It seems fair to say that the draft withdrawal agreement agreed between negotiators and published this week has not been universally welcomed. In particular the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland has been the source of much criticism. In a detailed briefing by the Institute of Economic Affairs, I described how, if it were to come into effect, this Protocol would effectively rule out an independent trade policy for the UK, and would throw up serious trade barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
It’s worth reminding ourselves of why this Protocol was thought to be necessary. Our government agreed in December last year to guarantee that there would be no physical infrastructure or related checks and controls at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. In order to achieve this they conceded that, unless they could put forward alternative solutions, Northern Ireland would stay in alignment with the rules of the customs union and single market in all areas necessary for north south cooperation, the all-island economy and protection of the Belfast (“Good Friday”) Agreement. It was also stated in the Joint Report that the UK would not allow new regulatory barriers between Great Britain and the United Kingdom. The EU’s interpretation of that was a draft agreement under which, “unless and until” other terms were agreed that would meet the objectives for the Irish border, Northern Ireland would remain in a customs union and regulatory area with the EU. This is what the backstop is.
The facilitated customs arrangement and common rulebook of the Chequers plan were an attempt to provide the alternative arrangement that would mean the backstop would never be activated. When Chequers was roundly rejected by the EU, and the Prime Minister declared after the Salzburg summit that no prime minister could accept the EU’s terms, the negotiators went back into their tunnel and reformulated the backstop so that Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would be in the same customs territory, and Northern Ireland would retain EU regulations on goods “unless and until” a new agreement could be reached. Mrs May is now satisfied that this is something that a British prime minister can sign up to.
Some of us have long been convinced that keeping the Irish border free of infrastructure could be achieved by way of legal, technical and technological solutions. European customs experts Hans Maessen and Lars Karlsson have confirmed to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that this can be done. But the EU negotiators and the Irish government have been adamant that the requirements of EU law mean that only a customs union and regulatory harmonisation on goods can achieve this, as even with a free trade agreement with zero tariffs and quotas, the risk of goods that have not been duly declared for customs purposes or that do not meet EU regulations might cross the border cannot be tolerated. Except, it now transpires, for fish. Because under article 6 of the Protocol, fisheries and aquaculture products will be excluded from the customs union arrangements (and therefore fish caught by British and Northern Irish boats would be subject to tariffs) unless an agreement between the UK and the EU on access to waters and fishing opportunities is reached. But by the EU’s own reasoning, the exclusion of even one product would require a full customs border, to ensure that that product isn’t smuggled in undeclared. Now Irish government and EU negotiators could be forgiven for assuming that the British negotiators will concede on this as they have on almost everything else, and sign away fishing rights to the EU. But they might not, and then we would need a hard border wouldn’t we, and the Protocol would be for nothing? Or could it be, that for fish, as for everything else, it is possible to manage a customs border without physical interventions, and the EU is prepared to take the risk of having to do so in order to leverage access to UK territorial waters.
It is often overlooked that as well as being by far the biggest market for goods sent outside Northern Ireland 64% of goods brought into Northern Ireland come from Great Britain, with 12% from Ireland and 59% of its external sales are to Great Britain, as against 12% to Ireland. In seeking to preserve frictionless trade with Ireland, the Protocol, if it were to come into effect, would introduce costs and formalities for the vastly more significant trade within the UK. As former Brexit minister Suella Braverman noted in her resignation letter, customs professionals are clear that this could have been avoided. It’s time to start listening to them.
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After the end, the beginning. The long months of talks in Brussels have brought forth a draft withdrawal agreement to leave the European Union – all 585 pages of it. Amid the drama, the essential themes are clear. There will be a backstop agreement to the deal without an end date and with no ability for the UK to extricate ourselves without the consent of a third party. And there will be a grave threat to the Union.
Northern Ireland will find itself in a different regulatory regime to the rest of our country – to use the analogy that is being deployed about the “backstop within a backstop”, it will be in the deep end of the swimming pool while the rest of us are only paddling up to our knees. This represents gold dust for the Scottish Nationalists, who will seize on a different arrangement for one part of the country to demand a separate arrangement for Scotland.
We will be asked to sign up to all this, and hand over £39 thousand million, in exchange for a flimsy 15-page “political declaration” about the hoped-for trade relationship that would lie beyond this, should we ever be able to escape. That political declaration will be drafted to mean all things to all men, but will lead inexorably to the ultra-high alignment agreed at Chequers in July rather than the Canada-style free trade deal we should be aiming for. There will be so-called “non-regression clauses” to ensure the UK cannot out-compete the EU. This would scupper our hopes of being a global trading titan and bind us into EU manufacturing rules in perpetuity. As humiliations go, this would be complete and unendurable. The Prime Minister will have unerringly delivered a deal that delivers none of the benefits of leaving the EU and none of the benefits of remaining.
85 years ago, Churchill warned:
“All down the centuries, one peculiarity of the English people has cost them dear. We have always thrown away after a victory the greater part of the advantages we have gained in the struggle. The worst difficulties from which we suffer do not come from without. They come from within… from the mood of unwarrantable self-abasement into which we have been cast by a powerful section of our own intellectuals. They come from the acceptance of defeatist doctrines by a large proportion of our politicians… Nothing can save England if she will not save herself. If we lose faith in ourselves, in our capacity to guide and govern, if we lose our will to live, then indeed our story is told.”
Such will be the legacy of Brexit if this deal goes through. The brave decision of the British people to leave the European Union, taken in the largest democratic vote in our history, will have been reduced in two years to a shameful and squalid surrender. This must be resisted at all costs, and I have little doubt that the House of Commons will indeed defeat the deal should matters go that far.
The burning question will then arise: what next?
A deal may still be salvageable, based around the broad and generous offer made by European Council President Donald Tusk in March. This would be an advanced free trade agreement, encompassing services and covering all sectors with zero tariffs and no quantitative limitations. Alongside this the UK would offer deep security cooperation and mutual recognition of practical issues from aviation regulations to driving licences. The EU’s offer, of course, was made to Great Britain and not the whole of the UK. The EU was not prepared to extend its offer to Northern Ireland – hence so much of the tortuous negotiation that has ensued.
But there is a way to deliver such an agreement, in the form of a free-standing treaty on trade facilitation between the UK and Ireland to be negotiated in parallel to the wider negotiations, as it surely could be. Such a treaty would deliver an invisible border that would satisfy WTO rules and could be referenced in the wider UK-EU free trade agreement. There would be no hard border and no need for a backstop beyond this.
