Below is the text of the statement Boris Johnson just delivered in Dublin alongside Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, a video of which can be found here or at the bottom of the text.
It is wonderful to be here. And I thank you very much for the warm welcome you’ve given us. You and I first met a few years ago when you and I jointly officiated at the St Patrick’s Day parade in Trafalgar square in London. It was a pretty joyous occasion. And of course we celebrated the incalculable contribution of the Irish community to London.
And there in the vast crowds was of course the living human embodiment of one of the densest and most intricate and most vital relationships in the world between any two countries.
And together Leo today we both recognise that our peoples are the beneficiaries of the efforts of our predecessors – politicians and others – who put aside differences, who found compromises, who took our countries forwards together in circumstances far tougher than now. And the results for both UK and Ireland are immense.
Not just a peaceful and open border but an economic partnership by which we eat I think 50 per cent of all the cheese and beef produced in Ireland, and we are talking a lot. And the very captain of the world cup winning English cricket team was born in this city.
And I think that our job now is to take that relationship forward and to build on it at the UK-Ireland summit in November, I look forward to that, and in all the ways in which the UK and Ireland work together around the world with shared values and shared interests.
As you rightly say Taoiseach, before November there are two political tasks that we simply have to do. We must restore the government of Northern Ireland at Stormont, and I promise to work with you on our shared objective. And we must get Brexit done because the UK must come out on October 31, or else I fear that permanent damage will be done to confidence in our democracy in the UK.
And I know that this problem of Brexit was not, to be perfectly frank, a conundrum that Ireland ever wished for and I think there are three basic questions we need now to answer for the sake of our collective peace of mind.
Can we ensure that we continue to have unchecked movement at the border of goods and people and indeed cattle? I think the answer is yes – and as someone who went to the border several times before the Good Friday agreement, and shuddered to see watchtowers on UK soil, I can say now that the UK will never ever institute checks at the border, and I hope our friends in the EU would say the same.
Can we uphold the Belfast Good Friday agreement in all its particulars? Again I say the answer is yes, and our commitment to the peace process is unshakeable. Can we protect the economic unity of the island of Ireland and the gains that Ireland has won through its membership of the EU single market? And again I think the answer is yes – and I think we can achieve all these things while allowing the UK to withdraw whole and entire from the EU.
And of course I acknowledge the complexities involved. And the symbolism and the sensitivities evoked by the very concept of a border. But strip away the politics and at the core of each problem you find practical issues that can be resolved. With sufficient energy and a spirit of compromise, and indeed even the current treaty must logically envisage that the problems can be solved, or the present protocol would never have been called a backstop.
So if I have one message that I want to land with you today Leo, it is that I want to find a deal. I want to get a deal. Like you, I’ve looked carefully at No Deal. I have assessed its consequences, both for our country and yours. And, yes, of course, we could do it, the UK could certainly get through it. But be in no doubt that it would be a failure of statecraft for which we would all be responsible and so, for the sake of business, and farmers, and for millions of ordinary people who are now counting on us to use our imagination and creativity to get this done, I would overwhelmingly prefer to find an agreement.
Our governments have spent three years masticating this problem. I think it is time to honour the achievements of our predecessors who tackled far worse problems by cracking this one ourselves. I won’t say that we can do it all today, but I believe there is a deal to be done by Oct 18. Let’s do it together.
What an extraordinarily depressing experience it is to be compelled to watch, at 12,000 miles distance, the contortions and machinations of the British political class as they set about their determined attempt to overturn the decision taken by the British people that they wish to leave the European Union.
The pages of publications like The Guardian are replete with articles by “constitutional experts”, exploring the various arcane ways in which so-called “democrats” could manipulate constitutional and parliamentary rules and practice so as to frustrate the will of the people by preventing a “no deal” Brexit — and all this supposedly in the name of democracy!
Let us be quite clear. The rearguard campaign to prevent a “no-deal” Brexit is merely a smokescreen for the real objective, which is to frustrate any Brexit at all and, in effect, overturn the referendum outcome. Despite protestations that they are committed to giving effect to the referendum, the Remainers’ actions tell a different story.
They calculate that, if the EU can be persuaded not to budge on negotiations for a deal, there will be sufficient opposition to a “no-deal” Brexit to mean that Parliament will find a way to stop it.
