Some Brexit insights from Ireland

Dr Anthony Coughlan, a leading supporter of  “Irexit” and long-term acquaintance of Edward Spalton, our Chairman, has recently forwarded some interesting insights into Brexit which come from a well-placed Irish friend of his.

“The editorial in today’s Irish Times and the article by Stephen Collins are saying – obliquely – what you … and others have been saying since the referendum, i.e. that the British and Irish Governments have to sit down and work out a post-Brexit border regime, which requires technical and pragmatic solutions according to Michel Barnier.

Indeed it does, but the European Commission was not saying that at first. It is doing so now, I suspect, because the continental Member States are getting fed up with the Irish Government and the European Commission, along with British Remainers, attempting to use the border to scupper Brexit. The Continentals just want the thing sorted.”

This is one glimmer of light in what has not been a happy time for negotiators as far as the Irish border issue has been concerned. Barnier’s “backstop” proposal of keeping Northern Ireland in the Customs Union was greeted with widespread anger among Unionists in Northern Ireland. It does not bring the issue any closer to resolution but does suggest that, not withstanding public shows of solidarity by the other 26 EU member states, the Irish government will not garner much support for being deliberately obstructive over the search for a resolution to the border issue.

On a less encouraging note, however, Dr Coughlan’s friend goes on to say:-

I suspect, incidentally, that if the West attacks Syria the British Government might use it as an opportunity to “suspend” Brexit. I have little doubt that the British Foreign Office is working up something along those lines to present to Theresa May. If there is a really serious war, i.e. WW3, it won’t matter, but a shooting war that is something less than WW3 would suit the Remainers down to the ground.

The latter are well capable of urging an attack on Syria for that purpose. I hope the Brexit community in the UK is alive to this possibility, particularly Tory MPs, some of whom might otherwise be expected to be gung-ho for war over Syria.”

Since Dr Coughlan sent us his friend’s comments,  a military force including the USA, the UK and France has bombed Syria. The first polls taken after this action suggests that there is strong opposition from the UK public to these actions, with supporters outnumbered by two to one. Furthermore, Mrs May faces strong opposition from Parliament, annoyed at not being given a vote. So while an escalation of the conflict may be in the remainiacs’ interests, it does not look particularly likely at the moment.

Even so, this bunch of bad losers needs careful monitoring. A meeting of remoaners took place yesterday (Sunday 15th April ) in London, with the hope of launching a major drive to stop Brexit. Our friends from Leavers from London turned out in some force with a counter-demonstration, holding placards yet being polite and friendly.

It remains our opinion that a badly- executed Brexit remains a far greater concern than the activities of disgruntled, incorrigible remoaners,  but they must not be underestimated.

Template letter to MPs on fishing

Fishing for Leave recently conducted mass nationwide port protests where 200 vessels and thousands of public supporters demonstrated against the governments capitulation to the Transition deal which would see the UK obey all EU law AFTER Brexit.

This would allow the EU to enforce detrimental laws to cull what’s left of the British fleet and coastal communities to claim our resources we would no longer have the fleet capacity to catch using UNCLOS Article 62.2.

This betrays one of the acid tests of taking back control and spits in the face of the biggest vote in British history. Leave meant leave not trapped in transition and Fishing for Leave ask all members and supporters to lobby their MPs to make it clear that they must serve their constituents and communities not dismissive Whips who think fishing is expendable and that coastal communities don’t count!

If you want to see our fishing grounds and communities survive and boom with Brexit please take 5 minutes of your time and the pittance of a stamp and envelope to write to your MP.  https://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/

Please send the template letter below, which is available to be downloaded as a pdf here

………………………………………………….

Dear …………………………………………………..,
Following the mass demonstration of 200 vessels and thousands of public supporters on Sunday 8th, I write to you due to my abhorrence over the Transition deal and the dire existential threat it presents to what’s left of Britain’s fishing industry and coastal communities within the 21months, along with the longer term legal implication of a potential protracted legal fight it creates.

The government  must ratify this transition as part of the withdrawal agreement and treaty with parliamentary approval. The terms of the transition subject the UK to re-obeying all EU law, including all new laws, after Brexit and the official termination of our current membership.