This seems to me to represent a deal that could secure sufficient votes to satisfy Brussels and pass the House of Commons. In tandem with this, an immense national effort must be set in motion so that the UK Government and businesses prepare themselves day and night between now and 29th March next year for a no-deal scenario. Every moment that passes without such an effort is a moment wasted, and weakens our hand in securing the good Brexit deal that our country expects and deserves.
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It’s impossible to know for certain what deal the Prime Minister and her advisers are planning to spring on the Cabinet, Parliament and the country over the coming days; all that’s for sure is that they are, we are told, about to come up with something. The signals have, however, been clear enough, so that a pretty good guess can be made: their plan is to come up with a last-minute triumphant announcement that the ‘backstop’ problem on the Northern Ireland border issue has been resolved, and in the UK’s favour.
Whether they will be correct or not in announcing that is irrelevant; that’s what they’ll announce – and indeed, it is perfectly possible that some major concession will be offered up by the European Union on this point, since the border ‘problem’ was always a ruse, designed to focus attention on a non-problem while funnelling the negotiations into an agreement that would include membership of the Customs Union (and, to all intents and purposes, the Single Market). If the Northern Ireland border was a problem, then it could be resolved by us staying in the Customs Union; ergo, we agree to stay in the Customs Union thus ensuring that the Northern Ireland border is not a problem. Whatever the reason for the backstop imbroglio, it is in any event a chimera – something that has become, in the most ludicrous way, the tiny tail that wags the enormous dog of Brexit.
The border in Ireland already divides two jurisdictions with different tax regimes, products and the like. It should never have become an issue; the authorities on both sides already monitor it, to prevent smuggling, but through intelligence-led policing, not physical border structures. It is a border that the UK, the Irish and the EU have all confirmed will never be hard.
Now it has become a pretence for bouncing a post-Brexit UK into the Customs Union, complete with further surrenders on fishing and financial services. That reputable people apparently take the backstop issue seriously is a puzzle. The backstop is nonsense; both sides have repeatedly confirmed that they will not impose a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The issues of wandering cows and travelling milk can be resolved through agreements on sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards, not through physical border impedimenta. The amount of trade involved is negligible. The issue is a fraud and should be treated as such.
Some assert that the Prime Minister is desperate to keep us in the Customs Union because of promises, never published, that Greg Clark made to the auto industry two years ago. Others point to paragraph 49 of the December agreement with the EU (where the backstop is promised). This ignores the next paragraph, paragraph 50, inserted at the insistence of the DUP, which basically negates any claim that paragraph 49 is binding. Regardless: the Prime Minister and her advisers’ major mistake seems to be that they believe that if victory can be declared regarding the backstop, they can then come back from Brussels, waving a piece of paper and asserting a good deal has been agreed, because the backstop has been resolved.
It won’t work. Way before backstop became the cause du jour of the negotiations, Chequers had already reared its ugly head, and Chequers is what this whole false angst about the Northern Ireland border has been about; to provide a reason for the UK to stay in the Customs Union after Brexit. Chequers is no good; enough people know it is no good; it won’t be possible.
There are many reasons why the UK must avoid at all costs being in the – or a – Customs Union. This article by Graham Gudgin published on BrexitCentral yesterday is a comprehensive tour d’horizon of these reasons. MPs – both Remainers and Brexiteers – understand all that, enough of them to preclude its being accepted by Parliament. And yet, when the Irish border “issue” has allegedly been put to bed, with some sort of faux “backstop” agreement, Chequers will, apparently, remain as the Government’s negotiating stand for Brexit: a proposal that we remain tightly bound into the Customs Union (and for all intents and purposes, the Single Market) – goods, fisheries, banking and all.
There have been some eyebrow-raising odd leaks from “EU officials” in recent weeks, claiming that the EU’s arm was being twisted to force them to graciously allow the UK to stay within the Customs Union. Some may find that a joke – since the UK in the Customs Union is, in theory, precisely that vassal status that the EU should want the UK to be in (i.e. having German goods and French produce stuffed down our throat, with no say in the rules that govern competition in such goods and produce).
Nonetheless, I’m told that M. Barnier has assured delegations from the UK, with the utmost sincerity, that he does not wish the UK to be in the Customs Union. That is, however, what looks like is being offered by the UK in return for a “solution” to the Irish border. It is, also, precisely where the Government’s fatal error lies: enough Members of Parliament have made it very clear that they are not going to vote for such a deal, so any deal built around a Chequers view of the world will fail in the so-called ‘Meaningful Vote’ that we expect to take place in the House of Commons in the coming weeks.
The Chequers construct involves keeping the UK within a Customs Union and (as the news from the City of London illustrates) also the Single Market – for an extended, possibly indefinite, quite possibly permanent, length of time. It has been identified over and over as something that a large group of MPs will not accept.
How many such MPs? Well, there are so far 51 who have signed up to the “Stand Up for Brexit” pledge; there is a handful of Labour Leaver MPs; there are 10 DUP MPs; there are the ten or so further Scottish Tory MPs from fishing communities who know it would be electoral suicide to vote with the Government on this; there are the Remain-backing Conservative MPs, such as Jo Johnson, who now recognise that Chequers means vassalage; and there are most likely several Cabinet Ministers who will finally vote with their conscience by resigning their post and then voting against the Government in the Meaningful Vote.
The Labour Party says it will not support the Government in the Meaningful Vote, and it cannot be imagined that there will be enough renegade Labour Remainer MPs prepared to support the Conservative Government to overcome this group of anti-Chequers MPs so the Government, with its thin majority, faces an anti-Chequers vote that in total adds up to 60; 90; maybe many more.
What will the Prime Minister do when the reality of this becomes clear? What will happen if and when a Meaningful Vote on a Chequers-based deal is lost? The most likely outcome of such an event has to be that we would shortly thereafter have a new Prime Minister. If not, and somehow – however unlikely that may be – she survived the defeat of her policy (perhaps by ditching her clique of hardcore Remainer advisers, just as she ditched Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill after the 2017 election fiasco), then she would have the same choice as a new Prime Minister would: either to hunker down and start properly preparing to leave the European Union on WTO terms on 29th March next year; or to seek some kind of unholy alliance in Parliament with the Labour Party that allowed her to sue for peace with the EU by asking for an extension (temporary or ongoing) of Article 50 – with all that implies for a never-ending failure of the UK to exit the EU
The former choice carries the possibility of some – but if truth be told, not a lot – short-term pain, with a saving of £39 billion (enough to fund roughly 20,000 policemen and 20,000 teachers and 20,000 nurses for the next 20 years); the latter would rent the Conservative Party (the vast majority of whose voters side with the “Stand Up for Brexit” MPs) in two, with disastrous likely consequences in 2022. The Conservative Party might not recover for a generation or more.
