out-of-date summary of the Government’s Reasonable Worst Case Planning Assumptions). Having read them myself, the only thing missing in his one-sided report was mention of the plague of locusts which Brexit will surely cause.
A long time ago I worked for a colleague assessing whether we should be making investments into various businesses. He had previously worked for the FT as a Lex columnist and was adept at using the same information and set of facts to produce two seemingly plausible reports on an opportunity, one of which would convince the reader that it was an investment never to be missed and the other which would cause the same reader not to touch it with a barge-pole. He would then point out that the answer invariably lay somewhere in the middle. Sadly, there are now very few, if any, professional mainstream journalists able to see through the propaganda they are fed and take an objective view.
In the interests of a more balanced assessment of a no-deal Brexit – by no means made now a No Worries Brexit – I will try to emulate that colleague and in the article which follows give an alternative Brexiteer’s assessment of the same Brexit assumptions. Let us call it Operation Nightingale (a bird with a beautiful and powerful song quite capable of being heard in SW1 from Berkeley Square).
When the UK leaves the EU on 31st October, the EU will flagrantly ignore its obligations under Article 8 of its treaty, the requirement to cooperate with neighbouring countries and enter into agreements to effect that cooperation. It will make life as difficult as possible for one of its closest allies.
Whist the UK has made it clear that all EU citizens living in the UK will continue to enjoy their exact same rights, no such assurances have been given by the EU and some member states may deliberately attempt to penalise UK citizens in respect of social security and other work and pension benefits, even to the point of demanding on-the-spot payments for acute or emergency medical treatment.
The UK Government is no longer sitting on its hands, as it had been doing when Philip Hammond was gloomily predicting economic Armageddon and not allocating enough resources to No Deal planning, but is making up for that lost time and devoting even more resources for the formidably efficient (when it wants or has to be) Civil Service to inform and prepare us to leave the EU.
Because the EU gave the supine government led by Theresa May Hobson’s choice that Brexit must now occur on a Thursday, Friday 1st November should be declared a public holiday (and why not annually?) to celebrate our liberation from the democratically stifling and economically sclerotic EU. Rather than have journalists scouring the ports and country for Brexit horror stories, they can have the day off.
The enforced timing of the UK’s departure by the EU in the run-up to winter is also unhelpful, given the unpredictable British weather, but we will all need to react as we usually do. Some may observe tongue-in-cheek that whilst the Common Agricultural Policy has eurocrats in Brussels working to grow a magic money tree, at least meteorological efforts have thus far concentrated on climate change rather than passing Weather Directives.
Big businesses will continue to protest and, with their greater resources and lobbying firepower, attempt to engineer and then exploit disruption to protect themselves against smaller, more entrepreneurial companies which threaten their cosy existence. With the UK able to make its own laws regarding competition and state aid, it can utilise as much of the £39bn alimony payment as it chooses to compensate those businesses and UK citizens who can demonstrate that actions taken by the EU and their global corporate chums have harmed them. Well-run British businesses will spot and exploit commercial advantages created by the anti-competitive actions of the EU and big business.
Many of the actions which the EU could take to harm the UK will also have negative, and sometimes greater, impact on member state businesses and citizens. Politicians will therefore be taking these steps at their peril.
There have been assurances for some time from those running the port of Calais that they have been well prepared to ensure there are no delays to inbound or outbound traffic to and from Dover under any Brexit scenario. The French government under President Macron, a hard-line Europhile under increasing domestic political pressure, may decide to make life more difficult in terms of bureaucratic checks and delays for trade with the UK, one of its strongest security allies and saviour militarily of recent times. If he does, the logistics companies will look to the many other continental ports serving cross-Channel trade for solutions such as Zeebrugge, Rotterdam or Antwerp, which compete and would be only too happy to keep the UK’s £95bn trade surplus in goods flowing. These same logistics companies, which employ people and pay taxes in the UK, will also relish the challenge of providing just-in-time or emergency supplies of parts, medicines and fresh food supplies in the event that unnecessary delays are caused for the Dover to Calais crossing.
It was clear that the UK economy benefited from the build-up of stocks prior to the 31st March deadline and will benefit again before 31st October. It is now also clear that the uncertainty of the six-month delay was not good for the British economy, so by leaving in October business and investment can once again face all the ever present normal and various challenges that exist whether we are in or out of the EU without having to speculate about our hokey-cokey Brexit.