This negates and squanders the clean slate provided by Article 50 that states the “treaties shall cease to apply” and with that all accrued rights and obligations – including the disastrous, inept Common Fisheries Policy. This would automatically repatriate our waters and resources to national control by reverting to international law

Being trapped in the 21month Transition means the EU will be free to enforce detrimental legislation to cull what is left of the British fleet. The EU has every incentive to do to enable it to use international law under UNCLOS Article 62.2 to claim our resources we would no longer have the fleet to catch

The EU can do so using the inept EU quota system which is wholly unsuited to UK mixed fisheries and which forces fishermen to catch and then discard en-mass to find species their quota allows them to keep. As of 2019 there is to be full enforcement of the EU discard ban which addresses the discard symptom not the quota cause.

As of 2019, when a vessel exhausts its smallest quota it must cease fishing – vessels must tie up early in the year. Public body SeaFish calculates approximately 60% of UK resources will go uncaught and resultantly a similar proportion of what is left of the British fleet will go bankrupt.

Contrary to bland assurance, obeying the CFP means the EU has sole power to alter the ‘relative stability’ share outs of resources and is free to do so to the UK’s detriment. The 12mile limit which gives protection to our inshore and shell-fishermen along with nursery grounds can also abolished – it may terminate on withdrawal.

Worse, because the transition is part of a new treaty after Brexit it exposes the UK to a potential protracted legal fight over continuity of rights under Article 30 & Article 70 of the Vienna Convention on Treaties. Article 70 states the termination of a treaty does not affect any rights or obligations…unless the treaty otherwise provides, or the parties otherwise agree”.

Article 50 states & terminates current rights but the transition treaty has no such clean guillotine exit clause!

There is real danger the EU could subject the UK to a legal battle after 21 months for continuation of rights which the UK will have re-created by re-obeying all EU law in a new Transition treaty. The Transition renders all government and MP commitments, promises and assurances to reclaim British waters as worthless!

It is imperative for the survival of fishing communities in a multitude of constituencies that the capitulation of fishing being imperilled in a transition is reversed and the Prime Minister commits to all sovereignty and control over all waters and resources within the UKs EEZ reverting to Westminster at 11pm on 29th March 2019.

Failure to do so would be a tangible demonstration that there is no intention of making a serious stand on fishing or Brexit nor fulfilling “taking back control of our borders” of which fishing is an ‘acid test’ of Brexit.

I hope that as Member of Parliament your constituents can count on your full support in ensuring No Deal Is Better Than A Bad Deal & that fisheries are therefore exempted from the transition so MPs are not responsible for a second betrayal & sacrifice of Britain’s coastal communities which the public will not be forgiving of.

Yours Sincerely,     ………………………….

In Support Of Fishing for Leave

 

Fishing protests a success – and this is only the start

Organisers Fishing for Leave welcomed the success of last Sunday’s demonstrations and thanked the hard work of members and the public for their support.

FFL says it is now important that the politicians pay heed to not only the fishermen but the thousands of people who turned out to support on the quaysides or this would just be the start.

Yet Mrs May said in Denmark that she wanted “fair and reciprocal” access to waters for the countries’ fishermen after Brexit.

Mrs May’s definition of ‘fair and reciprocal’ fishing access is probably as far away from the rest of the population as her idea of Brexit meaning Brexit. Access should only be on a needs must equal swap basis.

Sadly it seems Mrs May’s idea is the same as that of her predecessor Edward Heath. That Britain’s greatest natural resource and coastal communities are expendable negotiating capital as her capitulation to trapping Britain’s fishing in transition shows.

Theresa May needs to stop playing semantics and for once live up to her rhetoric of ‘let me be clear’ by having the decency to stop playing with real people’s lives, futures and businesses in coastal communities.

She must reverse the capitulation on fishing and categorically promise that we will be entirely free of the Common Fisheries Policy come March 2019. If not, she will consign another British industry to museum and memory as the EU culls what is left in the 21 months of the transition period.

