Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed

Before readers start getting too angry about the agreement between David Davis and Michel Barnier over the terms for an interim relationship with the EU, it must be pointed out that the handshake between the two men does not mean that everything is done and dusted.

The transitional arrangements are only part of an overall deal which have to be approved by the European institutions and national parliaments, including our own. We are still a long way from reaching this point.

On this website, we have already explained why the transitional terms on offer from the EU are unacceptable. It will be very hard to follow it with a truly clean break. We most certainly don’t need to be shackled to the EU’s customs union and any ongoing participation in the Common Fisheries policy would be the ruination of our fishing industry. Fishing for Leave didn’t mince its words in a recent press release – it is nothing less than a capitulation by a weak government.

Just to remind readers about our fisheries:- The UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles/median line was established by a British Act of Parliament – the Fishery Limits 1976 Act – but because of our membersip  of what was then the EEC, that zone was promptly handed over to the EEC, to become EEC/EU waters, right up to the low water mark, and the resource within that zone also became EEC/EU resource, managed by them and not us.

In 1983 the EU established the quota system, shared out amongst the member states by means of what is known as “relative stability keys”. These keys do change when a new member joins or one leaves.

At 11pm, 29th March 2019 the UK’s EEZ is returned to our Westminster Parliament, who must take full responsibility under the guidelines of International Law – UNCLOS3. At that moment all EU quota ceases to exist in the UK’s EEZ.

It is then down to the UK Government with the support from a majority of the Westminster parliamentarians how much of the British peoples resource they intend to give away. There is no negotiation as such.

The EU has no legal authority to demand anything, because in just over a year’s time, the UK will become an independent coastal state under third country status. Unfortunately, it seems that our government is willing to concede to demands which the EU has no right to make.

There is hope that the deal may yet be torpedoed. The Committee for Exiting the European Union could not come to an agreement on a report not about the transitional deal per se but extending it. Jacon Rees-Mogg, in his characteristically eloquent manner,  called the majority report (which he and six colleagues refused to sign) a  “prospectus for the vassal state”.  He also called the its authors the “High priests of Remain”. Mr Rees-Mogg also fired a shot across the bows of Theresa May in an article for the Daily Telegraph. “The United Kingdom will not accept being a subservient state” he said. “In the case of tariffs, once we have left the EU, it is non-negotiable that our trade minister should be able to respond to any threat of increased tariffs from other nations as suits our national interest, not the EU’s,” He went on to add “In the words of one country’s frustrated trade negotiator, Britain has to decide if it is a serious country or a joke nation. It would be humiliating for others to have cause to think thus of us.”

Trade issues are not the only cause for concern. Since the Brexit vote, our government has signed a number of agreements with the EU on military cooperation, without consulting Parliament. The details can be found on the Veteran for Britain website, which we would thoroughly recommend to anyone wishing to follow this subject in greater detail. This article in particular warns of the potential dangers that will result from this and it seems that  ministers have indicated they intend to make the UK’s role in the agreements permanent via the exit treaty. The Government’s published negotiation aims include a proposal to stay in the European Defence Fund and defence industrial programme. This essentially means that we, as a free country, will be ceding our defence to an organisation we voted to leave.

On another key issue, the European Arrest Warrant, one concerned correspondent wrote to his MP about its dangers, which are well- reported on this website, only to be told that we were intending to stay a signatory of  the EAW and that was that.

To end where we began: nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. The battle is not lost yet, but our government, whether through incompetence, deceit, spinelessness or all three, is not delivering the Brexit for which we voted. As a democracy, we are given the chance to tell our politicians what we think of them. We in CIB will ensure that they will get the message well before the next General election – indeed, well before any deal is ready for signing. Recent developments are discouraging, but for the good of the country we love, the fight must and will go on. Sadly it appears that our real enemies are not in Brussels (let alone Moscow) but in Westminster and Whitehall.

Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Juncker?

Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, delivered a speech to the European Parliament. on Monday March 12th .When he mentioned that the UK was going to leave the EU on March 29th 2019, some pro-withdrawal UK MEPs started cheering, which led Juncker to add “when you will regret your decision”. It is now over 18 months since the referendum and there is little evidence as yet of any serious voter regret.  Why should things be any different in a year’s time? After all, some of us have spent years, if not decades, campaigning to regain our independence. We’re not going to have second thoughts.