There will be no overall food shortages but in the event of avoidable disruption to food supply chains caused by the actions of others, British food suppliers will be obvious beneficiaries. Some food availability and prices may suffer but there is more likely to be a shortage of Cheddar in Carrefour than Brie in Budgens.
And it must also be remembered that because of that £95bn trade deficit, the majority of lorries using the Dover to Calais crossing are EU-owned with EU drivers and many of them returning with a cargo of fresh air. It will therefore be EU businesses and citizens, along with continental exporters who want to turn their lorries round swiftly with a new load, who will complain the loudest if French checks cause M20 tailbacks.
The UK is already taking steps to implement export registration points (some 150 at the last count) across the UK to ensure lorries can enter Kent ‘export ready’ with the relatively straightforward paperwork that cannot be provided in advance or retrospectively, as happens already for Britain’s trade which is with the rest of the world (growth in which is outstripping that with the EU). The UK Government will not impose checks for EU goods which, by definition, will be compliant and so it will only need to continue with those checks it already undertakes to prevent law-breaking, such as the smuggling of people or non-compliant and dutiable goods. So no change there.
Having heard so much about the threat of the mass exodus of bankers from the City and of power cuts, it is reassuring that the report has little mention of any significant threat to cross-border financial services or energy supplies. There may be some delays in getting personal data out of the EU and travellers to the EU would be well advised to allow some extra time for passport and immigration checks while border officials get used to the similar checks that apply to travel all over the rest of the world. But any teething problems will be short-lived.
The two most sensitive land borders which the UK has with the EU are in Gibraltar and Ireland. Both have been exploited by those in the EU seeking political advantage and by Remainers in the UK intent on spreading alarm. Spain’s claims over Gibraltar are old hat and will continue, Brexit or no Brexit. What will also continue, Brexit or no Brexit, is the critical dependency of the Spanish economy on the British tourist euro. You don’t need to be a commercial genius on that issue to work out which bigger boot is on the bigger foot.
The Irish border is a much thornier and politically sensitive challenge for both countries. It has been hugely politicised by those in the UK resisting Brexit and in the EU for negotiating leverage in the context of a deal. It has also spawned a host of self-styled experts of which I am not one. However, to suggest that no solutions have been put forward for alternative arrangements to the backstop is untrue and that no negotiations are taking place naïve, not least because they need to be highly confidential, given the cynical way in which those who break the law rather than uphold and preserve the hard-won peace will exploit the Irish border issue for their own selfish political ends.
Resolving a workable solution will take both time and compromise, but as no-one is proposing erecting a hard border if Brexit has actually happened, the incentive and imperative then to reach compromise will trump the temptation to use Ireland as a political football. Ireland may be the biggest loose end after Brexit, but there will be an overriding will on the part of all committed to peace to find a way, which will be practicable but not perfect, just as there was with the Good Friday Agreement.
The last two other areas identified in the report which are important to many in this country – and identified as loose ends after the end of October – are firstly to move from the situation where foreign fishing vessels will almost certainly continue to fish in British waters without a further outbreak of cod wars or scallop skirmishes. And, secondly, the underlying challenge of improving adult social care. Getting Brexit over and done with enables the UK Government to turn its attention wholly to underlying issues such as these which are not caused by Brexit but where specific provisions may need to apply over a period of transition following Brexit.
So there are two sides to every story and my erstwhile colleague would no doubt have made a more succinct job of telling the other side of the Yellowhammer story. But our mainstream journalists should be doing a better job in the first place of reporting Brexit in a way which puts this potentially divisive topic in perspective rather than fanning the flames of hysterical rhetoric.
The post It’s time for some perspective to replace the Operation Yellowhammer hysteria appeared first on BrexitCentral.
The next week in Parliament is bound to be tumultuous, but I believe all MPs should remember that some of us have spent the summer fashioning the tools to enable the United Kingdom and the EU to agree a deal.
In July, the Prosperity-UK Alternative Arrangements Commission – for which I chair the 20-strong panel of Technical Experts – published its final report intended to avoid the need for the infamous Irish Backstop, while ensuring there is no hard border in Ireland, the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is upheld, and the UK is able to pursue an independent trade and regulatory policy after Brexit.