It is late – very late – but the Government must urgently reconsider its position, and move to, first, making clear that a WTO terms exit is very much in contemplation, and second, offering as an alternative to that a Canada-style deal with the EU, as described in Plan A+ – a clearly laid out and workable plan for a Free Trade Agreement that builds on the already solid work that David Davis and Steve Baker did while still in Government.
The EU has indicated it is prepared to accept such a deal; it is the only deal that can pass a Meaningful Vote in the Commons; it is extraordinary that the Government has not already pivoted to such a deal. Anything else, and the current shambles will just get even worse: if and when Chequers comes to the Commons, it will be defeated and the Government, as currently led, will fall.
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Since as far back as 2016, the Treasury and other elements of the UK Government have been pushing for the UK to remain in some form of customs union with the EU after Brexit. Recent weeks have seen this idea again coming to the fore, with talk of a ‘temporary’ customs union to be created after the ‘transition period’. Those proposing this idea put it forward as a solution to what they see as the problems of Brexit. In reality, it would be in no way a solution, and it would create a whole new raft of problems.
The main arguments for a customs union are that it will guarantee tariff- and quota-free access for UK exports to EU markets and that it will avoid UK firms having to bear customs and ‘rules of origin’ costs that they would face in a free trade agreement (the latter involve the costs of ensuring your product has enough ‘local’ content to qualify for zero tariffs). On top of this, it is claimed that a customs union solves the problem of the Irish border.
In my view, the purely economic arguments in favour of UK customs union membership with the EU are weak:
- There is not much evidence that a customs union would be more beneficial for UK-EU trade than a standard free trade agreement (FTA). The study by Cippolina and Salvactici (2006), based on a large number of estimates of the trade-creating effects of FTAs and customs unions, finds no evidence that customs unions outperform FTAs. The similarly large-scale study by Head and Mayer (2013) found membership of the EU customs union had modest trade-boosting impacts (15-20%) but that these were often smaller than the trade-creating effects of FTAs such as NAFTA.
- Rules of origin costs are often hugely overstated. Claims that rules of origin costs for UK businesses in case of a UK-EU FTA could be as high as 7-8% of trade values are far too high. A careful study by the WTO points to the cost of compliance with rules of origin being less than 1% of traded values, and often negligible.
- Costs of customs processing are also massively exaggerated. Claims by HMRC earlier this year that customs costs could total 1% of UK GDP or 6% of trade values are anything from five to twenty times too high, being based on a mixture of double-counting (now admitted) and dubious claims about the future costs and numbers of customs declarations.
- It is not even clear that a ‘new’ UK-EU customs union would entirely remove customs-related costs. The EU’s customs union with Turkey has not led to ‘frictionless’ border trade – queues at the border are often lengthy. Formal customs checks within the EU only ended in the early 1990s due to the Single Market Programme.
- The UK’s foreign trade structure is not suited to a customs union. Customs union arrangements have some logic where one economy does a very large share of its trade with another. But the EU now represents only around 45% of UK goods exports. And this share has been dropping rapidly as the EU grows slowly compared to the rest of the world. Twenty years from now it is likely that the EU will take only around a third of UK goods exports.
- The UK would remain locked into the EU’s highly protectionist agricultural trade system. While average EU tariffs are not very high, they are often steep on agricultural products. This represents a heavy effective ‘tax’ on UK consumers, especially given the UK’s status as a large net food importer. UK consumers are denied the choice of cheap food from outside the EU and pushed towards consuming expensive products from within it. This cost is high at 0.5-1% of GDP – almost certainly higher than possible rules of origin costs for manufacturers under an FTA.
Moreover, the strategic/political arguments in favour of a customs union are even less compelling:
- Entering a customs union would make meaningful trade deals with other economies impossible. While there might be scope for very limited deals on trade facilitation or deals on services the scope even for these would be very small. Why would India or the US be interested in a deal on services (potentially benefitting the UK) when the UK had nothing to offer on the goods side?
- The EU would be effectively able to ‘sell’ access to UK markets with no reciprocal benefits for the UK. The EU-Turkey customs union is a good example of this. When the EU does trade deals with third parties, these third countries gain tariff-free access to Turkish markets but Turkish exporters do not gain automatic reciprocal access to these third countries and Turkey has to try to negotiate parallel arrangements (not always successfully). Notably, Turkey came close to cancelling its customs with the EU when the EU was negotiating the TTIP trade deal with the US. Britain in a customs union would be in the same position as Turkey.
- A future customs union would jeopardise the UK rolling over existing EU FTAs. Under a Turkey-style arrangement, the UK would be reduced to trying to replicate any new EU FTAs with third countries to get access to the markets of the EU’s FTA partners – but these partner countries would have little incentive to agree having already got access to UK markets. For the same reason, the prospect of an open-ended future UK-EU customs union could undermine attempts the UK is currently making to transform existing EU FTAs with countries like Korea into UK-only FTAs. Current EU FTA partners would continue to benefit from free access to UK markets under a new UK-EU customs union – so they would have no incentive to negotiate new UK-only FTAs.
- Britain would have no voice at future WTO discussions about global tariffs. It would simply have to accept whatever the EU agreed.
- The EU would be able to damage UK business using anti-dumping actions. Under a new UK-EU customs union the EU would be likely to be in charge of the UK’s ‘trade defence’ measures such as ‘anti-dumping’ actions (where large tariffs are levied on countries deemed to be ‘dumping’ their goods on the EU market). Again, the EU would make anti-dumping decisions without a UK say and such decisions could damage UK business and consumers. So, engineering and vehicles manufacturers could be hurt if punitive tariffs were imposed on some steel imports, and consumers hurt if food or other imports were raised in price by anti-dumping duties. Worse still, the EU might well insist on being able to impose anti-dumping duties on the UK as well – as is the case with Turkey.