The immediate post-Brexit may be painful at first, particularly if the current muddle in the Government’s Brexit strategy is not resolved, but Brexit is like an operation to remove a malignant tumour – not going through with it would be far worse and lead to certain death.  The pain is a price worth paying.  Mind you, there is no need for the pain to be any greater than necessary. We certainly do not want to find ourselves stuck in a transitional deal on the EU’s current proposed terms which would both cripple our fishing industry  and make it very difficult ever to achieve a full and complete break. Reports that the Government and the EU are close to an agreement are thus a serious cause for concern.

Thankfully, transitional arrangements will only be signed off as part of an overall separation deal and we are still a long way from this being finalised. Our side is still struggling to move beyond soundbytes and wish lists.  Michel Barnier urged Theresa May to speed up the Brexit negotiations and define her vision for the sort of future relationship she wishes our country to have with the EU.  This does beg the question as to whether our team actually realises that the soundbytes and wish lists are nothing more than that. Could it be that, in Mrs May’s eyes, this actually is her vision?

Meanwhile, in spite of the lack of progress, the UK economy continues to defy the doom merchants. There is no question that predictions of economic meltdown before Brexit day have been proved totally and completely wrong. Even Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, was uncharacteristically upbeat  in his 2018 spring statement. Annual GDP growth of  1.5% or less in the coming years is not wonderful but it’s heaven compared with the  nightmare scenario portrayed by George Osborne a couple of years back.

Mind you, economic forecasting at the moment is completely pointless until we know  what the route to Brexit will look like. The better-than-expected performance of the UK economy to date does not in any way mean that we are guaranteed to sail out of the EU’s escape hatch in a blaze of glory. M. Barnier is  right – we really must come up with an exit plan that honours the mandate given by the British people on 23rd June 2016 and yet ensures that our businesses can continue to trade reasonably seamlessly with the EU if not on the same terms as before. So far, regrettably, there has been no sign of any coherent plan and the Brexit clock continues to tick. But regret our decision to leave? NEVER.

 

Photo by UE en Perú

Has Ancestry.co.uk been nobbled?

In recent years, there has been a significant upsurge in genealogical research. Programmes like Who do you think you are? have inspired many people to find out who their ancestors were and the internet has greatly facilitated such a task.

One website which anyone can can use for research (on payment of a subscription) is ancestry.co.uk and, until recently, I personally had a very favourable impression of it after a very interesting time last year using its facilities to discover a great deal about my origins, going right back to the 17th Century. I’m sure that readers won’t be remotely interested in the history of the Petley family past and present, but what may well be of interest is the pro-EU bias which has crept into this website.

The website’s home page informs us that “the average British person’s DNA is only 36% British” but a little footnote adds “Based on AncestryDNA customers born in the UK to Nov 2017” – in other words, a limited sample size. Is this accurate? Ed West, in his superb book The Diversity Illusion, states that as far as DNA is concerned, the English of 1927 were more than 90% the descendants of the English of 927. Even allowing for the scale of immigration since the end of the Second World War, it is hard to believe that our DNA make-up has changed so drastically in less than 100 years.

Not content with using its website to make us feel less English or British,  Ancestry.co.uk has produced a series of videos and even TV adverts pumping out a pro-EU message.  A comment below the first video from “Ancestryuk” says “The average Briton’s DNA is 60% European.” No source is quoted for this statistic and no definition of “European” is offered either.

The adverts have produced both anger and derision among genealogists. Why should genealogy be politicised in such a blatant manner? Most other leisure interests are not. What is more, the pro-EU slant is very misleading and selective.

Firstly, having “European” DNA is no surprise. We know little about the origins of the ancient Britons who lived in these islands for centuries before Julius Caesar paid us a visit, but virtually everyone who followed in his footsteps in the next two thousand years, including those who decide to stay for somewhat longer and interbreed with the natives, came from the continent of Europe – Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Flemish weavers, French Huguenots and so on.

If you go back 12 generations, in other words, to the beginning of the 18th century, every person will have a maximum of 8,190 ancestors in total, the precise number depending on whether or not any given ancestor is common to two or more branches of your family tree (e.g., cousins marrying cousins).  Even if, like my forebears, yours were rather stick-in-the-mud types that didn’t move very far, within such a large total, it is highly probable that you will find the odd foreign-born  ancestor in that total. If the Irish are included  in Ancestry.co.uk’s definition of “European”, that certainly skews the pitch, especially as they were in political union with us for many centuries before 1922 and migrated over here in great numbers in the 19th century.