The Prime Minister mentioned the report approvingly in both his meetings with the German Chancellor and with the French President. On Friday, Suella Braverman MP led a delegation of experts from Prosperity-UK to meet Stephanie Riso, Michel Barnier’s deputy, to brief her on our proposals.
Our next step, announced yesterday, is to try and fix the Political Declaration, in order to create a new Withdrawal Agreement which could pass in Parliament. We are seeking to consult interested stakeholders on the interim version and will publish a final version in due course.
The Boris Johnson team will know that the Political Declaration was written by the previous government team with a very specific goal of using the backstop as a bridge to some sort of customs union with high regulatory alignment, both of which would essentially negate any serious sort of independent trade and regulatory policy for the UK. Boris Johnson campaigned on the ultimate end state being an advanced EU-UK Free Trade Agreement (FTA), something he has called SuperCanada, and others have called Canada ++.
While sticking country names on trade deals is not perhaps the best way of describing them, the point is that his administration wants the UK to have a comprehensive, advanced FTA with the EU, a commercial treaty between two sovereign entities and not one which puts Britain in a position of legal subordination to the EU.
We know that the EU ultimately wants to have a comprehensive FTA with the UK, with Irish border facilitations, customs facilitations and regulatory cooperation. It should therefore, in theory, be easy for both sides to revise the current inadequate Political Declaration to reflect this. At the same time, it will be necessary to change certain parts of the Withdrawal Agreement to make it technically consistent both with the new Political Declaration and a new Alternative Arrangements Protocol for the Irish Border.
Amongst other things, these changes are reflective of a huge change in direction by the UK government, from the May to Johnson administrations, which the EU may not have fully internalised yet. Whereas the previous government regarded the backstop as a bridge to an end state which would be some sort of subordinate, hybrid customs union arrangement with high regulatory alignment, the new government thinks the end state should be an advanced FTA with regulatory cooperation, but with the capability for the UK to diverge, so that it can preserve its independent trade and regulatory policy. This is a sea change in approach.
In summary, our redrafted Political Declaration reflects that the final end state should be an FTA. The UK’s sovereignty over matters like Geographical Indications (GIs), currently in the Withdrawal Agreement, should be placed where it belongs in the end state agreement. Changes to the defence and security sections, to reflect the UK’s sovereignty and not limiting its choices vis-à-vis the rest of the world, should be made.
The Withdrawal Agreement should be amended to allow for a transition period, during which the UK can negotiate, sign and ratify trade deals (as it says now), but which also critically provides that both parties will be bound by general principles of good regulatory practice in this period, in order to make sure that the EU does not regulate in the transition period in a way which damages the UK’s interests. It would be difficult for the EU to reject the principle of good regulatory practice embedded, as it is in various OECD documents to which the EU has itself made valuable contributions. Similarly, it would be difficult for the EU to reject the idea that what GIs the UK protects is a matter for the end state FTA between both parties. There will clearly be a GI chapter as the UK will want to protect Scotch Whisky and other key GIs it has.
The Withdrawal Agreement has been amended to reflect the fact that the level playing field obligations have been mutualised and pave the way for similar obligations in the ultimate FTA itself. Given how often these are agreed among parties to FTAs now, the EU cannot seriously object to them.
Many MPs voted against the deal because they rightly feared that Theresa May’s Government would move directly from the deal to an end state negotiation based on the Backstop being activated. It turns out they were quite right to be fearful. If they are to vote for any kind of deal, they will need to know with certainty that the end state of an FTA is not in doubt and the government will be strenuously negotiating in the UK’s interest for the most advanced, comprehensive and liberalising FTA, fully utilising the fact that we have regulatory identicality on day one of Brexit, and thus management of divergence is the key regulatory issue. This message can be communicated with the Political Declaration, and the EU will at least know what the UK wants, something it has rightly complained about in the past.
We have a limited amount of time to put a package on the table, which can pass in Parliament while being an eminently reasonable offer from the UK that the EU can get behind. Prosperity-UK has fashioned the tools, the parties must put them to use.
The post How to fix the Brexit deal so a sovereign UK can agree a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU appeared first on BrexitCentral.