The contempt they show for democracy is exceeded only by their arrogance – their conviction that they alone know best – and by their readiness to demonstrate that their true allegiance is not to British democracy and self-government but to the “ideal” of European union – and, in the interests of that ideal, that they are prepared to collaborate with the EU to ensure that no acceptable deal for Brexit is available.
Let us again be clear. A “no-deal” Brexit arises as a possibility only because the EU, in pursuance of their unspoken arrangement with Remainers, refuses to talk to, let alone negotiate with, a British government committed to withdrawal – a dramatic illustration of the extent to which, when we cannot even secure a position as a valid interlocutor on the issue of our own decision to withdraw, EU membership continues to mean a status of vassalage for the UK.
The EU are encouraged in this unreasonable intransigence by the continued efforts from Remainers to convince them that the battle to overturn the referendum result is not over and could yet be won if a deal is placed beyond reach. Defeated in the referendum and professing to abide by its outcome, they nevertheless demonstrate continually – and particularly to the EU – their determination at whatever cost to make it as difficult as possible.
What are the British people to make of this demonstration of contempt for them by their supposed leaders? For many, the sense that they are not being listened to – which, many believe, lay behind the referendum result – will simply have been confirmed.
Their confidence in democratic institutions and in their leaders will be further undermined. Their sense of being mere pawns, manipulated under a cloak of democracy in the interests of the political class, will have been validated.
What else are they to think, when so much effort is devoted by politicians to frustrating their wishes, and when what should be a reasonably straightforward proposition, that our EU membership should end, seems to be beyond our institutions to deliver and is not something that the EU is even prepared to discuss with those primarily involved?
Whatever we may think of a Boris Johnson Government, there must be some sympathy with its position that terminating our EU membership, in its essence, must surely be something that is within the remit and power of the UK government – deal or no deal.
Whether or not there is a “deal” is as much the responsibility of the EU as it is of the UK. In the absence of any EU willingness to negotiate a deal, it cannot be the case that the UK is locked in – prisoners who cannot escape. A “no-deal” Brexit, when and if it happens, will have been engineered, not by Leavers, but by the absence of any alternative, brought about as a consequence of the Remainers’ collaboration with the EU to prevent an acceptable deal being agreed.
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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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To some, Boris Johnson’s upbeat talks with EU leaders last week cast a glimmer of late summer sunlight on the Brexit impasse. There appears to be a sliver of a chance that the EU may yet return to the negotiating table in the coming weeks, perhaps because it is dawning on them that this Prime Minister is serious about taking the UK out of the EU without a deal and that a no-deal scenario will be equally – if not more – harmful to them than it will be to us.
At the same time, Johnson’s evident preoccupation with fixing the Withdrawal Agreement by removing the Backstop should be serious concern for anyone who wants a genuine Brexit. There is a very real danger that the Withdrawal Agreement, without the dreaded Irish Backstop, might be agreed by the EU and then get through Parliament. The Prime Minister voted for the Withdrawal Agreement himself, even with the Backstop still in, as did a number of leading Leave-backing MPs at the third time of asking. It is only the EU which now stands in its way.
But we must keep in mind there are many features of the Withdrawal Agreement which are just as bad as the Backstop, but which have received far less attention, notably from our Prime Minister. The Withdrawal Agreement would maintain the supremacy of EU law over the UK, including new laws created by the EU over which the UK would have no voice. This means that UK courts would be required to strike down Acts of Parliament if they are determined to be inconsistent with EU law.
Worse, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice would be retrained, either directly or through a dispute settlement system modelled on the one the EU has with the Ukraine through which a notionally neutral tribunal would be bound on issues of EU law by decisions of ECJ. Since the UK would have no judge on the ECJ, it would effectively be under the jurisdiction of a foreign court.
If that isn’t anti-democratic enough, although the UK would be bound by decisions of the EU institutions, including the European Commission, it would not be able to submit proposals or even requests for information to these bodies. Moreover, UK companies would be subject to EU State Aid rules after the transition period, removing a valuable tool of economic policy from the British government. Add to this the fact that the Withdrawal Agreement has very strict financial penalties for breach of its provisions and there would be no recourse to international courts for their resolution.