PROTEST A HUGE EFFORT THAT’S JUST A POLITE START

All those from the industry who made the effort to turn out around the coast did a fantastic job and should be massively proud to represent and fight for their industry, communities and way of life. That is what this is all about for us. Milford Haven, Portsmouth and Hastings were all phenomenal efforts with excellent turnouts from along the coast. A “well done” must go to Weymouth for coming together at such short notice as well as Newcastle, where a “well done” is due to many North Shields fishermen who rose to the occasion on short notice.

Special mention must go to Plymouth for the sheer numbers and the artillery battery of fireworks launched and to Whitstable  where Chris and Luke’s symbolic burning of a boat was a show stopper finale that deservedly won top trumps.

To see so many younger folk at sea showed that this is an industry that has green shoots if they are given a chance to be nurtured. We’d like to convey a big thanks to all those who worked like Trojans to make this happen and the thousands of members of the public that came down to support the flotillas, ultimately our seas and fish stocks are the nation’s resource and as much theirs as anyone else’s. Some people even travelled to Plymouth from as far as Stoke-on-Trent!

These were peaceful protests conducted with black humour and high professionalism – even when Remainers chained themselves to the boat Thereason May that was about to be symbolically burnt.

However, these events weren’t a party but a full-blown protest. We’re sick to death of being malevolently and dismissively portrayed as being justifiably expendable when we are anything but. Fishing is a primary wealth generating industry providing food security and employment in ancillary industries in rural coastal areas.

Repatriating our fishing grounds and the 60% of the fish the EU catches in them is worth a potential £6-8bn every year to coastal and rural communities and can create tens of thousands of jobs.

For the remainers gleefully peddling the deliberate narrative that fishing doesn’t matter, we ask – how much is your job worth to the economy?  Something that the professional students who berated fishermen, claiming that remainers knew best about fishing in Whitstable should consider.

TRANSITION MEANS MORE BOATS WILL BE BURNT

The transition isn’t just 21 months to suck up but an existential threat and potential death sentence for what’s left of Britain’s fishing industry.

DEFRA’s  peddling the government line about “delivering a smooth and orderly Brexit” along with “safeguarding fishing communities” is laughable given obeying all EU law after Brexit means the EU is able to enforce detrimental policies to cull our fleet.

The EU has every incentive to do this as under international law, UNCLOS Article 62.2, if a nation is unable to catch all its resources it must give the surplus it can’t catch to its neighbour – the EU.

Our big fear is the ill-founded EU discard ban is to be fully enforced as of 2019. The EU’s inept quota system forces fishermen to discard half their catch to try find fish their quota lets them keep.

The ban addresses the discard symptom not the cause – quota. Vessels must stop fishing when they exhaust their smallest quota. These ‘choke species quotas’ will see the fleet tied up, boats and businesses at sea and ashore go bust.

The 12 mile limit that protects our inshore fishermen and nursery grounds can also be abolished upon withdrawal.

Despite DEFRA’s pathetic official protestations that “the UK’s share of catch could not be reduced over the transition period”, the EU commission has sole discretion to award and change resource shares and has every reason to do so  – to our detriment.

DEFRA’s statement that we will be ok because we ‘are working in good faith’ is pitiful given the EU has repeatedly said that a departing member must be seen to suffer.

We would love to know how DEFRA squares the bunkum that “by December 2020 we will be negotiating fishing opportunities as an independent coastal state” given obeying all EU law doesn’t end until 2021 with international fishing negotiations not agreed until that Autumn?

To sacrifice tens of thousands and communities to appease a few ideologically pro-EU vested interests is a second betrayal that would have dire electoral consequences for coastal MPs

Now coastal MPs must listen to the thousands who turned up at short notice and the many more members of the public who support this totemic industry or we will go up a gear or two. In other words, last Sunday will just be a polite start.

It is important that MPs in coastal constituencies remember they serve their constituents who elect them and not a dismissive chief whip. If MPs have any inkling of self-preservation they must heed what we are saying and put country before party. They must stand by and remember: “No deal is better than a bad deal” and that coastal constituencies count.

WELCOME MPs SUPPORT BUT MUST BE ACTION TO BACK WORDS

We welcome the statements of support from Owen Paterson, John Redwood, Sheryll Murray, Derek Thomas and Luke Pollard but are hugely disappointed that all the other MPs that were invited to show their support weren’t in attendance.