The failure (thus far) to implement the people’s wishes on Brexit must be the greatest cock-up in British history. It has created a political mess in which we wallow while the world laughs. So it’s worthwhile to ask what went wrong and learn the lessons. We wasn’t just robbed. We failed incompetently.
Brexiteers assumed that it would be easy. In fact the obstacles were enormous. We faced an intransigent and inflexible opponent in a devious, cunning EU. A determined and articulate middle-class reaction in Britain colluded with Brussels to undermine our case. The Cabinet was divided, a wittering Chancellor poured on cold water and the Treasury organised a chorus of fear. Theresa May’s weakness meant she could be treated and foiled in shameful fashion. All this doomed her.
Instead of implementing the referendum result as his Government had said it would, Cocksure Cameron sulked off. In came Theresa May, too nice to fight, too inflexible to be devious and too stupid to understand. She naively assumed that all she had to do was talk nicely to other heads of state who would understand the politics. Instead she was forced to deal only with the Commission – that had everything to lose. Its role and its money were threatened by Brexit. So it grabbed control of the negotiations to punish us and protect itself.
Niceness was out. Middle-class Europhiles and the Establishment in Britain felt their right to rule was threatened by the hairy armpits of uneducated, ill-informed plebs who’d voted in a way they should never have been allowed to. This encouraged EU determination to punish a nation impertinent enough to question its EU destiny. So while Brexiteers celebrated, the Commission plotted and decided immediately that the 27 would stand together. Then the conditions of departure would be settled before any talks about trade. They’d come only after Britain left. In effect “no deal departure” started as an EU policy.
That put May in a trap. The Lisbon Treaty says once notification is given “a withdrawal agreement is negotiated setting out the arrangements for withdrawal and outlining the country’s future relationship with the union”, two processes to go on concurrently. May’s notification letter of 29th March 2017 asked for this:
“We believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal.”
Legally correct. But EU law is observed only if it furthers ever closer union. This didn’t. A conglomerate of 27 nations can’t negotiate. So EU bureaucrats insisted on one negotiator who would not discuss future cooperation until tough terms for divorce were agreed. Their executioner was Michel Barnier, a man with a Gallic dislike of Britain who announced:
“My mission will have been a success when the terms are so brutal for the British that they prefer to stay in the union.”
He made certain of this by adding a veto for Ireland to the two initial demands about money and protection for EU citizens. There would be no customs border, thus ensuring that Northern Ireland must be treated separately, or the whole of the UK kept in the Single Market. This was the backstop. It threatened to keep the UK a vassal state, but was justified as protection for the Good Friday Agreement. The two were totally unrelated but it was an implicit threat that the old violence would be unleashed unless May caved.
She did. David Davis announced that simultaneous negotiations would be “the fight of the summer” but by the autumn May had decided to grovel, not fight. She erased her red lines, walked into the trap and agreed everything the Commission wanted – only then to suffer humiliation at the EU summit and more in Parliament, which refused to pass her bedraggled agreement.
Her demise leaves a deadlock. A new government determined on Brexit confronts an EU which won’t budge from an agreement which can’t pass, while deliberately inflated fears of “no deal” intimidate the nation. A new government should mean new negotiations but that opens up the whole can of worms of legality, unity, and skullduggery. So the EU is loath to do it, meaning a confrontation which deadlocks everything. Except hysteria.
My conclusion is that whoever negotiates with the EU must carry a big stick. Others invoke the analogy of Dunkirk with Churchill snatching victory out of defeat. That’s daft. We were a nation then, Churchill had a huge majority, there was neither a bourgeois fifth column, nor vested interests generating fear and no media to damn Churchill for dirty underpants. How fortunate that the consequences of either side winning are more marginal than 1940, whatever their long-term impact on the kind of nation we want to be.
The post Theresa May fell into the traps set by the EU and caved into their demands appeared first on BrexitCentral.
Last weekend Northern Ireland played host to the British Open for the first time since 1948. Irishman Shane Lowry won emphatically and as the week rolled on, the congratulations continued to roll in for the Offaly man. Naturally our media-savvy Taoiseach was quick with the praise and, as so often is the case, what was particularly interesting to see on Mr. Varadkar’s Twitter feed was not his congratulation but what lay below that – a seemingly innocuous tweet referencing a French minister’s pledge of Brexit solidarity with Ireland.