Perhaps most crucially, tied to the EU’s legal framework during the duration of the Withdrawal Agreement’s application and with no certainty regarding the situation which will replace it (because of the vague, ‘best efforts’ language of the accompanying waffly Political Declaration), the UK will be effectively prevented from signing trade deals with other countries, regardless of the fact that the Withdrawal Agreement misleadingly promises that this would be permitted. The auspicious US trade deal we have been hearing about recently would vanish overnight. And let’s not forget the small matter of the EU’s £39 billion Withdrawal Agreement signing bonus.
With no independent trade policy, bound by the EU’s cumbersome rulebook and subject to the ECJ, the promises made by the Cameron and May governments before and after the referendum (recall: no Single Market, no ECJ), the Withdrawal Agreement is an unmitigated disaster, even with the notorious Irish Backstop removed.
Were the EU to cave in and take out the Backstop, perhaps convinced by the very credible alternative border arrangements proposed by Greg Hands and Nicky Morgan, they would be doing the UK no favours. We would find ourselves trapped in an agreement that is still woefully one-sided.
Once again it is the EU’s intransigence that could end up saving Brexit, even if it means both sides toughing out the massively exaggerated no-deal hardships before the EU ultimately returns to the table and negotiates a conventional free trade deal, which is what we needed all along.
Please, Prime Minister, don’t settle for the Withdrawal Agreement without the Backstop if you get it; the whole thing must be ditched.
I have inevitably received a large amount of correspondence on the matter of proroguing Parliament. As confirmed here on the official Parliamentary website prorogation in of itself is a perfectly common constitutional and lawful procedure used most years by governments to refresh their legislative agenda. The Queen’s Speech setting out a new agenda has been a typical feature of the Commons calendar since I was elected in 2015, though not recently since the current session has been much longer than usual, with the last State Opening on 21st June 2017.
Of course, I realise that those who have corresponded with me are well aware of the constitutional ‘normalities’, but these are self-evidently not normal circumstances and the question is whether the use of prorogation as a tactic of government right now – given that this inevitably curtails debate on Brexit – is reasonable in the position where we find ourselves as a country.
In the recent leadership contest, I attended all of the ‘One Nation’ hustings where a key question of candidates was: “would you prorogue Parliament to allow a no-deal Brexit to take place?”. The media have drawn attention to the often strong commitments against the use of prorogation given by leadership candidates at those hustings, some of whom are now senior Cabinet Ministers. But it is worth emphasising what colleagues like myself viewing those proceedings understood that question to mean: specifically, whether the candidate would support the suspension of Parliament until the moment Article 50 expired, in effect using prorogation as a contrivance to guarantee an EU departure with no agreement in place. I well remember how the Prime Minister himself described this as a ‘Gormenghast’ proposal. i.e. a rather ghastly stratagem redolent of science fiction fantasy.
Indeed, had the prorogation now agreed lasted beyond October 31st, it would have been an abuse of power, not so much Gormenghast as akin to a banana republic, forcing a no-deal Brexit by denying Parliament the chance even to debate such an outcome. However, in reality, the change to the parliamentary calendar is not as dramatic as one might imagine from the headlines we are seeing. As has happened every year since I was elected in 2015, we were due to return next week from the summer recess for a fortnight sitting followed by a three-week recess to allow the party conference season to proceed. The net difference in lost sitting days between this planned recess structure and the prorogued calendar amounts to a handful. This does not mean that the reduction in sitting days is an ideal outcome and I’ve no doubt that most of my constituents would expect us to be sitting through these tumultuous times. But the point is that due to the conference recess – which, I repeat, is a perfectly standard event, like the Queen’s Speech – we would not have been sitting for much of the weeks ahead anyway.
Most importantly, far from proroguing Parliament beyond Brexit and forcing ‘no deal’, it is now guaranteed that Parliament will debate and vote on whatever new deal emerges from the EU Council on 17th October. Given that the Council’s timing is in their hands, not ours, it would have been impossible for Parliament to vote on a newly-agreed and negotiated deal prior to that date. And with prorogation, the Speaker cannot stop the Withdrawal Agreement Bill from being put to the vote once more, though all of my colleagues would be hoping that if it returns we would have amendments to the backstop that assuage the concerns of most MPs that in turn ensures a deal can finally pass. It is a fact of basic negotiating common sense that achieving such a concession from the EU will be more likely if Parliament is unable to bind the Prime Minister in a way that undermines his ability to reject terms, in extremis. As it happens, I have always believed that a deal would be done at the last minute and that possibility has arguably been strengthened rather than undermined by prorogation.
