The EU’s potential lifeline for Mrs May’s Brexit

The European Union (EU’s) Brexit negotiators from Mr Barnier (chief negotiator) downwards must have long since realised that Mrs May, Mr Davis and the Department for (not) Exiting the European Union are incapable of serious negotiations. Meaningful progress towards leaving the EU in an orderly way including suitable agreements, arrangements and infrastructure is practically non-existent; there is a mountain of detail yet to climb. What, then, can the EU do to rescue the process and Mrs May, since Mr Barnier has previously stated on more than one occasion that he can’t negotiate with himself?

The view from Brussels must be of a weak prime minister leading a fractious, divided party and government, who has a poor grasp of detail and instead relies on spin, wishful thinking and dithering.  Even the output from the Department for (not) Exiting the European Union is poor and vague to the extent of being practically useless. Their website, where comprehensive information and practical guidance on Brexit, and hyperlinks to further sources of information should be available, is more of a case study in superficiality, grandstanding and self-aggrandisement.  There is not even a link to the European Commission’s website on Brexit preparedness.  So whose job is it to help prepare the UK for Mrs May’s decision to leave the Single Market and – by extension – the European Economic Area, EEA?

By contrast, the output from the European Commission, setting out its increasingly uncompromising position, is clear, focused and comprehensive.  Right from the beginning, the EU has been making the running.  Its dedicated website illustrates the impressive (or terrifying) detail of their ‘public’ vision of where Mrs May and Mr Davis’s Brexit is heading and the implications, which appear to look like ‘falling off a cliff edge’ to many UK businesses.  Its advice to stakeholders (available here) repeatedly spell out, in as much detail as possible, what will undoubtedly happen across a wide range of activities and policy areas when the UK becomes a ‘third’ country after leaving the EU (on 29th March 2019) and the EEA.  It is quite likely EU officials often frustratingly ponder the question, “Do our British counterparts and their political leaders understand any of this, and do they actually care what it all means?”  The problem for our team of negotiators is that they do not seem to know and understand EU laws and regulations, their rationale and implementation. This is essential if they are to develop appropriate strategies, negotiating positions and challenges to the EU’s tough, logical and systematic stance.

From the EU’s perspective they have helpfully agreed to a transition period limited to 21 months which is necessary to give Mrs May time to negotiate a free trade agreement. In reality, much longer is probably needed. However, the EU’s terms for this transition period  – which have still not been agreed – would be very unpopular in the UK and thus may never be accepted given Mrs May’s weak position in Parliament.  The EU’s terms would make the UK into a temporary or maybe even permanent EU Vassal State where Brexit means Brexit in name only.  Crashing out of the EU without transition arrangements and not having any form of mitigation of the consequences of ‘third’ country status (the “cliff edge”, in other words) is becoming increasingly likely.

The European Commission is well aware of political developments in the UK and of the consequences of no deal scenarios (given the detail on their website). Its negotiators also have to confront the contradictions in Mrs May’s position.  Frictionless trade (as required by Mrs May and Mr Davis) is not possible as a ‘third’ country outside the Single Market (and the EEA).  Time is running out for businesses both here and in the remaining 27 Member States of the EU to adjust.  Time is also impractically short to put in place new facilities and legislative frameworks needed by a ‘third’ country such as border inspection points, designated entry points and the recruitment and training of staff.  What can the EU do, if it is so disposed or there is some behind-the-scenes collusion going on, to extend Mrs May a lifeline and avoid the ‘cliff edge’?

Any EU-sponsored lifeline needs to protect their interests. It has to operate within the EU’s objectives, legal framework, and established practices. It mustn’t ‘rock their boat’ or set any potentially disadvantageous precedent. It also needs to be sellable across a wide range of opinion in the UK, addressing as far as possible rational fears and aspirations.