- A customs union would not simply cover tariffs and quotas, i.e. a ‘bare bones’ arrangement. The EU would also require the UK to follow EU rules in a broad swathe of policy areas including competition policy, environmental policy and social and labour standards – without any say at all in how these rules were set. This would not only be a huge loss of UK sovereignty but also dramatically narrow the UK government’s freedom of action in key economic policy areas.
- The ‘temporary’ customs union would be unlikely to be temporary. The EU has made it quite clear in recent days that it would require such an arrangement to be permanent. The proposed withdrawal agreement currently being negotiated between the UK and EU (and which would potentially contain proposals for a ‘temporary’ customs union) looks unlikely to have a unilateral exit clause, leaving the UK tied to the customs union indefinitely.
- A customs union does not solve the Irish border ‘problem’. Customs checks only represent a small element of potential border checks at EU borders today. A bigger issue is generally product conformity and other single market rules. This is another reason why any customs union would require either effective UK single market membership (see above) or border checks between Britain and Northern Ireland and/or Britain and the rest of the EU.
In sum, a customs union arrangement whereby the UK contracted out huge areas of trade and economic policy-making to the EU would be totally unsuitable for an economy like Britain’s.
Customs unions arrangements may work well for small economies that do an overwhelming share of their trade with a large neighbour (Liechtenstein and Switzerland for example). But the UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, with a diverse pattern of foreign trade and with business and consumer interests that will often diverge from those of the EU.
It is no accident that Canada and Mexico are not interested in joining a customs union with the US, despite their strong trade orientation towards the US. They know that the loss of economic independence involved would be far too great to justify what would probably be quite a modest reduction in border frictions. The calculation should be the same for the UK.
Supporters of a customs union have suggested the UK could somehow retain some influence over decision making in such a new UK-EU arrangement. But this looks like a fantasy. It would be legally and politically difficult for the EU to grant any significant decision-making power to the UK. The best the UK could hope for would be some kind of observer status (again as proposed for Turkey). But the arrangement would remain a thoroughly one-sided one where, at the end of the day, the UK would have no power either to veto potentially damaging agreements or push for deals that benefitted it.
Entering a new customs union with the EU would be a backward-looking step for the UK, with a massive loss of policy independence and flexibility and businesses and consumers at risk of having damaging decisions imposed on them with no say in how those decisions were taken. It would be a significant downgrade from the UK’s current position whereby it retains some authority over EU trade policy. It would also give the UK minimal additional policy freedom in the trade and economic policy area. Meanwhile the benefits would be small and mostly accrue to a handful of industries (the car industry, for instance, accounts for less than 1% of UK GDP). Overall, it is hard to imagine a more sub-optimal policy.
The wide-ranging Free Trade Agreement with zero tariffs proposed by Donald Tusk in March foundered on the supposed problems of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In response, the Prime Minister proposed in her Chequers document to bind the UK to a “common rulebook” – really the EU’s rulebook – for goods in order, she said, to ensure continued frictionless trade between the EU and the UK.
This attracted little political support in the EU because it was seen as “cherry-picking” and even less in the UK for leaving us as permanent, non-voting rule-takers. The proposals were rejected on a technical level by the professional customs body, CLECAT, whose 19,000 members handle 80% of European customs transactions. They found that Chequers “would require five to ten years before it can be applied in practice… new/non-existing systems and procedures will potentially lead to more complications.”
Reports this week suggest that the Prime Minister has now gone even further to secure a deal at any cost. Her new “backstop” proposal is for an open-ended customs union. She has ruled out customs union membership 21 times, so this would represent a humiliating defeat. The UK would have submitted to everything the EU demanded, paying them over £40bn for the pleasure and completely ceding our international trade policy to Brussels in clear breach of the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitments.
How has the Prime Minister got into this mess? Her motivation – a seamless border – is well founded, but her premise is that the only way to guarantee this is by some new, complicated customs arrangement. This is simply not true.
Firstly, only 4.9 per cent of Northern Ireland’s sales are with the Republic of Ireland, representing under 0.2 per cent of UK GDP. We should not, surely, give up our law-making capability over a wide area for the sake of that tiny fraction.
Secondly, there is already a border now – for tax, VAT, currency, excise duty and security – managed by technical and administrative procedures. These existing measures provide the foundation to maintain frictionless trade after Brexit. The Heads of HMRC and the Irish Revenue have confirmed this, saying that any additional requirements can be achieved without any new facilities at the border.
To see why, consider the range of simplifications to customs procedures and administrative obligations available under EU law. These are an ideal fit for much cross-border trade, characterised by regular, repetitive shipments – the same milk, from the same cows, from the same farm, in the same tankers, on the same roads, to the same destination. These obligations typically require only a one-off registration and, for regular trade, negligible costs of repetition. Companies already have to report all cross-border trade for VAT purposes, and the current system provides a framework for streamlining customs controls. Even small traders can – and currently do – take advantage of a voluntary registration to claim back VAT.
The agri-food sector accounts for just under half of all cross-border trade. Inspections can be necessary for these products but can, in practice, take place many miles from the physical border. I saw this myself when I visited Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port, this week. The Border Inspection Point is 40km from the docks and deals with 30,000 shipments annually from all over the world, including from outside the Single Market and Customs Union. There, 97-98 per cent of chilled or frozen meat and fish are cleared without physical inspection. Only 2-3 per cent are physically checked, based on intelligence, and 90 per cent of those shipments are cleared well within an hour.
The simplest way to avoid the need for animal checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is by maintaining an all-island biosecurity zone for disease prevention and public health. I visited the facility where inspections already take place for livestock shipments from Great Britain at the port of Larne. There are clear lessons from Rotterdam as to how such checks can be managed efficiently and how intelligence can minimise the need for lengthy inspections.
The Prime Minister’s convoluted customs proposals are unnecessary. Existing technical and administrative processes can ensure that a frictionless border is maintained after Brexit, not as a temporary, cobbled-together “backstop” but as a durable, long-term arrangement which allows for the wide-ranging, zero-tariff trade agreement which Donald Tusk proposed. That, surely, is the optimal solution for all sides.
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The 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA) is constructed on the principle of consent, including;
- Consent of the British Government that a part of its territory, Northern Ireland, will be subject to special arrangements, including those with the Irish Republic;
- Consent that any change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland can only occur if desired by a majority;
- Consent by the Nationalist community there to the present constitutional status, along with a mechanism to change that status, if a majority so desire; and
- Consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly to any alteration in the cross-border arrangements
All these interlacing sets of arrangements are delicately balanced and were arrived at after many years of painstaking discussion and compromises. The Agreement represented no single party or side’s ideal but there was enough consensus there to achieve a durable settlement on the basis of consent.