Secondly, having ancestors from another European country does not necessarily create any sense of belonging, even partially, to that country. OK, I promised not to bore you with details of my ancestors but it may be appropriate to mention briefly that I have both Irish and French (Huguenot) blood. I’ve been to Ireland and France. I enjoyed visiting both countries and it was interesting to think that I have forebears who originated from them, but I can’t say I feel the slightest bit French or Irish – even though I would probably meet the eligibility criteria for a St Patrick’s Day parade if I lived in the USA!

Thirdly, Ancestry.co.uk is guilty – at least by implication – of the same mortal sin as the remain campaign two years ago – conflating “Europe” with the EU.  The You Tube clip mentioned above doesn’t mention the EU once, but  this one mentions us “leaving” while this one  takes a dig at Nigel Farage. It also features a person discovering they have Norwegian ancestry. Well, maybe the it has escaped the notice of Ancestry.co.uk, but Norway isn’t in the EU.

Finally, many people from mainland Europe who have arrived here since the Middle Ages chose this country either to escape from  tyranny at home or to make the most of the entrepreneurial culture which was a feature of the UK, particularly in the 19th Century. To be a descendant of such people is a testimony of the success of our own country over the years and does not in the slightest imply that we should therefore stay in the EU.

One question which inevitably springs to mind given the appearance of high profile people like Alastair Campbell in one of the videos is where has all the money to produce these videos come from?  Has ancestry.co.uk been nobbled? If so, judging from the reaction of genealogists, it has done this thoroughly fascinating subject no favours at all.

Photo by annapmagistra

The Council spells it out – but David Davis doesn’t

The latest draft negotiating guidelines from the European Council on Brexit couldn’t be clearer when it comes to fishing. Section 7 begins as follows:-

“As regards the core of the economic relationship , the European Council confirms its readiness to initiate work towards a free trade agreement (FTA), to be finalised and concluded once the UK is no longer a Member State. Such an agreement cannot offer the same benefits as Membership and cannot amount to participation in the Single Market or parts thereof.

This agreement would address:

i) trade in goods, with the aim of covering all sectors, which should be subject to zero tariffs and no quantitative restrictions with appropriate accompanying rules of origin. In this context, reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources should be maintained.”

Let us be quite clear:- this document is not discussing a transitional agreement but a long-term trade deal. In other words, unless we allow essentially a continuation of the Common Fisheries Policy in all but name,  there will be no deal on trade.

Will our government  show the necessary resolve to indicate in no uncertain terms that the jobs of our fishermen are not going to be used as bargaining chips?

Given David Davis’ performance at the most recent meeting of the European Scrutiny Committee, it is hard tt feel confident about this. Even when it came ot the transitional arrangements, he was very evasive. Questioned by both Kate Hoey MP and Richard Drax MP, he would not state clearly and unambiguously that our Exclusive Economic Zone will be managed by the UK authorities alone after March 29th 2018. He said “we are not trading away our fishing rights” but he also said “we haven’t begun to discuss fishing”. Well, Mr Davis, the EU has made its position clear. It wants a continuation of the CFP not only in the transitional period (if it happens) but beyond.  There isn’t much to discuss – only one word needs to be uttered: NO.   

Please see also Fishing for Leave’s comments on the draft negotiating guidelines.

John Major’s hypocrisy

Our former Prime Minister Sir John Major stirred up a storm last week when he suggested that the Government should make the “brave” decision to offer the free vote to “let Parliament decide, or put the issue back to the British people” – calling, in other words, for a second referendum.

Not surprisingly, such words provoked a strong reaction from some Brexit-supporting MPs, with Nadine Dorries calling him a “traitor”, Jacob Rees-Mogg was – characteristically – somewhat more polite, saying “We had a democratic vote and the decision has been taken. And what he is trying to do is overturn that.”

Traitor or not, you don’t need that long a memory to contrast Major’s enthusiasm for a free vote now with his behaviour during the vote on the Maastricht Treaty during his premiership. He imposed a three-line whip to get the bill through parliament and  referred to the rebel Tory MPs as “bastards”.

It’s therefore rather ironic that having denied the public a say or his own MPs a free vote on Maastricht that he has suddenly changed tack.  He claimed  that the public was realising it had been misled and had “every right to reconsider the decision”.

Well, where’s the evidence? There is little evidence of voter regret. Most people DID know what they were voting for.  The problem for Mr Major is that they made a decision he doesn’t like. Even if the government had made better progress in the Brexit talks than the current muddle. he wold still have found something to whinge about.