The only viable option for an EU-sponsored lifeline is to facilitate the UK re-joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and use this as a basis for retaining membership of the EEA for at least the transition period. It appears that the European Commission may be seriously evaluating the EFTA/EEA route for transitional arrangements for the UK,  as noted by an EFTA Court judge (Mr Carl Baudenbacher) giving evidence to the Commons Committee for Exiting the EU on 7th February 2018 and reported in the Telegraph on-line.

The EFTA/EEA option is not perfect, but as a holding position while something better is negotiated, it is much better than the transitional deal currently on offer. Hard Brexiteers could be won over by the facility to control immigration through unilaterally invoking Article 112 (the Safeguard Measures) of the EEA Agreement.  Further, the EFTA route to EEA membership gives members outside the EU a say in EU legislation affecting the EEA, is largely free (although ‘voluntarily’ Norway does contribute to regional development funds) and is outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The EEA Acquis or body of law is about a quarter of the total EU Acquis since it only relates to successful functioning of the EEA  in other words, issues relating to trade. And EFTA members can make their own trade agreements with other countries.  Membership of the EEA solves the problem of maintaining a soft border in Ireland between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.  It also gives us full control of fishing in our Exclusive Economic Zone.  Those worried about the economic effects of the ‘cliff edge’ could be won over because the EFTA/EEA option prevents this allowing practically frictionless trade to continue. The EEA agreement (for EFTA members) can be adapted to suit their interests.  Thus the UK (within EFTA) could get a customised version.

We cannot know what the European Commission is covertly doing and how far its efforts, if any, have progressed to save Mrs May, the UK and the EU from her folly.  However, given the efforts it has visibly extended to help enterprises both here and in the 27 remaining Member States to understand and adapt to the implications if Mrs May does not change her decision to leave the Single Market, nobody knows better the potential disaster she is determined to inflict and how it can be avoided.

Photo by thaddselden

Brexit means Brexit (in name only)

Politicians, civil servants and Eurocrats, economical with the truth as ever, if not actually disingenuous, are doing their best to create a Brexit in name only.  Mrs May, Mr Davis and the Department for (not) Exiting the European Union (EU) are carrying on regardless. They appear oblivious to the contradictions in what they are saying and doing, and the obvious warning signs from Brussels.  The following merely illustrates the tip of a delusional, ill-informed myopia.

Mrs May in an interview broadcast on 2nd February 2018 on Channel Four said:

“ …..we have until March 2019, that is when we are leaving the European Union. 

… What we are going to be negotiating with the European Union is a free trade agreement with them that will be about a tariff free, a frictionless trading as possible. …..That’s the sort of deal I’m going to be negotiating……What we will have in future and that is what the next few months negotiating is about is a bespoke free trade agreement.”

The EU sees things somewhat differently and has remained consistent in its approach, although as time passes it appears to be getting increasingly uncompromising and demanding.  Its top priorities are the preservation of its own interests and obedience to its rules rather than accommodating the wayward United Kingdom. This is very apparent in recent report and their published text and slides on the EU’s view of the transitional period.

Mr Barnier (the EU’s chief negotiator) on his recent trip to London, repeating previous comments (for example), said:

“The only thing I can say – without the customs union, outside the single market – barriers to trade and goods and services are unavoidable.”

An all-singing, all-dancing free trade agreement is not likely to be the long term solution even if it can be negotiated. Furthermore, negotiations on such a deal can only start after the UK has formally left the EU, that is, after 29th March 2019 or later, as confirmed the EU’s Trade Commissioner back in 2016. The EU’s perspective on a free trade agreement with the UK is roughly on the lines of  ‘OK if it is a win for us and a lose for you’.  The Irish Times has recently been reporting on what the EU is up to, such as hamstringing our businesses and government, and retaining the right through the Common Fisheries Policy to plunder our Exclusive Economic Zone (i.e., the waters up to 200 nautical miles from the shoreline. or the median point where the sea is less than 400 nautical miles wide).  The EU’s demands go far beyond what is strictly necessary for trade.