The politicians have now been told clearly that the transition is unacceptable – and why. It’s now time they honoured the vote and walked away from the transitional terms as it is clear the EU, in order to dissuade other countries from leaving,  is not prepared to offer a leaving member a deal worth more than a packet of smarties.

If they do not change tack and shovel fishing away in desperation for any deal, they will be guilty of a conscious second betrayal of thousands of lives, businesses and coastal communities and will be culled in those constituencies in the same way our fleet will be.

Fishermen are not going to take being thrown to the wolves lying down and these protests will just be the start if patriotism, decency and good sense do not prevail.

The Greek tragedy deepens

Retired Greek Diplomat Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos spoke at CIB’s 2017 rally. This is a translation of an interview he recently gave to Afrique-Asie of France. Ambassador Chrysanthopoulos was the Secretary General of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization from 200 to 2012. He represented Greece at the U.N.,was director of the diplomatic cabinet of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Director general of EU affairs. His diplomatic experience extends from Toronto to Warsaw and from Erevan to Beijing. He is fighting today against the policy of reducing the sovereignty of his country by the EU and NATO.

1) Last January and February massive demonstrations were held in Greece in support of the return  of national sovereignty and the protection of territorial integrity of the country. After almost two centuries from the uprising of Greece against the Ottoman occupation, it seems that your country remains to be decolonised. How have we reached this point?

The issue is that we liberated ourselves from the Ottomans only to find ourselves under the influence of the great Powers of the time. Our first leader of independent Greece was Ioannis Kapodistrias, who as foreign Minister of Russia played an important role in creating the Swiss constitution. However we assassinated him and was replaced by a Bavarian king. Our first political parties were called the Frenchofile,the Russianofile and the Englishofile – all under the influence of the country they were named after.

During WW1, Athens and Piraeus were bombed by the French fleet in order to force the pro-German king to abdicate and Greece to join the allies. Then the fascist pro-German prime minister of Greece Ioannis Metaxas on October 28,1940 opposed Mussolini when he wanted to march through Greece. Greek armed forces threw the Italians back to the sea from Albania.

All through WW2 our resistance was under British domination until the USA took over in 1947.The NATO-supported military dictatorship collapsed after seven years in 1974 but at a tragic cost since almost half of Cyprus was and still is occupied by Turkey.

In 1976 we opted to join the EEC mainly for political reasons-to protect our fragile democracy and Greece from Turkey. We joined the EEC in 1981 and right after PASOK of Andreas Papandreou came to power, for a few years Greece enjoyed an independence that it never had before. The US bases were removed, Greece  became an important actor in international politics respected by the Non-aligned movement .

Papandreou had made world headlines by organising in 1983  a meeting between Mitterand and Gadaffi  in Crete.

From the 90s onwards a united Germany became gradually the driving force of the EU  which from an EEC of the people became the EU of the bankers. And as the EU supported the bankers, Greek politicians became professional liars and were elected on programs that were never  kept. George Papandreou  was elected in 2009 with the slogan that there were sufficient financial resources to allow the country to progress, only to put Greece under IMF and EU control with the Memorandum of 2010 which never was voted by Parliament and was instrumental in bringing financial and social collapse.

 The left party SYRIZA was elected with the slogan  we will denounce the Memorandum and thus save Greece. When Brussels started blackmailing the Tsipras government ,he called for a referendum which by a large majority – 62% – rejected further austerity measures. During a Summit in Brussels right after the July 2015 referendum, Germany blackmailed Tsipras by telling him that if he did not do what Berlin wanted, then they would create a bank run in Greece and further chaos. Tsipras got scared and instead of cutting off diplomatic relations with Germany for a period, he succumbed and since then has been following orders from Brussels to the detriment of Greece and its people.

2) Why is the Turkish army once again displaying aggression towards the Greek islands of the Aegean? Do you see a link between between the Turkish officers that have asked for asylum in Greece and the Greek officers being held in Turkey?