Filling in the blanks

This past week has seen a flurry of activity on the Brexit front, but it is debatable whether we are any further forward in the process of achieving an exit from the EU which is both reasonably seamless and a genuine parting of the ways.

The first shots were fired by the European Commission  in the shape of a draft withdrawal agreement, which appeared on  Wednesday 28th February. Barely had the text been made public when Mrs May responded, saying that “no UK Prime Minister could ever agree to it.” The biggest bone of contention was the proposal that,  in the event of the two sides failing to agree on a solution to the Irish border problem,  Northern Ireland to remain in the EU’s customs union with a border between the province and the rest of the U.K.  Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party was equally forthright, stating in a tweet that “EU draft text is constitutionally unacceptable & would be economically catastrophic for Northern Ireland.”

Responding these swift rejections of the Commision’s proposal, Donald Tusk, who visited Mrs May in London, stated that the document was built on last December’s draft agreement on “Phase 1” of the divorce talks, with the blanks filled in, not out of any desire to provoke but merely because the UK has so far not come up with any proposals for dealing with the Irish border issue. “you fill in the blanks if you don’t like our suggestions” was the gist of his remarks. Michel Barnier added that the EU document has addressed the Irish border issue “in a practical, pragmatic legal fashion.”

So with there being no meeting of minds on Wednesday, would Mrs May shed any more light on how her government was going to fill in the blanks? She gave another speech on Brexit on Friday March 2nd and regrettably, it did little to clarify matters.   She still does not seem to have any idea of the extreme unlikelihood of the  EU agreeing to a system of  mutual product recognition, completely outside its present arrangements of assuring the standards of goods arriving from outside the EU. She acknowledged that leaving the single market and customs union would mean  “our access to each other’s markets will be less than it is now. How could the EU’s structure of rights and obligations be sustained, if the UK – or any country – were allowed to enjoy all the benefits without all of the obligations?” Fair enough, but anyone hoping for detail on what alternative arrangement she wanted to make  was going to be disappointed.

It is astonishing how badly advised Mrs May seems to be. In dismissing “the Norway model”, she said “we would stay in the single market, {which} would mean having to implement new EU legislation automatically and in its entirety – and would also mean continued free movement.”

This website alone has pointed out on umpteen occasions that Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein only have to implement about one quarter of EU legislation and much of this relates to the technicalities of trade. What is more, Norway, if it so desired, could join Liechtenstein and unilaterally restrict freedom of movement from the EU using articles 112 and 113 of the EEA agreement. As an interim agreement, it reduces the burden of EU law by some 75% , compared with the EU’s proposals.

The only step forward, as Dr Richard North has pointed out, is that Mrs May acknowledged that many of these regulatory standards “are themselves underpinned by international standards set by non-EU bodies of which we will remain a member”. In particular, she noted that the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) “sets vehicle safety standards. Countries around the world.”

This speech, says Dr North, is “the first time in recorded history” that “we have a prime minister recognising that the EU is not the fount of all regulation and that “many” regulatory standards originate from “non-EU bodies”.

Much of the rest of the speech, sadly, was taken up with wishful thinking – good on mood music but totally lacking in any practical suggestions of how to move Brexit forward.

The biggest disappointments were that she did not announce the rejection of the EU’s proposals for a transitional arrangement- accepting every single part of EU law and any new ones they dream up for a period which may well extend beyond the projected 21 months.  Until this happens, there can be no real progress towards a deal which will be acceptable to her own MPs. Secondly, her comments on fisheries were a cause for concern:-“The UK will regain control over our domestic fisheries management rules and access to our waters.” That’s fine and if she had stopped there, everyone would be happy.

Unfortunately, she then continued “But as part of our economic partnership we will want to continue to work together to manage shared stocks in a sustainable way and to agree reciprocal access to waters and a fairer allocation of fishing opportunities for the UK fishing industry.”  These words do not suggest that she has yet been won over to Fishing For Leave’s exciting proposals to rejuvenate our fishing industry and coastal communities, which would make us once again a world leader. (see Fishing for Leave’s comments on her speech here)

Essentially, this week has just been an extension of the Brexit stalemate, even though some strong words have been said on both sides. How much longer can this last? In is now March 2018. In a year’s time, we will hopefully be leaving the EU. For all Mrs May’s talk of  “a bold new positive role for ourselves in the world”, we are none the wiser as to how she intends to achieve this.