It’s become a mantra, endlessly repeated by Remainer unions: “Workers must not pay the price of Brexit.” What price would that be? And how about acknowledging the price of staying in the EU?
On 6th July 2017, Michel Barnier, the EU Brexit negotiator, addressed the EU’s Economic and Social Committee. His words were noted and passed on to unions in Britain by the TUC delegate to the committee under a title saying that Barnier ‘spells out the truth’ about Brexit.
Barnier’s address, wrote Unite’s Martin Mayer with doe-eyed devotion, was ‘clinical in its analysis’ and ‘impressive in its clarity’. And he dubbed as ‘fatuous’ Theresa May’s statement that “Brexit means Brexit”. The TUC’s love affair with the EU was still going strong, despite the referendum.
At the meeting Judy McKnight, ex-TUC General Council and ex-General Secretary of the prison officers’ union – described as ‘Leader of UK Workers Group members’ although she is and was actually retired – repeated the worn old refrain that “workers must not pay the price of Brexit”.
The TUC was campaigning back then for Britain to stay in the Single Market for as long as possible, under a transitional agreement, to ‘keep workers’ rights safe’. Now it has hardened its stance, calling for Britain to remain in both the Single Market and the Customs Union.
The Fire Brigades Union, for example, which in June suspended executive member Paul Embery for two years for speaking out in favour of Brexit, parrots every Project Fear statement put out by the Treasury. The union attacks the World Trade Organisation for being ‘neoliberal’ – but of course fails to say that the EU and the USA were trying to negotiate the TTIP treaty because the WTO isn’t neoliberal enough.
Nowhere do these euro-enthusiasts talk about the fact that the EU constitution sets all the key principles of neoliberalism in stone, effectively unchangeable – the free movement of goods, services, capital and ‘persons’ (this includes companies). That’s something that the bankers and transnational capitalists haven’t managed to get into a single national constitution outside the EU, not even the USA. In particular, they see the European Court of Justice as the guardian of workers’ rights. Yet it is anything but that.
Successive ECJ judgements have made it perfectly clear that the rights to free movement – of goods, labour, services and capital – come first. The right to strike in pursuance of what it calls social policy (jobs, pay, conditions, pensions) cannot, according to the Viking judgement, ‘automatically override’ these fundamental rights.
More fundamentally, said ECJ Advocate General Poiares Maduro on 23rd May 2007, “the possibility for a company to relocate to a Member State where its operating costs will be lower is pivotal to the pursuit of effective intra Community trade.” There’s the EU, in a nutshell: it’s a fundamental right for a company to move from country to country in search of lower and lower labour costs.
The EU’s fundamental rights are all about the market. It’s a far cry from ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ or ‘Liberty, equality, fraternity’. In effect, the EU acts as a superstate whose constitution embodies the freedom of capital and capitalists in a way unheard of in any other.
The first price that workers pay is that they must allow outsourcing and privatisation of national industries and services.
The second is that they cannot strike to stop work being outsourced to a cheaper country. The ECJ made the reasons for that very clear: “Without the rules on freedom of movement and competition it would be impossible to achieve the Community’s fundamental aim of having a functioning common market.”
And of course, there is the cost of the free movement of labour. It’s beyond doubt that it has hit unskilled workers in Britain particularly hard. It has lowered pay rates, and according even to the official Migration Advisory Committee, damaged the job prospects of lower skilled workers when the labour market is slack.
It’s not just the unskilled. Without free movement how could the government have erected the massive tuition fees barrier to the training of nurses, midwives and other health professionals while understaffing runs through hospitals like a plague? And the laws of supply and demand are clearly operating in other areas too, such as academic pay.
The TUC not only backs this free movement but, astonishingly, thinks that Britain’s migration policy should be handled on our behalf by Brussels. “It is… more effective for migration flows to be managed through EU legislation rather than member states creating patch-work laws to deal with the issue”, it told a government inquiry into EU powers in 2013.
The odd thing about the TUC’s blather on ‘workers’ rights’ is that you might expect trade unions, of all bodies, to know that it is first and foremost through the existence and activity of unions that workers can establish and defend any rights that they have.
There is nothing – not a single sentence – in the draconian Trade Union Act 2016 that runs counter to EU law, nor in the even worse bits that David Cameron’s Government was forced to drop as the Bill made its way through Parliament.
Items that would not have bothered the EU included the proposed requirement for pickets to give their names to the police – an idea that Conservative MP David Davis objected to violently. “What is this? This isn’t Franco’s Britain”, he said, referring to the 40-year fascist dictatorship in Spain.
Yet the EU is supposed to guarantee ‘workers’ rights’!
And when collective action fails or is absent, the only recourse is often to an employment tribunal. Yet when the Government introduced huge fees for employment tribunals in 2013, and Unison brought a legal challenge, it was primarily to English law based on Magna Carta and enshrined in 1297 that the Supreme Court turned in 2017 to rule the fees unlawful.
Back in 2015, Unite published a particularly biased leaflet called What has Europe ever done for us? (incorrectly equating Europe, a geographical fact, with the EU, a political construction). Among its outrageous claims was the oft-repeated notion that the EU ‘is also responsible for 3.5 million jobs in the UK’. The implication is that we would lose these jobs with Brexit. This is utter nonsense, though some politicians have said the same thing, and keep on saying it.
Claims that three million or more jobs depend on Britain being in the EU appeared following the publication of a report by Dr Martin Weale in 2000 for the National Institute for Economic and Social Research.
But the report did not say that these jobs would be lost if we left the EU. Far from it. It suggested that withdrawal may actually be good for us. It was the fault of politicians like Nick Clegg, John Prescott and Stephen Byers that the findings of this academic report were twisted.
Weale was furious at this distortion, describing it as ‘pure Goebbels’ and saying, “in many years of academic research I cannot recall such a wilful distortion of the facts.”
What, then, does the EU offer workers in the way of rights? Its defenders talk admiringly about working hours legislation – but what’s to admire?
It is true that the EU brought in its Working Time Directive in the 1990s, incorporated into British law in 1998. But look closer. Brussels mandated a minimum holiday of 20 days – including public holidays. British law states that the minimum is 20 days excluding public holidays, making our minimum 28 days.