Erdogan is taking advantage of the fact that Greece and its people are exhausted by the austerity measures imposed upon it. Furthermore he is going through a phase of illusions de grandeur and wants to recreate the Ottoman empire. Statements like “We had territories that we lost but that we may get back, we will shed our blood to make Turkey a great country again and if necessary we shall shed the blood of others” are not helpful for consolidating  peace and stability. I do not see a link between the Turkish officers who have applied for asylum and the two Greek officers that were apprehended, but I cannot exclude the thought that the Turkish authorities make such a link. The issue of the Greek islands was first raised by Turkey in 1973 when oil was discovered in the Aegean. From 1923 until then it had never been an issue. Now this aggression is within the policy of taking advantage of an exhausted Greece.

3) Why is President Erdogan opening the issue of the Lausanne Treaty by threatening directly his Greek neighbour? Is it a simple populist manoeuvre?

I think that my answer to the previous question covers this question. It is not a populist manoeuvre. The Lausanne Treaty has been violated ad nauseam by Turkey mainly as far as the minority issues are concerned. The recent invasion of Syria also constitutes a violation of this Treaty which defines the eastern borders of Turkey. Turkey thinks that by reopening the Lausanne Treaty it may get a better deal than now. A few islands for example.

4) What is the situation of the Greek Armed Forces 10 years after the gradual descent of your country to hell? Do you think that they are in a position to defend the integrity of national territory?

It is true that the eight years austerity measures have taken a toll on the Greek armed forces but not to the extent that it cannot fight. Our air force is one of the best of NATO since we have been practicing everyday chasing away Turkish warplanes violating Greek air space and our Navy is in good condition. Overall the Greek Armed forces are in a position to defend  the territorial integrity of our country.

5) What is NATO doing to help Greece and Turkey, who are both members, to find a peaceful solution to their differences?

Absolutely nothing, since NATO does not deal with differences between its members. It only deals with differences between a NATO member and a non NATO country. We saw that in 1974 when Turkey invaded Cyprus and NATO stayed out of the issue.

6) Do you think that the Greek army can play a role so that your country can recover its sovereignty or it might awaken the old demons of the dictatorship of the colonels?

The Greek Armed Forces should remain vigilant to defend our borders against external threats. And when the Greek people attempt to overthrow the Athens régime, the Greek Armed Forces should refrain from following possible orders to defend the regime.

7) Returning to relations between Germany and Greece, how would you describe them today?

I would say that they would fit more to relations between a colony and a colonial power. With one difference, of course. In the colonial period, the colonial power would defend the colony against external threats which is not the case today. But between Greek and German people there are no problems. At least for the moment.

8) Where are we on the question of German reparations for the damages inflicted during the German occupation of Greece from 1941 to 1944?

There is no movement there also. Germany considers the issue closed, since Athens did not raise it at reunification. The Athens regime does not want to anger its masters by raising it. There is, however, one item that even Germany has difficulty in avoiding .That is the loan that was imposed upon Greece by Germany and Italy in 1942. According to that, Greece was obliged to pay 1.25 billion drachmas per month for costs of occupation to Germany and Italy. In 1964 it was estimated that the total amount that Germany owed to Greece was about 400 million DM. The loan is something separate from reparations which are still outstanding according to Greece. Yet the Athens regime is not doing anything about it. .The value of the loan today, if it were to be repaid by Germany to Greece, would cover the so-called debt amounting to 300 billion euros.

9) You write: “At the moment, capitalism without frontiers is crushing everything in its passage and that our leaders have chosen for a “globalisation” benefitting only the banks and the multinationals, they are presenting the collapse of our countries as a natural phenomena that is unavoidable. At the same time they are constantly repeating to us that the “minorities” (ethnic,national, religious) of Europe “are awakening” and that their claims are legitimate but result in the weakening of the sovereignty of the State to which they belong.”

Once again the Balkans are on the verge of a war, fomented by a reunited Germany. With the objective to strangle Russia, NATO is advancing its pawns, breaking the engagement made to Gorbachev at the moment of the German reunification. The last pieces of former Yugoslavia are being integrated, one by one into NATO. You condemn the breaking up of the Balkans to non-viable client states, while at the same time pointing your finger at Germany. According to you, what is the interest of Berlin in defending such a policy since the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991?