This is why we should also look at this from the point of view not just of parliamentary democracy, crucial as that is, but also in the context of a Government seeking to negotiate changes to the Withdrawal Agreement from the EU and, above all, from the point of view of millions of frustrated Leave voters. Parliament legislated for a referendum that both main parties said they would respect, in their manifestos of the 2017 general election. Both the referendum and Article 50 were passed with huge majorities, and those millions of British people who voted to Leave have felt a breach of trust at seeing attempts to execute our departure being constantly delayed by what they may perceive to be parliamentary ‘shenanigans’, including from many MPs opposed not only to a no-deal departure but to leaving the EU at all. Indeed, the day before prorogation was announced the media was full of lengthy coverage of plans to ‘thwart’ No Deal from MPs who support very divisive alternative policies such as a second referendum. To be clear, I share many of the concerns felt about No Deal which guarantees the end of free trade between us and our largest trading partner, an outcome that cannot be consequence-free. But the fact so much ‘anti-No Deal’ activity could derail Brexit altogether makes it unrealistic not to expect the Government to seek tools to reduce the likelihood of the referendum being overturned. But this will be ‘tit-for-tat’ and it is inconceivable that this latest step will result in anything other than a heated response when Parliament returns next week.
Ultimately, the crux of our context that shapes where we stand is a failure to agree within Parliament, and I believe that this is mirrored in the country, on the best way to execute the referendum result. Both outer flanks – ‘no dealers’ and ‘no Brexit’ MPs – have conspired to defeat any compromise in the hope that both could triumph. They cannot. On the contrary, I remain of the view I have held since the referendum that the only sustainable way ahead is to honour the democratic vote and leave, whilst doing so on a sensible basis, departing gradually via a transition and negotiated settlement to minimise disruption and paving the way for a prosperous future with certainty restored. This is much closer to the promises of the official ‘Vote Leave’ prospectus of 2016 than a no-deal WTO Brexit, which was never even mentioned in the referendum campaign itself; and certainly closer than revoking Article 50, which would be profoundly undemocratic. In a starkly divided country beset by political crisis, unable to move on, compromise is the only way forward that offers a chance for us to both resolve the impasse and reunite.
Thus, whilst I have many reservations about prorogation, it seems to me that we have just simplified the position that was always the reality before us – the EU will have to compromise with us, and enable a new deal to go before Parliament. MPs will then need to compromise to pass the new deal, so that we can finally move on as a nation. But much could happen in the days ahead to upset the course of events and, somehow, we must hold our nerve as a nation and try to find a way forward.
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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.
When Boris Johnson addressed the House of Commons as Prime Minister for the first time last month, the scene from a packed Parliament was broadcast to France. No viewer could have room for doubt: the terms of the EU Withdrawal Agreement were, as the French subtitles put it, ‘inacceptables’. ‘No country that values its independence,’ they were told, ‘could agree to a treaty which signed away our economic independence and self government as this backstop does…’
Would their President, Emmanuel Macron, the most hard-line amongst the EU27 leaders on Brexit, treat it as a call to arms to defend the deal reached behind closed doors with Theresa May? Or would it signal that he and the script must change course ?
Macron is undecided. Shrewd, ambitious and ruthless, he ditched François Hollande – his predecessor, patron and friend – outgunning him to run as President, leapfrogging over the heir apparent, Manuel Valls, and the ruling Socialist Party. He built the Blairite, pro-European and (by French lights) economically liberal ‘En Marche’ movement which won a majority of seats at the 2017 election, forming a government reinforced by deputies from rival parties – the Prime Minister a member of the Republicans, the Interior minister, a Socialist.