Unbelievably Mrs May is likely to agree to this and much more. Time is not on her side. Also the unbreakable law of negotiations is against her as well – in other words, ‘money and concessions flow from the weakest (or more desperate) to the strongest party’.  The transition cave-in (aka agreement to avoid a ‘cliff-edge’ of barriers to trade) effectively turns the UK into a powerless EU vassal state as explained here and here (where vassal status becomes permanent without a free trade agreement).  It looks like this could actually be less awful than the terms eventually on offer for an unfree trade agreement from an omnipotent EU to a subservient Mrs May-led UK.  Germany, in the form of Mrs Merkel, is already making disparaging jokes in semi-private about Mrs May.

That a domestically weak Mrs Merkel can lampoon our supposed ‘negotiating dreadnought’ points to an uncompromising EU/German-centric position.  And what Germany wants from the EU, Germany gets.  After all, the EU is a political construct which was designed to tame German nationalism, whilst facilitating its industrial, commercial and demographic clout, and at the same time giving France delusions of grandeur. Economic objectives are subordinate, not dominant to political objectives.  In considering a free trade agreement there should be no underestimating the EU’s continuing priorities of control-freak centralisation (under German hegemony), homogeneity and undermining national identities.  It is unlikely Mrs Merkel (or her eventual successors) will treat the UK kindly as this could encourage other Member States to rebel.

Yet the prospect of the UK becoming a permanent, powerless EU vassal state by indefinitely extending the transitional arrangement or by signing a one-sided free trade agreement is basically thanks to Mrs May’s dithering.  Although presumably Mr Davis and the Department for (not) Exiting the European Union had some input. Mrs May, for reasons never explained, decided that we must leave the Single Market (and by extension the European Economic Area, EEA). Remaining in the EEA by rejoining EFTA, the European Free Trade Association, is a much better proposition as a temporary or transitional measure. It would allow fairly frictionless trade and a breathing space in which to negotiate a suitable long-term trading relationship without being under duress.

The EFTA/EEA option allows for control of immigration through unilaterally invoking Article 112 (the Safeguard Measures) of the EEA Agreement.  The EFTA route to EEA membership gives members outside the EU a say in EU legislation affecting the EEA, is largely free (although ‘voluntarily’ Norway does contribute to regional development funds) and is outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The EEA Acquis or body of law is about a quarter of the total EU Acquis since it only relates to successful functioning of the EEA. And EFTA members make their own trade agreements with other countries.  Membership of the EEA solves the problem of maintaining a soft border in Ireland between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. It also gives us full control of fishing.

When Mrs May first rejected remaining in the Single Market, in her Lancaster House speech in January 2017 she appears to have been unaware of the EFTA/EEA route and its possibilities. Unfortunately, she does appear both then and in her later Florence speech of 22nd September 2017, to have swallowed ‘hook, line and sinker’ the disingenuous line repeatedly peddled by the EU leaders about the four freedoms (of movement of goods, capital, services and people) being inviolable – they certainly are if you are a Member State of the EU but not for EFTA countries who can unilaterally invoke Article 112 of the EEA Agreement.

EU leaders and Mr Barnier in particular appear to have been both unhelpful and economical with the truth about the EFTA/EEA route. However, recently it appears the European Commission may be seriously evaluating the EFTA/EEA route for transitional arrangements for the UK as noted by an EFTA Court judge (Mr Carl Baudenbacher) giving evidence to the Commons Committee for Exiting the EU on 7th February 2018 and reported in the Telegraph on-line. It would be very ironic if it was the EU which finally pushed Mrs May into signing up even temporarily to a better proposition – i.e., EFTA/EEA membership –  than the one she is currently minded to pursue.

We can but hope that common sense will prevail for if not, no amount of spin will be able to conceal the truth about Mrs May’s submissive transition to an unfree trade agreement. There will obviously be a heavy political price to be paid in the next General Election in 2022 for short- changing the British people over Brexit through turning this country into a permanent EU Vassal State.