So, any government could cut statutory holidays by a full eight days without contravening any EU law. Not that you would hear this from the TUC, which continues to push out stories talking about, for example, 7 million people’s holiday pay being at risk.
“There is no guarantee that [the government after Brexit] would keep paid holiday entitlements at their current level, or at all,” claimed the TUC in a typical act of gratuitous scaremongering, turning a blind eye to the lower holiday pay rights in most of the EU.
British maternity leave is another area where TUC alarmists have been trying to sow suspicion. Yet British law mandates up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, with Statutory Maternity Pay for up to 39 weeks. EU law? Pay and leave of up to 14 weeks.
And then there is health and safety. The TUC acknowledges that the government says it will transfer all existing health and safety protections from EU law to British law. But it adds, “there are no guarantees for what happens afterwards” – as if permanent future guarantees were possible.
“It should be written into the [Brexit] deal that the UK and EU will meet the same standards, for both existing rights and future improvements,” said Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary.
This really is fatuous. It would leave Britain unable to improve its health and safety legislation unless the EU agreed to do the same, necessitating a negotiation with 27 member states. It would give Brussels sovereignty over workplace legislation in Britain, which is no kind of Brexit at all.
Back in 1988 the TUC waved the white flag and assumed that the only improvements in legislative protection for workers would come from Brussels. It’s still waving that flag, even though the EU itself acknowledges on its own website that “Responsibility for employment and social policy lies primarily with national governments.”
The truth is that our rights as workers have always existed only so far as workers have been prepared to fight for them and defend them. As long as we tolerate the employing class and the capitalist system, any rights we have will always be ‘at risk’.
But for now, the urgent risk is that we fail to finish the job of the 2016 referendum. Nothing is so imminently threatening to the wellbeing of workers in Britain than allowing the independence process to be derailed.
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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.
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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.
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The blonde haired, blue-eyed German (now former) Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen is set to be the new head of the EU’s technocratic institution – the European Commission. She is a departure from the EU norm in many ways. She is becoming Commission President without having been a lead candidate for a European political party in this May’s European elections. She will also be the first female Commission President. Furthermore, she is the first to take office while still having a formal parliamentary investigation into nepotism in her former ministry that she launched herself! She will be heading the EU institution responsible for negotiating our departure from and future relationship with the EU and is good news for both. Her track-record suggests that she will be pragmatic and stand-up against the Commission establishment at the expense of her popularity if needed. Translated to UK-EU relations: this is good news!
Ms von der Leyen, will play an important role in Brexit regardless of whether we leave on 31 October as intended. She is currently President elect of the Commission and is due to formally assume her role on 1 November. If we do leave by the end of October, then we would be negotiating our post-Brexit relationship with a Commission led by von der Leyen. If we ask for an extension, then we would be further negotiating the deal with a von der Leyen led Commission.
Unlike the current key players in the Commission, Ms von der Leyen’s starting position is not to try to make “an example” out of the UK. For the EU establishment, Brexit was perceived as a personal threat against the project they had dedicated their lives to. The fact that being outside the EU could not be as advantageous as being inside the EU was the mantra repeated almost at every opportunity by the EUs chief negotiators Mr Michel Barnier and the now outgoing Commission President Mr Jean-Claude Juncker. The outgoing Secretary General of the European Commission Martin Selmayr, the right-hand man of the outgoing Commission President Mr Juncker, was also known to often say that the UK needed to be made an example of.
In her first interview after becoming the European Commission President-elect, von der Leyen put positive emphasis on a post-Brexit UK-EU relationship while of course trying not to undermine Barnier or Juncker. She said “it would be wrong to see Brexit only as the end of something… For both sides it is of the highest interest that there is an orderly and good beginning to our future relationships.”
She also has a soft-spot for our capital city. Not only is she a fluent English speaker but she attended one of our top universities, London School of Economics and Political Sciences LSE, in 1978. Speaking about the experience, she had told the weekly Die Zeit: “for me, London was the epitome of modernity: freedom, the joy of life, trying everything. This gave me an inner freedom that I have kept until today.”
Ms Von der Leyen also has a track record of standing up for what she believes in even if it is at the expense of her own popularity. She stood up against what she termed as an “attitude problem” in the military when stories of hazing and right-wing extremism emerged. She also called out her own Ministry for nepotism shedding light on the allocation of over-inflated contracts worth hundreds of millions of euros to external consultants that is now being formally investigated by a Committee in the German Parliament. These resulted in her becoming the least popular minister in Merkel’s cabinet.
Furthermore, Ms Von der Leyen is an ultimate insider with an understanding of what it means to be on the edges of a club. She should therefore be able to relate to what the British Conservatives face in Brussels in terms of not being welcomed with open-arms despite coming from the establishment of a major EU country. Von der Leyen comes from the governing party in the EU’s largest and richest Member State – the CDU in Germany. Yet, she was not welcomed with open arms by the Brussels bubble. She is perceived as a threat by the European establishments believers in an ever-closer political union because she represents a departure from the so-called Spitzenkandidat (lead candidate) system. Some German MEPs like Martin Schirdewan have even published articles in Brussels media calling her nomination “a betrayal of democracy.”
Her European political party, the European People’s Party (EPP), had chosen her fellow German Manfred Weber to be their lead candidate in the European elections. This should have meant Mr Weber becoming Commission President given that the EPP emerged from the European elections as the largest grouping in the European Parliament. However, the devil is always in the details. While the Spitzenkandidat system represents an answer of the believers in ever-closer political union to the democratic deficit of the EU, the system is based on a gentlemen’s agreement. Legally, the heads of state and government propose, and the European Parliament elects the person in. Mr Webber was not acceptable to the non-EPP heads of state and government. In order to loosely respect the Spitzen system’s underlying principle, another German EPP was thus put forward – Ms Von Der Leyen.
The fact that she is indeed the establishment’s underdog was illustrated by the fact that she was only elected in by a very narrow majority of 9. On Wednesday 17 July, she needed 374 members of the European parliament to vote in favour of her nomination and she just got in with 383 votes in her favour! That’s a slim majority of 9!
She may not yet be the darling of the Brussels establishment, but she does come from the EU’s power hub. It is no secret that nothing gets done in the EU without German backing. With Ms Von der Leyen as Commission President, the Germans move from a position of backing things to leading from the frontlines. German leadership and Ms Von der Leyen’s pragmatism are both better news for the UK than the alternatives – the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier or the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.