At home he set out to consolidate his leadership of the Hexagon by dividing the fragmented opposition parties on the centre-right, the left, and Marine Le Pen’s Front National, and forming a centrist coalition. Next he planned to seize the leadership of Europe when Angela Merkel bows out and bring full integration to the EU, with France restored to its rightful place at its head – a project now all the more urgent if he is to re-establish his authority at home, damaged by a year of scandals, ministerial resignations and pitched battles with the gilet jaunes on the streets of Paris and nationwide protests across rural départements, as La France Profonde rejected his regime.
Brexit presents an obstacle to these plans. Macron has two options. The first is that he could insist the Withdrawal Agreement must stand. But that would be rejected by the UK, followed by a stand-off and a UK no-deal exit on 31st October, followed in turn by uncertainty over UK-EU trade and years of wrangling as the UK, bolstered by newly-signed bilateral free trade deals, sought other suppliers, found other markets and made other allies.
Alternatively, he could help the EU to recognise the game is up, the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be re-opened, and the fantasy of a neutered UK economy under the EU Customs Union and related law is unlikely to be realised. Then he could become the EU’s de facto leader, to agree the principle of free trade between the UK and EU27 and on that basis agree a standstill with no tariffs and, since the UK is leaving with the same rules as the EU, no new non-tariff barriers.
Neither option was mentioned as he congratulated Johnson outside the Elysée Palace and looked to working together on the future. Rather, with the new Commission President Ursula von der Leyen standing by his side, he announced his vision of economic and social Europe regenerated for the future. The new focus will be on a green pact, social convergence and economic regeneration, but the structure will be unchanged – run centrally by Brussels in line with the French model; the means protectionist, inflexible, unionised and corporate – with a tightly structured labour market, in which big government backs the winners.
If Macron is to sidestep Brexit, he must accept that the UK will differ, that it will compete and win as often as not on innovation, competition, efficiency and quality in an economy kept on its toes by the newcomer challenger. By contrast, the French and now Franco-German economy that dominates the EU has won through state central planning, by backing winners, by eliminating the challengers, to merge into bilateral giants with state backing. French engineering, energy, aeronautical, science and technology has its fair share of Franco-German mergers, the smaller challengers eliminated or absorbed into ever bigger industries.
That model has brought us the Franco-German winners, Airbus, Siemens-Alstom, Aventis (a French pharmaceutical company founded through the merger of German and French companies with French government backing). From that model there is no going back, only the slow integration of Spanish, Italian, North European and eventually other Southern and Eastern European companies, and potentially ultimate self-destruction in a highly competitive global system where the nimble, the innovative and the lean have made the world their market.
If Macron accepts that the Withdrawal Agreement is now an archival curiosity, he can rapidly rid the EU of its troublesome member and further his own – and France’s – interests.
But he could do better and take the lead, not just in forging the integrated EU on which he has set his sights, but reshaping the alliance with the UK, one that has weathered centuries of storms, and resurfaced after bitter conflicts, ever since William of Normandy defeated the English at Hastings. The UK will follow its own star.
But in its new Prime Minister, who has understood better than most predecessors since the 1940s the nature of Britain’s international interests and how best to pursue them, Macron will find an able, supportive NATO ally, a friendly economic rival and a more reflective, intelligent and open-minded British leader than any since the 1990s.
It is no accident that France24, the state-owned TV news channel, suggested in its reports that M. Macron, more than any other EU leader, is keen to see Britain leave with No Deal. If, as is likely, the EU27 refuse to re-open the Withdrawal Agreement and the UK refuses to pass it, the way is open for the future on which Macron dwells by shelving the May deal.
Instead he could focus on future UK-EU free trade, a standstill agreement with neither tariffs nor barriers meanwhile, and the de-coupling of the UK from the integrated Europe on which the President of France has set his sights.
“As democrats, Labour accepted the result of the 2016 referendum.” So wrote Jeremy Corbyn in a letter to Labour Party members following the recent meeting of the Shadow Cabinet which spent a considerable time discussing Labour’s developing policy on Brexit.
Accepting the outcome of the referendum, is, of course, not the same as agreeing with it; if it was, Labour would have welcomed the referendum result and not just respected it. Tom Watson is right, Labour is a Remain party. The party campaigned for Remain in the EU referendum, the vast majority of its MPs voted Remain and its membership to a large extent supported staying in the EU. By accepting the result of the referendum, Labour is committing itself not so much to ditch its support for Remain as to not sabotage Brexit.