In fact, this is a symptom of something much greater and we don’t have to delve too deep into the recesses of our memories to the last time Mr. Varadkar stood by a promise from the French government.
When I cast my mind back to Leo and his trademark grin propping up the under-pressure Emmanuel Macron in March as he pledged his solidarity to the Irish, I wince. Only a couple of days later, the French leader was holding up Brexit extension talks to the detriment of the Irish. A No Deal and no plan on the Northern border meant Ireland would have temporarily been withdrawn from the customs union until such a time that we could verify all goods leaving Ireland had not come from the North.
At the time, Simon Coveney refused to entertain the notion of border checks and simultaneously refused to accept the possibility that Irish goods could be stopped in the Irish Sea before entering Europe through France or elsewhere – two contradictory ideas. The Irish Government sees Brexit as a zero-sum game and this is detrimental.
Interestingly, as Brendan Simms pointed out last week, this approach by the Taoiseach and his Government may well be in breach of the Good Friday Agreement. Simms argues that if Varadkar insists on refusing to allow checks at the North-South Border, then equally he should refuse to create checks in the Irish Sea. As the border checks would affect Nationalists in Northern Ireland, the check in the Irish Sea would affect Unionists in Northern Ireland.
Therefore, Varadkar’s insistence on supporting nationalists and ignorance towards unionists is diametrically against the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, which acknowledges the rights of both Nationalists and Unionists. Therefore, it is in the interest of the Taoiseach to seek an outcome that satisfies this agreement and their zero-sum approach is particularly lacking.
To borrow more thoughts from the Irish golfing success, it is interesting to note how many people delivered their praise while referencing how this result was “fantastic for such a small country”. Common among praise from Irish people was a sense of ‘aren’t we great punching above our weight?’.
However, I would vehemently disagree with such an affectation being attached to our success as a nation in any regard. Not only does Ireland produce a significant number of top-class sport stars (England’s Cricket World Cup-winning captain Eoin Morgan honed his cricket ability in my own school), we compete on the world stage on a number of levels – industry, arts and of course business.
We are a small island, but one that belongs on the world stage; we don’t momentarily appear on it. However, when our Taoiseach stands up and remarks that Boris Johnson’s claims are “not in the real world” and that he will not discuss any terms with the UK, he perpetuates a small nation attitude.
This has been the Taoiseach’s approach for some time now, as he regularly made jibes and slights at Theresa May’s expense. A nationalistic overture runs rapid through Mr. Varadkar’s Brexit rhetoric and, as I have discussed, this is damaging to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement and all the good it does for people on the island of Ireland.
With Boris Johnson installed as the new Prime Minister and his new Cabinet now having been revealed, there is a chance for a new approach to Brexit for European leaders and, in particular, for Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney.
Ireland might be a geographically small country, but there is no need for us to behave like a small nation and, while the new Prime Minister may be accused of unfortunate comments in the past, we should never measure ourselves with someone else’s ruler. The changing Cabinet brings with it a chance for change and a chance to lift the deadlock on Brexit.
The post Boris Johnson’s appointment should prompt Leo Varadkar to reset the Irish Government’s Brexit stance appeared first on BrexitCentral.
As we have been reflecting over the last few days on the success of the US mission 50 years ago to put man on the moon, it is worth reflecting on John F Kennedy’s role in that, and the role of leadership in bringing change.
JFK was far from a saint, but his ambition and inspiration set the scene for great task-focused independent decision-making and investment and innovation that made the moon landings possible and led to many consumer spin-offs that have underwritten the US economy for the last 40 years.
Without his incantation “We choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy but because it is hard”, and commitment of government effort, Silicon Valley may well not have had the impetus and imprimatur for the ecosystem that encouraged so many different personalities and sources of capital and ideas to pull together to achieve the goal.
Although the world of trade, customs and regulation sounds more prosaic, the effect on UK prospects of doing these things well after we leave the EU, with authority and holistic purpose, could be equally dramatic. To paraphrase JFK, we choose to leave the EU, not because it is easy, or hard, but because our choosing matters.
Boris Johnson’s ability to reach millions of people makes him the man for our moment. Like JFK, he asks us to take responsibility for what happens, and deliver on the nation’s choice. Give each citizen agency, however big or small, inspire greatness in each individual, and the public good will be elevated.