It is actually the same policy followed by Hitler before and during WW2, to control energy resources. By controlling the Balkans, Germany has easy access to the energy resources in the Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean and Azerbaijan.Not only that but it will be easier for Berlin to transfer the oil or gas to Germany.

10) Do you think that the Macedonian question is on the way to be solved since the leaders in Skopje agreed to change the name of their international airport and their highway?

No. It is more complicated than that. Already there are problems. Greece insists that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) changes its Constitution so that all nuances of irredentism are removed. Skopje refuses to do it. The vast majority of the Greek people are against ceding the name Macedonia to Skopje, a name that has belonged to Hellenism for the last three thousand years. Then if you give a country a false history, you create the conditions for a failed state. Also the politicians of FYROM do not believe in their “Macedonian” heritage. I have heard the present President of FYROM  Ivano, saying to a Georgian vice president in 2012 that the word Macedonia derives from the Turkish word dunya-which means world!!!!!!.Then why should FYROM enter NATO? What is the danger? where is the danger? Of course the West has so easily forgotten the promises given to Gorbachev in 1991 that Nato will not be enlarged  if Germany is allowed to be reunited. And we saw what happened .All the former Warsaw pact countries are today NATO members.

11)Is the current Greek Government in a position to defend Cyprus givne the ambiguous positions of prime Minister Tsipras on this issue?

Diplomatically it can but militarily it is not easy because of the distance. But that goes for all governments. We saw what happened in 1974. Itt was the coup d’état against Makarios organised by Athens that provoked the Turkish invasion. When the military regime collapsed the armed forces in Greece were in disarray and in no position to defend Cyprus. However if the circumstances were different it would have been very difficult for the invasion to have succesfully taken place, taking into consideration that the Turkish air force sank one of their destroyers.

Support Fishing for Leave’s protests – details, dates and venues (will be updated regularly)

Fishing for Leave is staging mass protests with fishermen in ports nationwide against the Transition deal that will see the UK obeying all EU law including the hated Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The demonstrations will be joined by top Tory MPs and Brexiteers.

** FOLLOWING APRIL 8th’s PROTESTS, FURTHER SUCH EVENTS ARE PLANNED AND WE WILL PROVIDE YOU WITH DETAILS AS THEY ARE SENT TO US BY FISHING FOR LEAVE **

The continuing relevance of Article 127 of the EEA Agreement

By Professor George Yarrow

Last Thursday (29th March 2018) was the last day on which the Government could have given formal notification that it wished to withdraw from the European Economic Area Agreement (EEAA) on Brexit Day (29th March 2019), in accordance with Article 127 of the Agreement.  As it has consistently indicated was its intention, the Government did not send a notice of withdrawal to the other parties to the Agreement.  This raises the immediate question: how do things stand now?

The first thing to say is that the earlier situation has been changed somewhat by what appear to be mutually agreed provisions in the draft Withdrawal Agreement for a post-Brexit transition or standstill period.  Article 124(1) of that document stipulates that: “… during the transition period, the United Kingdom shall be bound by the obligations stemming from the international agreements concluded by the Union, or by Member States acting on its behalf, or by the Union and its Member States acting jointly.” Since the EEAA is one of those international agreements, it is clearly envisaged that UK will continue to be bound by it during the transition, subject only to the consent of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.  That consent can be confidently expected, the EEAA being an existing free trade agreement with the UK, a major market for Iceland and Norway.

If the draft Withdrawal Agreement, inclusive of Article 124(1), is eventually ratified, there will be no concurrent UK withdrawal from the EEA on Brexit day.  The UK will remain an EEA participant throughout the transition period and the deadline for the notification of any future withdrawal will be put back until 31st December 2019, one year ahead of the projected end of the transition.  By then the prospects for success in achieving the kind of longer-term settlement sought by the Government (whatever that might turn out to look like) will be clearer.  And at that stage the Article 127 issues will need to be faced again, albeit in different circumstances.