The hardline demands of the EU today, essentially driven by the Government in Dublin, are light years away from the approach which characterised that of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in the late 1990s and made the Agreement possible. The Agreement was designed to usher in a new and constructive era of mature relations between the UK and Ireland. We were to become close partners over a whole series of areas.
The reaction of the authorities in Dublin to British efforts to negotiate a sensible and smooth Brexit has been the antithesis of the process that led to the GFA. Instead of the two Governments’ commitment to “develop still further the unique relationship between their peoples and the close co-operation between their countries as friendly neighbours “, there has been a stubborn resistance to accepting the UK decision to leave the EU. This has been alongside a strong alliance with implacable Remainers in London. This has made the Brexit process much more difficult and fed into the agenda of those in Brussels, and also Paris, who are determined to make an example of Britain for daring to leave their club. It is completely contrary to Ireland’s real national interest and the spirit of the GFA.
This hardline policy from Dublin is now endangering the entire GFA, which can only function as long as the participants in that Agreement are willing for it to do so. Demanding that Northern Ireland is detached economically from the rest of the United Kingdom, without the consent of the population, carries the danger of strongly alienating one side of the community there. Frustrating the UK’s efforts to come to a balanced accommodation with Brussels will inevitably lead to some in London questioning the foundation on which the GFA is based, trust that Ireland and the UK can be close and mutually supportive allies. There is also the damage that is being done to community relations in Northern Ireland.
The GFA recognised that cross border co-operation was dependent on consensus north of the Border. Meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council always had at least one Minister from either side of the communal divide; and the GFA specifically states that any further development of North-South arrangements is “to be by agreement… with the specific endorsement of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Oireachtas (Irish Houses of Parliament)”. By seeking to bypass the consent of one side of the community, the Irish Government is deepening division and undermining the whole basis on which the GFA was built. This position is developed further in our recent Policy Exchange paper The Irish Border and the Principle of Consent.
The upholding of the GFA is, of course, a laudable aim and is shared by authorities in Dublin, Brussels and London. The maintenance of the present mutually beneficial arrangements on the Irish border is also very desirable. The present policy course by Dublin is unlikely to achieve either. By ignoring the essential element of consent, the Irish Government is placing the progress of decades of good work in jeopardy.
There needs to be a new British/Irish initiative to break the present logjam by making a declaration that the future of the border will not be used to stop the signing of a Withdrawal Agreement. Both the EU and the UK should undertake to use their best efforts to preserve all existing measures to secure an invisible border and to preserve all existing measures of cross border co-operation under the aegis of the GFA. This would allow Brexit to proceed in an ordered manner and the two-year transition period to kick in. The future trade talks would hopefully achieve the above aspiration.
The alternative – a continued impasse, economic damage and resultant ill feelings all round – is in nobody’s interest.
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So here we are in the last days of the negotiations. Our Government stands on one side of a rhetorical gulf, terrified of No Deal and having made no significant preparation for it, its finest minds baffled by the impossible Irish Rubik’s Cube constructed for it by the EU.
On the other stands the EU, sure from the outset that the UK would, in its delicate phrase, “take dictation” and now convinced that the strategy will pay off. No doubt the British officials leading the negotiations are assuring the Government that a deal can still be pulled off.
But what a “deal” it will be: a binding treaty in which the UK gives away large amounts of money and what seems to be a perpetual lien on Northern Ireland and in exchange gets an expensive “transition” period (with an option, it seems, to pay more for an even longer one) and a non-binding “framework” (possibly only a few pages long) that will guide the trade talks we will begin (but can hardly hope to conclude) in the never-ending “transition” period. During that “transition” we shall be fully subject to EU law but have no representation in its legislature (in possible contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights, but what the heck).
This will be mendaciously described by some as a “good deal for Britain that delivers the referendum result” and the Government will set out to frighten and cajole MPs of all parties into supporting it, with the clock ticking and the fanciful “cliff-edge” just a short hop down the road.
It is a scandal, really. But is the alternative “crashing out with no deal”, as some put it? No. It is still possible for the UK to take back control of the negotiations and achieve a successful and workable Brexit. But to do that means being willing to embrace the prospect of leaving without a trade deal. And it requires a proper understanding of what the EU intends the Irish backstop to achieve.
Our politicians have largely failed to present the backstop to us in its proper light. They say it is a transitional measure, one that will cover a gap between next April and a new trading relationship that will be so close as to make it redundant. They talk freely therefore of an “end-date” to the backstop, anticipating that close relationship as permanent.
But the EU perfectly understands that, once we leave the EU, there is nothing they can legally do to stop us from diverging, piecemeal or suddenly, from our new trading relationship. Michael Gove has told them that is exactly what we intend to do, after all. And if we do that, they may feel forced to erect a border on the island of Ireland to “defend” their Single Market. They want a guarantee that they can never be obliged to do that.
So what the EU is seeking in an Irish backstop is not a transitional or temporary thing. It has to be permanent (“workable, enforceable and all-weather”, as Michel Barnier put it recently, “all-weather” being the new euphemism for “permanent”). It will not be effaced or rendered null by a future trading relationship. It is what it says: a backstop, a perpetual insurance policy ensconced in international law that will come into play if ever we want to change our future trading arrangements in a way that could be judged by the EU to necessitate a “hard” land border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The EU thinks they have made this sufficiently clear and they look in bafflement at British interlocutors when they say there must be an end-date to the backstop!
In short their view is that Great Britain (not the United Kingdom) can strike any reasonable trade deals it can manage, with the EU or with other countries, but that, if we do so, we must leave Northern Ireland behind in the Customs Union and large parts of the Single Market, permanently deprived of a say in substantial parts of the laws affecting it, and with a goods border in the Irish Sea.
And since no British Prime Minister will ever propose abandoning Northern Ireland (unless it freely and lawfully chooses to join the Republic under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement), the whole UK will be trapped in perpetual subservience to the EU, tied to their rules and laws and having no say in them. That is what signing it means. Like a virus, the backstop may lurk in the marrow for many years unnoticed, but it will pop out if ever we seek to make a real break for freedom. Properly understood, it destroys the notion of some Brexiteers that surfaced in mid-year that we can “get out and fix it later”. We can’t fix it later: not while maintaining our territorial integrity.