Brexit depends not only on dynamics in Westminster but dynamics in the rest of Europe. The person heading the Commission, that is responsible for the negotiations of our withdrawal and future relationship, will be key. The fact that Von der Leyen will be taking on this role is good news for the UK and the rest of Europe. It is in both the EU’s and UK’s interest to take a pragramtic approach to Brexit and find a solution that prioritizes the interests of businesses and citizens.
After winning the Conservative leadership race and becoming our new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has been about the business of State. One of his most crucial Cabinet positions is his Brexit Secretary. However, during the last three years the role has been verging on ceremonial. Theresa May tied the hands of her Brexit Secretaries in the past, seemingly conducting negotiations single-handedly (along with her Remainer Civil Servant Olly Robbins). It was clearly a ‘damage-limitation’ process under Mrs May. Now it is time the Brexit Secretary was given the mandate to fulfil the role, with a strong Brexit Prime Minister fully behind him.
Theresa May’s dreadful Brexit legacy is the last thing the new Prime Minister wants to emulate. There was clearly a grave disparity between May’s Brexit vision and those of David Davis and Dominic Raab, resulting in the failure of the negotiations. There were never any resignations on the EU’s side – with Michel Barnier and Sabine Weyand being a united and frustrating entity from the very beginning. When Boris returns to Brussels with a committed new negotiating team, we will have an opportunity to achieve the deal our new Prime Minister seeks, and we will either achieve a good deal for Global Britain, or we will Leave the EU on WTO terms.
As Brexit Secretary, or more formally, ‘Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union’, it is the incumbent’s duty to support the UK’s negotiations and conduct talks in support of the Prime Minister. Both David Davis and Dominic Raab were continually undermined by Theresa May, limiting their ability to negotiate and deliver the Brexit the people voted for. Stephen Barclay must be given the licence to conduct negotiations, rather than having to kowtow to Theresa May’s half-hearted policy line.
According to the official gov.uk website: “The Secretary of State is responsible for the work of the Department for Exiting the European Union”. First on the Department’s listed responsibilities is: ‘To secure the best possible deal’. They never had a focus on No Deal readiness. Such has been the failure of the Department in its no-deal planning so far, it has now been stripped of this responsibility and told to focus on EU negotiations.
The Cabinet Office, under Michael Gove, will now have responsibility for no-deal planning and preparedness. A WTO Brexit is the only way to leave the EU on October 31st if Boris Johnson’s team fail to reach an agreement with the EU. It is the means of trading with the rest of the world and returning sovereignty to the UK Parliament. We have had no-deal preparations frustrated by ‘Remain’ Chancellor Philip Hammond for three years! Planning and preparation for a WTO Brexit must be stepped up immediately to ensure a smooth exit from the EU on October 31st, in all eventualities.
As the second most senior individual going to Brussels to conduct our negotiations, we would expect the Brexit Secretary to have a larger public profile. Yet, the British media and the public conversation on Stephen Barclay’s activities in Brussels are minimal. This is indicative of the lack of influence and responsibility the role possesses – as well as press coverage by some of the biased media. The role’s seeming lack of influence so far has only served to weaken the UK’s international reputation – and our negotiating position. This cannot and must not continue going forward.
One of the fundamental problems with our negotiating strategy so far has been the disparity in purpose between our Civil Servants and our elected ministers. Stephen Barclay must control his Civil Servants and not the reverse. Their advice should be listened to, but not taken as gospel. They are there to aid ministers, not to dictate and direct policy. The UK has been given a new chance on Brexit. We must not make the same mistakes as before. Thankfully with Olly Robbins out the door along with Theresa May, we can hope the power of negotiations will return to ministers.
The days of Britain’s Brexit failure must be put behind us. The lacklustre and ineffective position of the Brexit Secretary must be reignited with purpose and power. The British people want the Brexit Secretary to be a position we can look to with confidence and belief it will produce results for Great Britain, and with no more resignations.
As our new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson must ensure Stephen Barclay is empowered to fulfil the role and lead the Department for Exiting the European Union. We have spent over three years dithering on the issue under Mrs May. We must Get Britain Out of the EU on October 31st, come what may, and we need an effective Brexit Secretary given the power to do so.
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‘When, in the course of human events,’ Jefferson wrote in the preamble of the American Declaration of Independence, ‘it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another… a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.’
The causes which impelled the campaign and the vote for separation from the EU have been documented in great detail over many years and on numerous occasions: 500 pages on the decades of deceit by UK prime ministers and ministers about the political goals of the European Union; more than 1,000 pages on the regulatory constraints imposed by the EU on UK industry and the progressive surrender of UK sovereignty analyses of international databases showing that the benefits of EU membership for UK exports were largely imaginary, with no discernible impact on GDP growth and comprehensive updates by sector showing the sharp contrast between rapid growth of exports to the rest of the world versus their dismal near-stagnation over the years of the Single Market.
This literature on the causes which ‘impelled separation’ far exceeds in rigour and depth, that making a case for continued membership, though since the government and the greater part of the traditional opinion-forming apparatus of the UK, both Houses of Parliament, the press, BBC and other broadcasters, the CBI and other business groups, universities, charities and quangos, even the Church of England have preferred Remain, it has often not seemed that way. The case for remaining in the European Union, however, has not been based on the historical record, and has rested, probably to its own disadvantage, almost exclusively on speculative predictions about the adverse consequences of leaving by HM Treasury. Other Remain arguments, such as the EU contribution to the maintenance of peace in Europe, or as a support for fledgling European democracies, or any other inherent merits of the EU project, have barely been mentioned.
Leavers have not, however, been nearly as forthcoming in making the case against the 584–page draft Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May and Michel Barnier, partly because its legal terminology and its seeming jumble of cross-referenced parts, chapters, titles, articles, annexes and protocols is not easily understood by lay readers, but also because parliamentary criticisms of it came from widely differing angles, some more concerned with toppling the Prime Minister that negotiated it, rather than the merits or demerits of the draft agreement itself. The objection to the backstop was clear enough, as was the Attorney General’s lethal blow against it in the House of Commons, that it could not be escaped without EU permission, but evaluation of the draft agreement as a whole requires informed and extensive commentaries by lawyers, and help from accountants would intermittently be useful.