The ‘change in circumstances’ point is important here. It is to be recalled that the Government’s view so far has been that the EEA Agreement would automatically cease to be applicable to the UK upon withdrawal from the Treaty of Lisbon. I have argued since June 2016 that this view is wrong: there is no text in either Treaty which says as much and the view is only sustained by speculative interpolations that run counter to norms of international law.

More specifically, the Government has repeatedly asserted that the EEAA becomes automatically inapplicable on Brexit Day, either because the UK will not be a member of EFTA or because it will not be a member of the EU.  That is, it has been (wrongly) claimed that membership of one or other of these two institutions is a necessary condition for EEA participation.  The reasoning behind this view has never been aired publicly, nor has the claimed legal advice on which it is allegedly based ever been disclosed. This has, I think, been a deliberate strategy to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny, by keeping under wraps facts and reasoning that could pose problems for Conservative party management. It was likely judged that achieving majority support in Parliament for voluntary withdrawal from the EEAA would be difficult.

The contrived ‘justifications’ of automaticity are now being put to the test. Article 124(1) of the draft Withdrawal Agreement indicates that the UK and the EU have agreed that, subject to the consent of the Efta States, the EEA Agreement will be operable/applicable post Brexit, even though the UK will be a member of neither the EU, nor EFTA.  That is, the asserted ‘necessary condition’ for EEA participation is a fiction: it is simply ignored in the draft Withdrawal Agreement and, if that Agreement is ratified and implemented, what was previously claimed to be impossible will come to pass.  Given that, when the time comes to consider Article 127 issues again it is unlikely that the avoidance strategy will be sustainable.

One ironic consequence of the avoidance strategy is the current negotiation around transition arrangements that will see the UK government responding to a referendum sentiment to ‘take back control’ by ceding yet greater control over its affairs to others.  This is now rationalised by those who have contributed most to bringing it about on a ‘paradise deferred’ argument (and deferred by only 21 months), but that looks for all the world like a doubling-down on wishful thinking.

Whether the withdrawal Agreement is or is not ratified, it will remain the case that there are only two, legitimate ways for the UK to withdraw from the EEA: (a) by the giving of Article 127 notice or (b) with the unanimous consent of all the contracting parties.  Given those routes to exit, the EU or any of the other contracting parties (each acting alone and whether an EU Member State or an Efta State) can block route (b).  The UK Government will not be able to just slink away from the EEAA.

The EU can, entirely reasonably, insist that the UK honour the international treaty obligations it freely accepted when it signed and ratified the EEAA twenty-five years ago, thereby blocking route (b).  Moreover, there are at least two good, immediate reasons for it to do just that: (i) maintenance of harmonised regulation on the two sides of the Irish border and (ii) money. It may also be relevant that a ‘strategy of insistence’ (that EEAA promises/ commitments be kept) would likely be aligned with the views of majorities both in Parliament and among the UK public. It would not be a case of EU vs UK, more a case of EU + UK (people and Parliament) majority opinion vs UK minority opinion.

The obvious strategy for the UK from the beginning was therefore for it to seek first to become designated as an EFTA State for EEAA purposes, with the full treaty rights and obligations of such States.  Compared with designation as an EU Member State with obligations, but without governance rights (the position contemplated by the draft Withdrawal Agreement), this would afford greater sovereignty and simultaneously resolve what are arguably the most difficult of the Irish border problems.

In summary, notwithstanding its relatively low profile in Brexit discourse to date, Article 127 of the EEA Agreement will continue to be a highly relevant factor in the Brexit process.  It is a high value card for whichever party holds it in their hand and is willing to use it.  The significance of 29th March 2018 is that it was the day that the card shifted from the UK Government’s hand to the EU’s hand.  Thanks largely to the recalcitrant unwillingness of ‘ultra Brexiteers’ to contemplate compromises with other strands of pro-Brexit opinion and with ‘softer’ Remainers, it may also come to be seen as the day on which the bell tolled for any prospect of a ‘hard’ or ‘clean’ Brexit, not only on 29th March 2019, but also on 31st December 2020.

In contrast, the bell has not yet tolled for an EEA/EFTA Brexit. Although it is getting awfully late in the day for that to happen on 29th March 2019, its prospects for the beginning of 2021 are, if anything, brightening.