If that is the price of a “deal”, clearly we must go for No Deal. But there are in fact two deals: a Withdrawal Agreement, as envisaged by Article 50 and a future trading relationship, formal talks on which will not begin before we leave. We would do well to split them. We can certainly offer a Withdrawal Agreement acceptable to us, but uncoupled from a deal on the future relationship.
Old-fashioned diplomats, going into negotiations, always sought to avoid being in the position of the party seeking something: the demandeur in diplomatic parlance. Our weakness in the negotiations is that we are desperately seeking something and the EU, through canny sequencing of negotiations (in which we lazily and stupidly acquiesced), has managed to make out that it is not. The only way to break out is for us to cease to be the demandeur. And the only way to do that is to embrace leaving on WTO terms and be willing to do so.
What we need to say now to the EU is that we no longer wish to discuss our future relationship as part of these negotiations. We are under no legal obligation to do so. We will have the default relationship that any independent country has with the EU, just like the USA and many other countries do. But we will sign a Withdrawal Agreement that will involve our paying our dues and agreeing citizens’ rights and the other administrative matters that it has suited both sides for practical reasons to include to date in the draft Withdrawal Agreement.
Our proposed Withdrawal Agreement will also contain a promise by both sides to use best endeavours to have a minimal Irish border and will remit the question of practicalities to technical talks outside the Article 50 process. In effect, we will offer the EU money for their coffers and stability for their and our citizens. We will also recognise that underlying legitimate Irish concerns about the “border” are more fundamental issues about the economic and social future of Ireland and we shall offer to work together to address those.
Our proposed Withdrawal Agreement will not include a “transition” period. But we will offer more money should the EU agree a strictly time-limited one, concluding in December 2020. Both sides can use this to prepare in more detail (if needed) for trading on WTO terms.
It is an offer that will be understood by Parliament and the British people as proposing an exit that is neither “disorderly” nor “chaotic”. With luck, it will maintain a smidgeon of goodwill with the EU and allow closer relations to be rebuilt over time. Crucially it will preserve the independence and the territorial integrity of the UK.
The choice will then be for the EU to accept the proposal or to invite us to leave with No Deal. Our offer will remove EU leverage from the negotiations, since if they refuse it, we will simply leave it on the table. They may come round one day and in the meantime they will look wholly unreasonable, to the world and to their own citizens. And we will be out.
Of course, as I say, this does mean we would leave on WTO terms. But, if the EU decided to accept our payment for a transition period, it is more than possible that a working trading arrangement, if not a full all-UK/EU Free Trade Agreement, could be worked out in that 22-month period. However, we would not be seeking that: we will no longer be the demandeur.
The art of leadership, if you don’t know the answer to the question, is to change the question. That is what the Government needs to do. But to do so, we must be seeking nothing, and so remove the EU’s negotiating leverage.
Here, therefore, is the letter Mrs May should now write to Mr Barnier:
We wish to take a new approach to the negotiations surrounding our departure from the EU.
The UK will cease to be a member state on 30th March next year. We no longer seek to conclude a framework agreement with you on our trading relationship with the EU after that date as part of the current negotiations. Nothing in Article 50 requires us to do so. This will mean a degree of disruption to both of us, but we will cope and in due course we will, as separate states, start to repair the web of relationships that geography and mutual interest imply between two neighbouring but independent entities with so much in common. But it is clearly the case that we find it impossible to agree those things now in a way acceptable to both sides, so we need to let time and good sense take their healing course.
As a responsible state, however, we are willing to enter into a Withdrawal Agreement as contemplated by Article 50 to cover matters of common interest relating to our departure in an orderly way and on a mutually acceptable basis.
The Withdrawal Agreement we propose will cover:
- The orderly assignment of assets and liabilities between us, to be assessed and adjudicated by an impartial, independent body;
- The rights of EU citizens resident in the UK and of UK citizens resident in the remaining EU states, though with no role for EU law within the UK beyond an eight-year time limit;
- An agreement to work together in good faith outside the Article 50 process to establish and implement the minimal proportional customs arrangements on the land border between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom consistent with the status that will subsist between us as “third countries”; these discussions will be undertaken by competent technical officials from the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and the EU and, in our view, will build on technological monitoring, electronic filing and remote enforcement. The shared objective will be to have as “invisible” a border as can be agreed; and
- Other matters of a practical character already agreed between us.
We note that the current draft Withdrawal Agreement includes payments by the United Kingdom covering our budget contribution during an implementation or transition period of some 22 months from next March. These payments would no longer form part of the Withdrawal Agreement we propose unless the planned implementation or transition period were retained. The United Kingdom would be willing, however, to make those budget contributions if the implementation or transition period were retained on a basis fully consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights and we believe it would help minimise disruption for both parties, should that be agreed.
We are conscious of our legal and constitutional responsibilities under the 1998 Belfast Agreement and are fully committed to their fulfilment. Outside the Withdrawal Agreement, but alongside it, we therefore propose to work closely with the Irish Government and all communities on the island of Ireland to ensure that the legitimate concerns and aspirations of all communities embodied in the Belfast Agreement remain fully credible after Brexit. The assistance of the European Union in facilitating those discussions in support of the peace process would, of course, be welcome.
We hope you will accept these terms. If not, we will, if so obliged, proceed to leave in March without a Withdrawal Agreement.
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The news that Boeing has just opened a £40 million manufacturing facility in Sheffield to make parts for their latest 737 and 767 aircraft, which are assembled in the United States, serves to remind us that our world-class aerospace business is global and to torpedo the claims of Airbus – and some car manufacturers – that Brexit will threaten jobs in the UK because it will cause havoc to the just-in-time manufacturing process. Boeing’s plans call for the production of 52 aircraft a month with thousands of parts being shipped every month to Portland, Oregon, so timely delivery will be just as critical to Boeing as it is to Airbus.
So, the question arises: if Boeing can operate a slick production process using parts made in Britain, shipped six times the distance to their assembly line compared to shipping Airbus parts from Bristol or North Wales to Hamburg or Toulouse (and BAE ship 15% of every single F35 Joint Strike Fighter to the Lockheed Martin plant in Dallas), what is Airbus’s problem? The answer lies not in economics but in politics.
As is increasingly clear, despite protestations to the contrary, elements of the EU really do want to punish the UK for having had the insolence to Leave and to deter other countries from following our lead. France seems to be the most determined to press for punishment, partly to try to seize the City of London’s business and partly to promote President Macron as the new EU leader as Angela Merkel’s grip weakens.