Not everyone can be expected to have such commentaries to hand or to read them, and hence argument about its substance has been limited. Its opponents have sometimes been dismissed as ‘purists’, who failed to see that the perfect may be the enemy of the good, as ‘ideologues’unwilling to make compromises, or as the ‘extreme right’ of the Conservative Party engaged in an intra-party squabble.
Anyone who makes such arguments has first to read and respond to the most authoritative commentary to date written by Martin Howe QC, Sir Richard Aikens, former Lord Justice of Appeal, and now visiting professor at KCL and QMC, and Thomas Grant, a practising international lawyer and Fellow of the Lauterpracht Centre for International Law in Cambridge.
Once they do, they will know that the labels ‘ideological’and ‘purist’ and ‘right wing’ provide little insight into the numerous objectionable features of the draft agreement. Despite the claim made at its outset that ‘this Agreement is founded on an overall balance of benefits, rights and obligations for the Union and the United Kingdom’, their detailed analysis found numerous articles that were clearly not in the interests of the UK and entailed no counter-balancing obligations on the EU. UK courts will be obliged, for instance, to apply EU law and even to strike down Acts of Parliament if they are found to contradict EU law passed after the UK has left the EU, and the ECJ can impose ‘uniquely stringent financial and trade penalties’ on the UK for any breach of the agreement for many years into the future.
Even the seemingly neutral parts of the draft agreement, such as the reciprocal rights of UK and EU citizens, are heavily tilted so that the treaty may be used to uphold the rights of EU citizens in the UK as defined by the ECJ for many generations into the future. There are no such rights for UK courts on behalf of UK nationals. And the seemingly neutral arbitration clauses have a back-door mechanism whereby questions of law must be ‘interpreted’ by the ECJ long after the end of the transition period, while the UK is prohibited from recourse to truly impartial dispute settlement procedures, such as those of the WTO. The backstop attracted most attention, but it was merely one objectionable element in the draft agreement alongside many others.
‘A decent respect for the opinions of humankind’ therefore now requires that the objections to this draft agreement be stated, clearly and succinctly. Mr Barnier and other representatives of the European Union have repeatedly declared that they will not renegotiate the present agreement. If that proves to be the case, and the UK is obliged, as a result, to leave without ratifying this draft agreement, a statement of the objections to it will be doubly important since supporters of it have threatened that they will do their best to bring down the Government, and provoke a general election.
In that election the new government would be obliged to say why it has rejected the draft agreement and to declare the principles on which it would act towards the EU in the absence of any written agreement, and the principles which would inform its negotiators when the EU is willing to re-open negotiations on trade, and on the matters left unsettled by the rejection of this draft withdrawal agreement. In a sense, the new Prime Minister will have to embark on a general election campaign on his first day in office. After months of confusing parliamentary debate, it will therefore serve a useful purpose if the principles that separate those who find this draft Withdrawal Agreement acceptable from those who think that it does not honour the referendum become known well in advance of any actual election campaign.
It also important to explain to the electorates of the EU27 countries, who might otherwise depend entirely on the Commission version of events, the reasons why this draft Withdrawal Agreement was rejected, so that they too can decide whether the objections of the UK were based on principles they find acceptable, and whether the Commission was right to rule out amendment of the draft agreement and make ratification of it a precondition of further negotiations with the UK.
The first ten of the principles given below are written as if to inform a new withdrawal agreement, though the complaints against Mrs May’s draft may be readily inferred from them. The numbers that follow each entry in brackets identify the articles or protocols in the Withdrawal Agreement which ignore or contradict these principles, or raise doubts about their application under its terms. Four more principles which refer to matters which are covered only incidentally in the draft Withdrawal Agreement have been added to the list. They confirm that the UK would continue to give voluntary support and co-operation for EU policies that it has supported as a member, and which formed no part of the case for its withdrawal.
- Expatriates of the EU27 seeking rights of residency in, or nationality of, the UK will be treated in the same manner as UK expatriates seeking rights of residency in, or citizenship of, EU member countries. Thereafter they will be subject to the law and courts of the UK, with rights and obligations no different from those of other UK residents and nationals. (127, 159)
- UK nationals who are former or retired EU officials will enjoy no special immunities or privileges that distinguish them from their compatriots. They will be taxed in exactly the same manner as other UK nationals who have spent part of their working lives abroad. (111, 113, 116, 117)
- From the day of its withdrawal, courts of the UK will no longer be subject to the rulings and jurisdiction of the CJEU. The rights and obligations of residents in, and nationals of, the UK will be those established in UK law not those of the TFEU. (4, 7, 24, 25, 31, 110, 127, 131, 158, 162, 163 Protocol on I&NI:14, Annex 4)
- The UK will meet all financial commitments to the EU that it made before the day it invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, March 29, 2017. (137, 140-6, 156)
- To resolve disputes on the UK’s remaining financial or other obligations, both the EU and the UK agree to be bound by the decisions of independent arbitration panels from which there will be no appeal. (160, 161, 164, 168, 174)
- The UK will not be incur any future financial liabilities that result from decisions of the EU or any of its agencies in which it has not participated. (127, 132, 142, 143, 150-154)
- The UK is committed to as much free trade with the EU as can be agreed between the parties, but will not sign any trade agreement to that end which contains special preconditions, clauses, provisions and penalties that are not replicated in other EU trade agreements. (54-61, 170-180 Protocol on I&NI: 14, 15, 16, 17 Annex 2, 4)
- HM Government will not repeal or ignore the Act of Union of 1801 (Article VI) which is the legal basis of the present customs union and common market of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. (Protocol on I&NI passim)
- As a co-signatory of the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the government of the United Kingdom will not allow any of its provisions to be altered or disturbed by any subsequent agreements. (Protocol on I&NI passim)
- The United Kingdom will not be bound by any agreement negotiated by its representatives until it has been ratified, in accordance with its normal practice, by both Houses of Parliament, received Royal assent, and the instruments of ratification have been exchanged. The provisions of any agreement not ratified in this manner are void. (184-5)
- HM Customs will immediately cooperate full-heartedly with Irish Tax and Customs to prevent EU Single Market rules being undermined by the trade of Northern Ireland with the rest of the world, whether directly or indirectly via Great Britain, and expects the full-hearted cooperation in return to prevent the UK’s Single Market rules being undermined by the Republic of Ireland’s trade with the rest of the world.