Boris can unite the country with his optimism, can level with people and inspire them. He can reassure with action but also with words. PM Boris and his Cabinet communicating a positive vision that people respond to would be more than a breath of fresh air. They are the wind needed for our sails.
We need relentless optimism in our presentation of the benefits of a positive working relationship to the EU. Yes we would like to agree various things to make interaction work well when we leave, and we stand ready for such mutually beneficial agreements. The draft Withdrawal Agreement won’t pass though, as it rides roughshod over the independence our people directed, so we may need to come formally to those agreements after we leave.
We want the EU’s wonderful produce. We want to drive their cars. We want to contribute our creativity and commitment to Europe’s defence and its culture. We’d like our people to feel they want these things more, not less.
They should however complement, not constrain, our global and domestic focus that was the cri de coeur of the referendum. If the EU’s wish is to obstruct those things, then we will have to make other arrangements.
It does take two to tango, and the EU and UK need to trust each other. Clarity on what we want and what we will do are the first steps. After all, it is we who have made the move.
So we should accept the offer Donald Tusk made of free trade. We should agree to facilitate trade and cooperation on the island of Ireland without a hard border through the “alternative arrangements” we are working up that look to involve the Good Friday Agreement institutions. We should guarantee citizens’ rights, and talk about an appropriate financial settlement.
If we keep EU-level agreements autonomous and away from Investor State dispute mechanisms and investment provisions, they can be concluded rapidly without need for ratification by each EU Member State.
In any event, we should reciprocate the EU’s unilateral “no deal” contingency measures, which are actually types of deal that already cover for example air services, haulage permits and product acceptances to keep things moving in any scenario.
In the mean time, we should plan trade policy to move rapidly to improve trade conditions with the rest of the world after October 31st. We should prioritise benchmark comprehensive free trade agreements with Australia and Japan, and continued work towards free trade agreements with the US and key states that cover services, procurement and intellectual property intensive industries. Trade partners can make mostly low-tariff access to the UK, offered temporarily to all after October 31st, permanent and better by signing UK free trade agreements.
If Boris is chosen to lead, his Government must move at pace and in scale though, to change the game with respect to things in its power.
It must get behind our farmers with marketing support and tax breaks for local production and environmental stewardship, especially where EU market access or other pressures may be difficult.
It must get the Treasury to review and make forecasts using actual cost figures not unrealistic negative assumptions, and actively mitigate, defray cost of, and communicate business needs for new processes.
It must help EU traders navigate the need for new regulatory declarations and registrations and any related checks, and support business organisations in their efforts to do so.
It must support logistics providers, not just customs brokers and big companies, to facilitate trade by consolidating shipments, driving out costs and taking advantage of simplified procedures. Arrangements for pre-clearance and Transit in premises and logistics hubs and stops must be made, and communicated on the ground with traders and shippers so they will use them ahead of arrival at the Channel ports, to have smooth passage through them and beyond.
It must rapidly invest in people and systems for Border Force and HMRC, in their interfaces with counterpart agencies in the EU and elsewhere, and their resource needs. It must make sure procedural simplifications and mitigations work in the real world of logistics. Ease of use of new processes to manage the differences between jurisdictions should be the primary goal.
It should reduce VAT and excise rates to lowest neighbouring levels to reduce incentives for non-compliance.
The new Government should shock and awe with improvements to business conditions in the UK more generally.
It should introduce lower, flatter, simpler taxes, and proper incentives for hard work. It should raise NIC thresholds that discourage people from earning more. The safety net should be provided not just through general taxation and national insurance, which has become just another tax spent in-year, but also through progressive actual insurance of pooled risk, for example to fund social care.
It should incentivise saving and investment in UK operations that generate local jobs, skills and technologies – incentives similarly applied whether people are employed, self-employed or in corporate or partnership structures. It should make the UK the place of choice for people to keep and invest their capital, by transforming and broadening the capital and investment allowances system and treatment of onshore funds and their owners.
It should stand by sectors and communities which are in transition to different processes and opportunities, and back them with local infrastructure, skills development and incentives.
A relentless “can do” attitude and focus on the goal of making a success of independence, is how we will do this and deliver on people’s ambition.
Our country can do much to make this work – it must – and Boris is the one to lead it.
In return we should ask, as JFK did, what each of us can do for our country, to make it happen.
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