Recently there were reports, subsequently denied, that President Macron intended to require UK visitors to France to obtain visas whilst those Brits with homes in France would immediately upon Brexit become illegal visitors. Apparently, the word ‘not’ was omitted in translation and the proposed new law designed to prevent such action. However, Dominic Raab subsequently spoke about the possibility of France ‘deliberately’ delaying lorries entering the port of Calais.
Earlier this year, the EU announced the creation of a fund to develop new defence equipment, a programme from which the UK, home to Europe’s largest defence contractor and with the largest defence budget in Europe, was to be excluded. Furthermore, the UK is to be ejected from key parts of the EU satellite navigation programme, Galileo, despite having contributed £1.2 billion and constituting, through Airbus subsidiary Surrey Satellites, a key portion of the technology. Any reasonable person would ask where was the commercial, let alone defence, interest in excluding such a major European player. Again, the answer lies not in economics but in politics: the UK has to be punished even if it means damaging the defence interests of the continent.
As we approach the sombre commemorations of the centenary of the 1918 armistice which ended The Great War, it is worth pausing to reflect on the role of some of those nations who, in the famous words of Margaret Thatcher, ‘we either rescued or defeated’. The British people have voted freely but decisively to Leave the EU, yet face punitive measures by some on the continent for whose liberation in two world wars this country and its Empire shed 1,300,000 lives. Whilst falling over themselves to secure favourable trade deals with the rest of the world, the EU’s leaders have adopted the reverse policy with their closest neighbour, refusing to discuss trade arrangements before sorting out an artificial problem of their creation by weaponising the Irish border, a clear solution to which has been proposed by the ERG and others.
In another example of the pathetic approach in Brussels, I understand that the EU’s aviation safety agency, EASA, is debarred from discussing with our CAA how we manage air travel post Brexit. Given the UK’s prominence in air transport, with Heathrow being the most important transatlantic gateway airport in Europe, why is EASA not engaged in constructive debate? Iceland, Norway and Switzerland are members of EASA even though they are not EU members, so why remove the UK? Again, the answer lies in politics, not economics. They want to cause inconvenience, if not chaos, to rub home to the others the cost of recovering national sovereignty.
All this illustrates the fundamental naivety exhibited by the UK at the outset of the negotiations, namely that if we conceded and acted in a friendly fashion the EU would respond in similar vein, leading many Leave voters to question the motives of those in charge. We never acknowledged the determination of the Commission to protect The Project (to create the United States of Europe) and we failed to recognise the strength of the cards in our hands.
So we threw away the security card, offering unconditional support to the 27, only to be rewarded by exclusion from EU defence programmes. The Prime Minister offered to pay a staggering £39 billion of our money in return for – nothing. Well, if she thinks British taxpayers will tolerate that, I fear she is mistaken. I can no longer withhold my vote in Parliament, but I can withhold my taxes unless I see a fair trade deal is secured.
The Chequers proposal had two aims: (1) ensuring frictionless trade and (2) solving the Irish border problem. Its proposal to keep the entire country (not just businesses that trade with the EU) perpetually locked to EU standards in which we have no say, and from which we cannot depart to enable us to agree trade deals with other countries, was totally condemned by both Leavers and Remainers.
The ‘common rule book’ was rejected by the EU for ‘cherry picking’ and undermining the Single Market; and the ‘combined customs territory’ was rejected by the EU which, justifiably, refuses to delegate its tariff collection to a third party. So Chequers was on life-support. The addition of “temporary” all-UK membership of the Customs Union is unacceptable to us without a time-limit and unacceptable to the EU without a backstop-to-the-backstop that could ultimately separate Northern Ireland from the UK. Finally, the idea of an extended transition (that wouldn’t necessarily solve the Irish border problem) has been universally rejected by all wings of the Conservative Party.
Even if Theresa May managed to pile in enough further concessions to solve the Irish border problem (if it really is a problem, not just a political device), that wouldn’t be the basis for a deal unless we were prepared to sign the Withdrawal Agreement and contract to pay £39 billion with no understanding of the nature of any future trading relationship (since Chequers has been rejected by the EU). Not even Mrs May – surely – would do that?
So, fortunately, through her successive and futile concessions to the EU, Mrs May seems to have put the final nail in the coffin of the Chequers plan, and left the way open for a fresh and possibly more sensible approach.
Boris Johnson’s Plan B or Canada+++, or whatever you want to call it, has been dismissed by critics, including Mrs May, as ‘fantasy’ because it does not solve the Irish border problem. Up to now, Mrs May has been able to claim that ‘only my plan can solve the Irish border problem’. That argument is now demolished.
So now a “no-deal” seems increasingly likely. There are some potential upsides: we will save most of £39bn (not all, because legal obligations will be honoured) and be free at once to negotiate Free Trade Agreements around the world. Downsides include the cliff-edge in March 2019 (although the Government is now, belatedly, making serious plans for no-deal); trading with the EU on WTO terms until a free trade deal is agreed with them; potential UK/EU border friction (at Dover, etc); and having to deal with the Irish border.
The exact wording of the backstop agreed in December 2017 was:
“In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.”
As Boris Johnson and David Davis were reportedly told, this wording and the implied definitions were pretty narrow and meaningless, i.e. that “those rules” which apply to goods exported from the UK to the EU across the Irish border must be aligned with EU regulations. That is seemingly obvious… and harmless. There’s not a word about Northern Ireland staying in the Single Market or having to follow the EU rule book for everything. “Those rules”, it says, not “all rules”. What the EU has been demanding is something far beyond what they agreed with the UK last December.
It must be perfectly plain that we will not allow the EU to try to split Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK (any more than they would expect Spain to split off Catalonia or France, Corsica or Normandy).
If there is no deal, the Irish border will still exist, and neither Ireland nor the EU will want to invoke a hard border. Britain certainly won’t. So some kind of pragmatic monitoring/enforcement arrangement would have to be agreed between the respective customs authorities in the event of a no-deal.
By offering one concession after another Mrs May is just manoeuvring herself and us further and further into a tight corner. Much simpler to say “no”, we won’t play your game, it’s no deal.
With no-deal, the EU will have to tolerate what they consider to be an unsatisfactory border arrangement and forgo their £39 billion. Why would they allow their intransigence force us into that situation when they could do a deal under which they tolerate – temporarily – that same unsatisfactory border arrangement and pocket their £39 billion?