- The UK remains firmly committed to the collective defence of Europe via NATO. If invited, it will participate in any EU defence and security programmes that it decides are compatible with its NATO and other commitments.
- The UK has strongly supported the EU programmes that promote the exchange of students and scientific researchers. If invited, it will continue to participate in them enthusiastically on the same terms as other non-member countries.
- The UK also strongly supported EU efforts to protect and improve the marine and terrestrial environment, and will continue to collaborate with the EU to that end.
While Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt continue to battle it out for the Conservative crown, there is one striking consequence of unfolding events that is particularly bad for Britain. The European Union is being let clean off the hook.
We know only too well of the incompetent and duplicitous performance of our politicians who thought they could say one thing about respecting the result of the referendum, then do the opposite. One would have thought they would have learned a lesson from the stunning support for the Brexit Party in the recent European elections and the Peterborough by-election.
Sadly, it’s not the case. While the Tory leaderships contenders attempt to talk tough about leaving the EU by October 31st, they too slip into the mindset of trying to placate our ‘friends’ in Europe by effectively signalling they are desperate for a settlement. Having been handed the future of our country on a plate by the UK’s lamentable negotiations to date, the continuing mantra that No Deal must be avoided plays right into the EU’s hands.
In George Orwell’s words, ‘during times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act’. I believe that this is what the Brexit Party is doing, telling the truth and this is why it is being met with such resistance by the political establishment.
Over 20 years ago, in 1997, the Referendum Party, funded by Sir James Goldsmith, campaigned under the banner ‘Let The People Decide’. The mainstream political narrative at the time was that the Euro would bring better employment prospects and higher living standards to 300 million people living in Europe. But they were wrong. The reality is that the Euro was a last desperate attempt by the post-war elite who, having failed to deliver political union, foisted the Euro on an unsuspecting public to try and forge monetary union.
The Referendum Party won enough votes to persuade Mr. Blair, Mr. Major and Mr. Ashdown to abandon plans to surrender our currency which with the benefit of hindsight was a Godsend. The Euro is now grinding the weaker economies of Europe into poverty and curbing European growth which has halved since the 1990’s as a percentage of the world economy.
Our elected politicians have silently over many years transferred Britain’s sovereignty to the European Union beginning with the 1957 Treaty of Rome followed by the European Communities Act of 1972, the Single European Act of 1987, the 1992 Maastrict Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty of 2007. Had they signed up for the Euro as well, we would now be a vassal state, not a proud sovereign democracy.
I personally have never understood the need to conflate trade with the surrender of our sovereignty. After 1815 when we defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, Europe had a golden period of free trade until the Kaiser and then Hitler had an attempt at European domination.
The recent negotiation of our exit from the European Union has again demonstrated the misalignment between the current political establishment and the people. We hold all the cards, with our economy representing the same economic contribution as the 19 smallest members of the EU. We are the second largest contributor to the EU budget, our intelligence services are the best in Europe and we have a trade deficit of £96 billion with the EU.
In spite of this, we have allowed the EU to insist that we agree a financial payment (which ignores our capital contribution over many years) as well as other pre-conditions. Their treatment of us has been highly disrespectful and in breach of Article 8 of the Lisbon Treaty. Our Prime Minister ended up with a ‘pig’ deal which was neither ‘fish nor fowl’ and would have been significantly worse than staying in the EU. Our Civil Service has lost sight of who they serve and by whom they are paid. Margaret Thatcher once asserted that ‘advisers advise but ministers decide’ and it is evident that this has not been the case over the Brexit negotiations.
The logical and responsible solution now must be to make it clear to the European Commission that we favour a sensible and co-operative free trade deal that builds on the relationship that currently exists. This is in the best interests of both Britain and Europe. If this is not forthcoming, then we have to leave on WTO rules on 31st October 2019 following which, I believe, the economic reality of the weak European position will ensure that common sense prevails. Under no circumstances should we make further sorties to reopen negotiations and suffer the lack of courtesy that we have endured at the hands of Messrs Juncker, Tusk and Barnier who have clearly overplayed their collective hand.
The Brexit Party has enjoyed success because it aligns itself with the people who see all too clearly that the spotlight should remain firmly on the EU. The people’s voice has been strong and unequivocal. So should be our country’s in its approach to making Brexit happen. The people will not let the UK political establishment off the hook for failing to deliver.
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It’s funny, but every time one mentions ‘Article 24’ publicly – meaning (using the correct Roman numerals) Article XXIV of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) which predates the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – you receive a barrage of hysterical abuse from Remainers, often with long academic titles. They are clearly terrified we’re on to something.
They say: ‘The EU would never agree to it!’, ‘The EU would not be minded to do a deal if we leave on bad terms!’, ‘You can’t do it in a no-deal situation’ and ‘We’d have to levy tariffs not just on EU goods but all good from around the world’. This last point was made on Radio 4’s Today programme discussion of Article 24 yesterday morning.
But these claims are wrong. We know they are wrong because collectively we have asked the EU: its Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier, its trade advisers and personnel, and people David has worked with for ten years on the International Trade Committee of the European Parliament doing trade deals. And together we’ve asked very senior people at the WTO and top trade lawyers too, such as the impartial Article 24 expert Lorand Bartels of Cambridge University.
Their conclusion: GATT Article 24 is not only doable, it is desirable. Here are a few facts relating to Article 24:
1) Let’s not confuse what ‘deal’ or ‘no deal’ we are talking about: we are not seeking to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement or attempt ratification of that deal by 31st October. Angela Merkel and other EU leaders have made it clear that ‘deal’ is not negotiable.
So this is not a deal based on the Withdrawal Agreement under EU law such as the Lisbon Treaty’s Article 50. Nor is it a trade deal conducted under the EU’s ‘Future Relationship’ or ‘Political Declaration’ provisions either with its binding legislation – it is a separate deal done under World Trade Organisation rules.
2) The World Trade Organisation makes trade rules, not the EU. There’s a clue in the title. The EU quite correctly works within the global rules system on trade via the WTO. Most EU free trade agreements incorporate WTO level agreements like GATS – the General Agreement on Trade in Services.