But Labour’s policy on Brexit remains contradictory. The corollary of accepting the result of the referendum is that there will not be a second referendum to reverse it. However, agreeing to put a Tory deal ‘that does not respect the economy and jobs’ to a public vote with staying in the EU as an option on the ballot paper effectively does that – attempts to reverse the Brexit vote.
Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to reach a compromise with Theresa May to get Brexit over the line emboldened the Remainers in his party. Tom Watson and Emily Thornberry are pushing for a referendum on any deal, regardless of its merits; they have gone so far as to suggest that even if a general election is called and Labour came to power and were able to negotiate its own deal to leave the EU, such a deal should be put to a public vote with Remain as an option and with Labour campaigning for that very option. Labour would thus be negotiating in bad faith, for if Labour were to campaign against its own deal in favour of Remain, then surely, the worse the deal is, the better the chances of winning support for Remain. It goes to show how disingenuous hard-line Remainers are and how far they are prepared to go to scupper Brexit.
Labour members who demand their party go all out to stop Brexit should reflect a while. In the same way as they expect their democratically-elected representatives to carry out their wishes, the British people expect Members of Parliament, their democratically-elected representatives, to obey their wishes as expressed in the referendum – and the people’s decision in a public vote overrides those of any internal party vote.
Boris Johnson’s ‘do or die’ promise may make a good soundbite, but Brexit is not Custer’s last stand; Brexit is not a one-off event; it is the beginning of a process and not an end result. The argument that any compromise on the terms of our departure will tie our hands forever is groundless. Unlike the Ten Commandments, treaties between two sovereign entities are not written on tablets of stone; they can be revised, renegotiated and even unilaterally withdrawn from if one signatory to the treaty finds it incompatible with its national interest. But first we must become sovereign.
I expect the new Prime Minister to come back to Parliament with some sort of a deal – negotiators invariably do – which may or may not be similar to Theresa May’s. The hype that a Johnson administration will inevitably lead to a no-deal departure has no substance. Boris Johnson voted for Theresa May’s deal the last time it came in front of Parliament, as did Jacob Rees-Mogg and other leading Conservative Brexiteers. Similarly with the threat of proroguing Parliament, it is a red herring.
But, to get through the House of Commons, a deal will need Labour support; it’s highly unlikely that the Tories can hold the line and get all their MPs as well as the DUP to vote as one on any Brexit issue, let alone a final deal. Although Jeremy Corbyn has left the door open for Labour to support a deal in Parliament, that looks unlikely given the strength of the anti-Brexit lobby within Labour. The fate of Brexit thus rests with those Labour MPs who recognise the dangers of Brexit dragging on.
The most likely scenario following Parliament failing to support a deal is a snap general election – a Brexit general election. In one single manoeuvre, the Government would pull the rug from under both Labour and the Brexit Party. The latter, whose rallying cry is ‘implement Brexit’ would be muted as the Tories would have a plan to do just that. If Labour went for Remain, it would be virtually indistinguishable from the revived Liberal Democrats and haemorrhage votes in the very constituencies that Labour is supposed to win votes. And if Labour went for respecting the 2016 referendum result but promising to negotiate its own deal, it would be seen as pie in the sky, chasing rainbows – the promise of an imaginary deal when there is a real one on offer would have little appeal. The prospect of more delay, years of uncertainty and chaos is not a vote winner; Labour would be trounced.
Opportunities to get Brexit over and done with have been wasted by MPs’ timidity, short-term perspective and tribal adherences. But lessons have been learned, not least by Labour MPs. In a recent letter to Jeremy Corbyn, 26 Labour MPs (most of whom voted Remain in the 2016 referendum) urged the party to ensure Brexit happens: ‘A commitment to a second referendum would be toxic,’ they wrote. ‘The UK must leave, and do so without further undue delay’.
As we approach Labour’s annual conference in September, the pressure on Corbyn will intensify. So far he has managed to block, deflect or avert turning Labour into an anti-Brexit party; but his influence is waning and the Remainers are on the front foot. It’s time for Corbyn to level with party members: Labour’s plans for economic regeneration, nationalisation and state aid cannot be implemented in any meaningful way while the UK remains inside the EU.
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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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