So the choice for the EU becomes a simple one: do you want a no-deal-style Irish border arrangement with or without £39 billion?
As to future trading arrangements, Mrs May must be persuaded that the Canada-plus formula offered by the EU is the most favourable for the UK. While entirely frictionless trade would be very nice, the price she is proposing to pay – EU regulations imposed on all UK businesses including the more than 80% that trade only domestically or with non-EU countries; no say in regulations or trading standards or ability to challenge regulations that especially damage British businesses; no ability to innovate; no ability to negotiate trading standards as part of FTAs; cumbersome tariff reclaim procedures – is simply too high as an alternative to accepting some friction but minimising it. When encountering friction, you don’t scrap the machine, you apply oil: trusted-trader status for regular just-in-time supply-chain consignments; number-plate recognition that opens barriers at designated trusted trader lanes. Where is the friction?
Where are the obstacles? There is only one – the need for a firm negotiating stance.
Last Thursday, the same day that we read “Theresa May to trigger full-scale parliamentary no-deal planning ‘within three weeks’”, we read of Guy Verhofstadt brazenly insisting there’s a 0% chance of a deal unless we agree to the EU’s Irish border demands, apparently blind to the consequences to the EU – a no-deal Irish border problem and a £39 billion financial black hole.
On the other hand we have seen Wednesday’s news: “France threatens to block Calais port to the UK if we refuse to pay £39bn divorce bill”. The EU persists in making unjustifiable and unconscionable demands regarding the Irish border, aimed solely at keeping us in the Customs Union and so preventing us from entering into global free trade deals.
Their insistence on their childish game of chicken is getting beyond ridiculous. Is this how intelligent adults behave? Don’t intelligent adults just sit down and agree new feasible cooperative arrangements that will be to their mutual advantage? It’s called an amicable divorce.
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Theresa May talked the talk when she said ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ to such an extent that one couldn’t help but be reminded of Shakespeare’s ‘the lady doth protest too much, methinks’. So now is her chance to show that she can walk the walk.
The Prime Minister is right not to be provoked into walking out, insisting on proper and constructive negotiations; but she should not feel inhibited about coming back without an agreement; the vast majority of the British people want the Government and Parliament to get on with it and a no-deal outcome has always been a possibility.
The media has taken to presenting the EU negotiations as a game of chicken, a game of bluff. Who will blink first? Would the DUP really go ahead with their threat to vote down the Budget if the deal that the PM comes back with results in further checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea? Amongst all this speculation, one thing is certain: the 17.4 million who voted to Leave the EU were not bluffing and they have no intention of blinking.
We have become used to the warnings of the dire consequences of Brexit; warnings that adorn our news bulletins on a daily basis from car manufacturers who threaten to cut and run through to the IMF and assorted bankers predicting economic recession. We were even told that ‘planes will not be able to take off’ presumably because the laws of physics will be suspended once we leave the EU as well. But in spite of all that, the people have remained steadfast with poll after poll showing no change in their desire to leave the EU.
Yet, the metropolitan elite refuses to accept the result of the referendum and continue to call for a second vote, a ‘People’s Vote’, when one has already been held. The disconnect of the British establishment, and the schism between the elite and ordinary working people, is comparable only to that of the House of Louis XVI in late eighteenth century France. When the people gathered outside the Royal Palace asking for bread, Marie Antoinette told them to eat cake. When the people voted to leave the EU, the elite told them to vote again. Marie Antoinette lost her head, literally. The British establishment lost its head, metaphorically; they refuse to come to terms with the fact that we are leaving the EU on 29th March 2019.
The nearer we are to that date, the more desperate they become, with the wealthy, well-to-do and the comfortable instructing workers on what is best for them. The recent open letter from ‘Bob Geldof and friends’ is their latest lame offering. In their letter – and without any sense of irony – unelected and unaccountable ‘Bob Geldof and friends’ described the implementation of the vote to leave the EU as ‘the undemocratic fiat of mediocre politicians’. And even though there was no mention in the letter of a second referendum (obviously, his ‘friends’ refused to endorse a second vote), it was spun by Geldof and an obliging media as an endorsement of it.
It’s not clear if the Prime Minister has rejected the EU’s open-ended ‘backstop’ designed to keep the UK in the Customs Union in perpetuity. She seems to see an extension of the transition period as a way of avoiding the backstop, which makes any sense only if the transition period is indefinite, keeping us in the EU indefinitely. An unspecified extension of the transition period would have the same effect as an open-ended backstop and that’s why it was suggested by the EU in the first place; it is equally unpalatable. Just how bad does a deal have to be before a no-deal becomes preferable?
The EU has treated the Government, and Theresa May in particular, with contempt. Instead of working with the Government to find solutions, the EU ‘demands concrete proposals from the Prime Minister’ as if Brussels is a third party to the negotiations with no responsibility to search for answers.
They insist on a solution to the Irish border before the details of a trade agreement can be negotiated, a solution that can only be found once an agreement on our trading relationship has been reached – the very thing the EU prevented when it insisted on phasing the negotiation in such a way that solutions to problems that can only be resolved once the second phase has been concluded were to be found before the second phase begins. It is like looking for a plug to fill a hole in a wall before you have any knowledge of the size of the hole that has to be plugged.
Since a solution to the Irish border can only be found when the trading relationship with the EU is finalised, an insurmountable hurdle was created. This was no accident or a miscalculation. The sequencing of negotiations was designed to make an amicable UK departure difficult; a warning to any member state that might be tempted to follow the example of the UK – and there many of these.
Theresa May was sanguine and allowed the EU to dictate the pace and the process.
The Prime Minister’s task is not to satisfy this or that group of MPs, this or that section in Parliament; it is not a numbers game, regardless of what we are consistently told by the media. Brexit belongs to the people and the people have been its driving force. Her task is to satisfy the desire of the people to leave the EU; if she does, parliamentary approval will follow in the same way as an 80% Remain-supporting House of Commons voted by an overwhelming majority to invoke Article 50 and to repeal the 1972 Accession Act. If she fails to do that, she must make way for someone who can.
Photocredit: Zero 2010
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Brexit: Theresa May pours cold water on move to renegotiate deal as cabinet ministers call for rewriteThe prime minister will visit Jean-Claude Juncker this week for further talks focussing on the outline future relationship