3) GATT was the predecessor to the WTO and Article XXIV/24 is contained within these global GATT rules which all individual WTO members – that includes the UK as an individual full WTO member, every EU member state as individual WTO members and the EU as an entity – agree to implement.
4) The whole point of the WTO is to promote free trade around the world. The WTO does not like tariffs (taxes on goods entering), quotas (a certain quantity of goods entering at a certain tariff) or barriers to trade (e.g. excessive regulation advantaging home producers or in services). So the WTO will not like it if the UK and EU return to imposing £13bn tariffs on EU goods and £5bn on British goods into the EU. It goes against the grain.
5) GATT Article 24 is there to allow two countries or blocs to move towards a free trade area or a customs union. It basically allows the two countries to level lower tariffs and quotas than what is called ‘Most Favoured Nation Rules’ (MFN). Ironically it is the very basis of the EU’s zero tariff Customs Union which took between 1957 and 1968 to actually enact.
By offering one country a better deal than other WTO members you are discriminating – you are offending the rule that everyone must be treated the same – so you must levy the same MFN tariffs to all. This is such an important rule it is actually Article 1 of GATT. But Article 24 is a specific exemption to this.
Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are really a licensed form of discrimination where you are allowed to offer better terms to one country over all the others but only if you really free up trade – particularly getting rid of at least 90% of tariffs.
6) So given the WTO hates tariffs (it’s not happy with President Trump and others reimposing tariffs but that’s another story), then it is amenable to ways of avoiding tariffs without disadvantaging its other members.
So if the UK and EU go to the WTO jointly and say that we have agreed to move to a full and comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (what we term ‘SuperCanada’ – that is better than the EU-Canada FTA) – that keeps tariffs at zero with no real change to other members, the WTO is happy to allow us a period of time to keep tariffs and quotas at preferential rates. GATT 24 allows what are called ‘standstill’ arrangements – much remains the same and this is essentially a WTO form of a transition – but is not an interim arrangement as is often claimed.
We can keep tariffs at zero for as long as the two partners need to negotiate the full works: that comprehensive FTA. Legally this could be up to ten years, but most are two to three years to negotiate. That is GATT 24.
7) Yes, GATT 24 needs a temporary agreement between the EU and UK, but frankly it could be written on the back of an envelope. Lorand Bartels has helpfully written a one-page FTA properly that is sufficient to allow Article 24 to apply. This is a ‘basic deal’ or a ‘temporary FTA’. But it is entirely manageable and legally sound.
So to our Remainer friends – yes, you need a deal, but one or two pages of FTA is much easier than the 585-page Withdrawal Agreement to agree.
8) So why would the EU agree?
Well, the UK is the fifth largest economy in the world and the EU’s largest single market – bigger than the USA, China and India. The EU has a £96 billion goods deficit with us (we have a £13bn services surplus). Over a million German jobs alone rely on British consumers buying German goods like BMWs. Without a basic GATT 24 deal, the EU would have £13bn tariffs slapped on its goods – 10% on VWs; 12% on wine, 40% on cheese. They would suffer far more than the UK simply because they sell more to us than we do to them. The EU – particularly Germany, which accounts for nearly a quarter of all EU trade to the UK – does not like the idea of this. Better for everyone surely to keep on an even keel?
There is also the question of money. The UK may well be prepared to pay a fair contribution, if not anywhere near the £39 billion associated with the Withdrawal Agreement, but this would be contingent on such a basic deal. It is also much easier to deliver by the end of October.
In the absence of EU agreement to GATT 24, the UK can unilaterally and universally change its import tariffs, and be open to cutting all tariff rate quotas – but obviously the UK would not be able to control EU import tariff rates.
9) What about services and standards?
Services will be a part of the future trade deal but will be along the lines of ‘Mutual Recognition’ of standards or ‘enhanced equivalence’, not on a harmonisation or rule-taking basis.
10) What about all the the other non-trade elements, such as aviation flying rights?
GATT 24 is not the only basic deal needing to be done if there is no Withdrawal Agreement. It will need an accompanying flotilla of what we call ‘mini deals’.
But – good news – the EU has already quietly agreed most of these through emergency legislation. As an MEP, David has voted on 17 main pieces of legislation to keep trucks rolling, planes flying, trains running, goods flowing, fishing boats sailing, visa costs eliminated, energy efficiency maintained, social security cooperation, the Northern Ireland Peace programme running, Erasmus+ for students allowed, and other affairs. The UK just needs to reciprocate.
The reality is that much of the non-controversial elements of the Withdrawal Agreement can be agreed as separate ‘mini deals’ in exactly the same way – for example, the elements on citizens’ rights – but can be done outside the provisions of the European Court of Justice. This is the case with other EU free trade deals including Canada and Switzerland.
11) What about the Northern Ireland border and Good Friday Agreement?
Iain served as a soldier in Northern Ireland and well knows its challenges, whilst David worked on the Peace Process 20 years ago as a Government Special Adviser. There is no mention of the border in the Good Friday Agreement for a start (rather a sensitive subject!).
With Ireland only checking 1% of goods imported now and with existing trusted trader and other current mechanisms available, such as checks in factories and warehouses, even the EU admits alternative arrangements can be done with the border remaining free. No one wants a hard border. But the detail of this can await the negotiation of the bigger free trade agreement – and is part of that.
What GATT Article 24 represents is a Clean Managed Brexit – and what’s more it is deliverable by 31st October.
The post The facts about GATT Article 24 – and how it can deliver a Clean Managed Brexit by 31st October appeared first on BrexitCentral.
“Today we came here to partake in a political fight with our British Brexiteer friends”.
With these words, François Asselineau, the leader and founder of the UPR (Republican Popular Union), the French pro-Frexit party, kicked off the rally held in Central London on 29th March 2019, which gathered together nearly seven hundred French people supporting the 52% of British people who voted Leave, on the day Brexit was supposed to happen. You can watch it in its entirety here.
This rally, which was probably the biggest political event organised by a foreign political party in the UK since the end of WWII, had been organsied for months in the hope that Frexiteers could celebrate the official exit date of the UK from the EU in London. Several British political personalities from across the political spectrum, academics and business people accepted our invitation to speak and join us in our common fight to restore freedom and sovereignty to both our countries. Among them were Brendan Chilton (Head of Labour Leave), David Heathcoat-Amory (ex-Minister of State for Europe), Lord Hamilton of Epsom (ex-Minister of State for the Armed Forces), Kate Hoey MP (Labour), Jim Reynolds (Campaign for an Independent Britain), Sir Gerald Howarth (Leave Means Leave and ex-Minister for International Security Strategy), Dr Lee Rotherham (ex-Vote Leave), Professor Gwythian Prins (Emeritus Professor, LSE) and Lucy Harris (Founder of Leavers of Britain, and now a candidate for the Brexit Party).
Despite the obvious disappointment of not celebrating what should have been an historic milestone, the atmosphere was surprisingly warm and the British guests were impressed by the enthusiastic crowd who assembled in London to support the Leave camp. While most were from France, others came from across Europe and some even from Canada, China and the United States.
As emphasised by David Heathcoat-Amory, the decision of 17.4 million Britons was not an “isolated eccentricity” but instead part of a Europe-wide movement to re-establish democracy and self-government. Unfortunately, the EU does not like referendums that go the wrong way. And this is the reason why such an outcome was to be expected, according to Brendan Chilton. In reality, this attempt to reject the result of a popular vote against the EU was not the first: in 1994, the Norwegian people were called to vote for the European Union, having rejected it once in 1972. It was the same for the Danish people who were asked to vote for a second time after they initially rejected the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. In 2001 the Irish people said “No” by referendum to the Treaty of Nice and then “No” in 2008 to the Treaty of Lisbon. On both occasions they were forced to correct their “errors”. We should also mention the votes by referendum against the EU Constitution in 2005 in France and the Netherlands where both results were finally ignored. The history of the EU is characterised by a disdain for democracy.
“The EU is not un-democratic: it is anti-democratic. So the only solution is not to reform: it is to leave the EU”, said David Heathcoat-Amory, reminding us of the impossibility of changing the EU (that would mean abrogating Article 48 of the Treaty of the EU which requires that decisions must be taken unanimously between the 28 member states of the EU). If you want democracy, one must have the “independent self-governing nation state” and this is exactly what the EU is trying to dismantle – “not by violence, not by force but by bureaucracy, by rules, by regulation, by transferring the law making powers from the people to Brussels,” he continued. It is also worth noting that no other group of countries in the world has ever tried to replicate the EU’s model – adopting a single currency, a supreme court, a single defence policy and a law-making body for an entire continent. Instead, many alternative types of collaboration are used throughout the world: treaties, trade agreements and pacts entered into by free and sovereign countries.
But – beyond the anti-democratic aspects – what appears to be the most shocking thing is the obvious disregard, even contempt, from the EU elites for the people they govern. “When President Macron came to the UK in January 2018 he said that if a referendum was held in France, France would vote to leave the EU and of course that means he will not call in a referendum,” noted Lord Hamilton. As stated in Article 2 of the French Constitution, the nation state is “the government of the people, by the people, for the people” – our leaders seem to have forgotten this. Similarly, Brendan Chilton related the following anecdote when a few years back Tony Blair had stood in the same room as Prime Minister and said: “Only extremists would want to leave the EU”. But the choicest example certainly came from Donald Tusk when in February 2019 he promised a “special place in hell” for “those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan”.
Such statements from EU leaders are not unusual and reflect their impunity. As Dr Lee Rotherham reminded us, no-one is accountable in the EU institutions: “Who is responsible when a bad law is made? And how do we get to change it?” For these reasons, the UK decided to take back control.
The UK leaving the bloc in a good condition is probably what the EU elite fears the most. “If we give the Brits a good deal, other countries will follow suit,” confessed M. Barnier to Tom Enders (CEO of Airbus Group) as reported by Sir Gerald Howarth, who then added:
“They are seeking to punish the UK simply to prevent other countries like France, like Italy, like the Netherlands following our example and grasping the opportunity to free themselves from this 1950’s sclerotic defunct organisation”.
France will benefit from the lessons learned on the UK side if it wants to avoid a “Treaty of Versailles” (Brendan Chilton) in reference to a Withdrawal Agreement that demands 39 thousand million pounds from British taxpayers in return for a promised vassal state status.
We are together fighting the same battle for democratic Western values that are rooted in the bedrock of our civilisation. The UPR Gaullist party – with its 37,000 activists in May 2019 – will be leading the way in France, thanks to the support of their British allies. As stated by Lord Tebbit:
“Brexit is the ultimate expression of the kind of national sovereignty that General de Gaulle understood. It is the very expression of democracy that he fought to preserve. But it is not something that we aspire to jealously guard for ourselves. We want to share our new liberty with our old friends. Join us in our escape from The Bastille of Brussels. We shall eat cake together in freedom”.
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If the most recent polling is to be believed, Thursday’s unintended and unwanted European Parliament elections will have been a disaster for the Conservative Party. We may well fail to have a single MEP returned. The Labour vote, too, will have been drastically reduced, as voters abandon the two main parties, principally in favour of one that has existed only for a few weeks.
The reason is obvious. Despite being told it time and again, the UK did not leave the European Union on 29th March. As soon as the Prime Minister opted to extend Article 50 and so necessitate the UK’s participation in these elections, the sense of betrayal – which had been long brewing – overflowed. When Mrs May compounded that sense by opening the door to a second referendum on Tuesday, it erupted. One by one, the 17.4 million people who voted to Leave the European Union had seen each and every promise which had been made to them since the referendum broken.
In 2015, the Conservatives promised that, if elected, we would hold a decisive referendum on the UK’s EU membership. The party was returned to government with more votes and MPs. When the then Foreign Secretary – a certain Philip Hammond – introduced the legislation to the Commons to bring that promise about, he exhorted MPs:
“…to give the British people the final say on our EU membership in an In/Out referendum… The decision about our membership should be taken by the British people, not by Whitehall bureaucrats, certainly not by Brussels Eurocrats; not even by Government Ministers or parliamentarians.”
The Government then spent £9.3 million of taxpayers’ money during the referendum campaign telling every household that: “This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.” After the referendum, in which more people voted to Leave than have ever voted for anything in British history, the 2017 Conservative Manifesto pledged that the UK would leave the Single Market, the Customs Union and the jurisdiction of the European Court. Page 36 said that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”
In her fateful “Charing Cross speech” this week, the Prime Minister’s “ten-point” offer starkly laid out the extent to which those promises have been reneged upon. The legally-binding Withdrawal Agreement remains unchanged, as she confirmed to me in the House of Commons this week. That means the Backstop remains, fundamentally altering the constitutional status of Northern Ireland by keeping it permanently locked to EU rules, overseen by the European Court of Justice.
The Prime Minister said that, should the Backstop be triggered, a disparity between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would be resolved by having Great Britain follow EU rules as well – simply multiplying the number of people sharing in the misery. In any case, we would remain aligned to EU rules for goods, severely hampering our ability to forge an independent trade policy. It was an interpretation of Taking Back Control warped beyond all recognition.
Mrs May’s decision that she was not now the person to find a new way forward was, of course, the correct one.
But her departure, and with it that of her Withdrawal Agreement, will not be enough on their own. The radical shifts in voting intention – even in long-held party allegiances – in recent weeks demonstrate that there is an accelerating appetite for genuine political change and realignment. If the Conservatives want to survive, we have to change course, deliver a genuine Brexit as we promised and demonstrate that when we make such totemic promises to the electorate, we will keep our word. We will simply not be listened to on any other issue until the UK leaves the EU and we fully take back control.
Immediate action is required on the part of the incoming Prime Minister. Of chief importance will be returning to Brussels to tell them that the current Withdrawal Agreement is dead and then seeking a wide-ranging, zero-tariff, zero-quota Free Trade Agreement, of the kind offered by Donald Tusk in March last year.
That offer initially foundered on the question of the Northern Ireland border. But the work of the European Research Group, built upon by the Alternative Arrangements Working Group alongside senior European customs professionals, has provided robust solutions to guarantee continued seamless trade based upon existing techniques and administrative processes. The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has expressed confidence that arrangements can be implemented to avoid new border checks. Even Michel Barnier has now confirmed that in any scenario the Belfast Agreement will continue to apply and “there will be no hard border” using our alternative arrangements.
There is, therefore, every reason that the UK and the EU ought to be able to come to a mutually-beneficial trading relationship. If, however, the EU refuses, then the next Prime Minister must be prepared to leave without a deal. The extraordinary success of the Brexit Party is testament to the public enthusiasm for this approach. Indeed, a recent ComRes survey found that two thirds of those expressing an opinion agreed that “if Parliament rejects the Withdrawal Agreement, then Parliament has to accept no deal as a consequence”.
There is nothing to fear from this “Plan B” outcome. First of all, the arrangements for the Northern Ireland border were devised without prejudice to the nature of the trading relationship. They are available and can be effective in any event.
Secondly, “no deal” is a misnomer. What we are really talking about is a WTO deal – leaving the EU without a formal Withdrawal Agreement but instead with a series of pragmatic mini-deals.
The WTO approach has often been criticised on the basis that very few countries trade on “purely” WTO rules. It is true that many micro-agreements exist between countries without a formal trade agreement, but it is important to keep these in perspective.
The EU does not, for example, have a trade agreement with the USA, but 147 side-deals are in place. Of these, most are multilateral agreements such as the Air Transport Agreement (to which the UK is also a party) and only 31 of the bilateral agreements have any relevance to trade.
The EU also has 97 micro-agreements in place with Russia, on which it is currently applying economic sanctions. It is surely ridiculous to suppose that the EU would be unwilling to replace many micro-agreements with the UK.
Indeed, as the former Brexit Minister Chris Heaton-Harris confirmed, unilateral and bilateral preparations for “no deal” are “well advanced”. The European Commission similarly confirmed in March that its preparations for “no deal” have been completed.
Air travel will continue. The EU confirmed in November that it would continue to allow UK airlines to fly over, land in and return from EU airports even if there is no Withdrawal Agreement, provided the UK reciprocates. Baroness Sugg, the then Transport Minister, confirmed this reciprocity in March when she told the House of Lords that: “Measures put forward by the UK and the EU will ensure that flights can continue in any scenario; deal or no deal.”
Medical supplies will arrive. The President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Professor Russell Viner, confirmed in a message to 19,000 doctors:
“I have been considerably reassured by governments’ preparations relating to medicines supplies…Governments, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and the NHS have been working hard behind the scenes… and we believe that our medicine supplies are very largely secured.”
Cross-Channel trade will continue. The continuing Remain campaign has made particularly alarmist claims of a country completely cut off from the rest of the world, but they are nonsense. The Chairman of the Port of Calais, Jean-Marc Puissesseau, has robustly refuted suggestions of disruptions to freight. Xavier Bertrand, President of the Hauts-de-France region, dismissed the scaremongering completely: “Who could believe such a thing? We have to do everything to guarantee fluidity.”
Sensible measures can be straightforwardly implemented in the best interests of both the UK and the EU, mitigating any potential disruption.
Most significantly of all, it is important to remember than “no deal” need not be an end state. Indeed, even without a Withdrawal Agreement, both sides can agree to a transition period maintaining our current zero-tariff, zero-quota arrangements while a new trade deal is negotiated. Under Article XXIV of the WTO’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, this can be achieved by the UK and EU both agreeing to a Free Trade Agreement and notifying the WTO of a sufficiently detailed plan and schedule for it. As David Campbell-Bannerman has pointed out, such an “interim agreement” need be little more than an agreement to continue talks.
The incoming leader has, therefore, a clear remit on how to proceed. One thing is absolutely certain. There can be no further extensions to Article 50. Failure to meet the 29th March deadline has been near catastrophic for the Conservatives. Any further delay would surely prove fatal.
Any new leader must say, completely unequivocally, that we leave on 31st October at the latest, whether or not we have a new deal. We must seek to negotiate a wide-ranging trade agreement, but we must be prepared, if necessary in the interim, to go to WTO terms. We must also correct a significant mis-step by giving absolute clarity that EU citizens resident in the UK will continue to have the right to live and work here in any event.
The new Prime Minister and the new Cabinet will face a difficult task, but one which can be expressed very simply. If it wants to have any hope of bringing back the members and voters it is currently haemorrhaging, and if it wants to have any credible claim to believe in democracy, it must make good on the promises which the outgoing Government has broken. It must repair the trust which the mistakes of its predecessor have so profoundly eroded.
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