Transition to a permanent EU vassal state?

Unless the proposed transitional deal is blown out of the water, the United Kingdom appears to be moving inexorably towards being a permanent European Union  Vassal State. Recent speeches and other statements by Mrs May and Mr Davis point strongly to this being the most likely outcome from their handling of the Brexit (or Article 50) negotiations.  All looks good on the surface, but they do not understand how the EU works and some worrying facts emerge when you analyse what they did and did not say. .

Mr Davis, reiterating Mrs May’s decision to leave the Single Market, in his Teesport Speech of the 26th January 2018  said:

“While the aim of the implementation period is to provide certainty and continuity, we must keep sight of the fact that this is a bridge to a new future partnership.

Where, crucially, the United Kingdom is outside of the single market, and outside of the customs union.”

He then went on to say:

“We want a good Brexit for business and a good Brexit for the British people and we will deliver that on a frictionless access to the Single Market and a freedom political and an economic freedom for the future.”

Clearly there is a contradiction here – it is not possible to have frictionless access whilst being outside the Single Market (or the European Economic Area, EEA) and being a ‘third country’. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has pointed this out on several occasions. For example, he said:

“A trade relationship with a country that does not belong to the European Union obviously involves frictions.”

Frictionless trade between members of the Single Market (and European Economic Area, EEA) occurs because of a common set of rules, regulations, processes or procedures, enforcement and overall EU surveillance. Accessing the EEA from outside its external borders involves complying with regulations, inspections and testing, processes and procedures, external tariffs, customs checks/clearance, VAT etc. intended for dealing with ‘third countries’.   These measures manage risks involved with ‘imports’ and sometimes are protectionist in nature.

The transition period (aka implementation period) clearly places this country into the status of a powerless EU Vassal State for 21 months after 29th March 2019 as explained here. However, if agreement on frictionless trade cannot be agreed during this period – which seems a certainty given Mr Barnier’s often repeated comments and how the EU normally treats ‘third countries’ – it will need to be extended potentially indefinitely.

Mrs May’s Davos speech on 25th January 2018 to the World Economic Forum provided the perfect audience to sell the opportunities presented by Brexit.  She could have outlined her vision, complete with objectives, timetable, planning and progress, in order to encourage her audience to invest here.  She could have addressed the principal concerns of business, for example, about market size and frictionless access to the EEA. She could have described (with specific detail) her vision for a ‘new, deep and special partnership’ with the EU which would have clarified and developed her Florence speech of 22nd September 2017.  Instead of which she focussed on artificial intelligence and making the Internet safer –  presumably her highest priorities.  Any business or political leader present, listening to and reflecting on the content could be forgiven for concluding that the UK government has nothing to offer, having already ceded control of Brexit negotiations to the EU and thus, any meaningful Brexit is not going to occur.

Artificial intelligence then is a very poor substitute for Brexit failure and even here Mrs May cannot easily offer unique government-supported opportunities for funding research and development nor can she use public sector procurement to facilitate innovation.  She can’t even protect the public sector from future Carillion fiascos. EU directives (laws) and gold-plating by her civil servants will interfere.

The transition proposals so far on offer from the EU (as explained here) are far worse than the alternative of remaining within the EEA through re-joining The European Free Trade Association (EFTA).   It is likely that the eventual transition deal (if it actually happens given  it is dependent upon Mrs May s accepting the EU’s outstanding Phase 1 conditions), will be even more onerous upon this country than already proposed.  The EU’s stance on transitional arrangements, manifested recently by the Annex to the Council Decision of 22nd May 2017 and published 29th January 2018, appears to be getting more uncompromising.  If accepted, Mrs May is likely to be forced into making further large payments into the EU’s budget, accepting continued freedom of movement of persons, taking on additional financial liabilities, remaining subject to the EU’s European Court of Justice (ECJ) and to the Common Fisheries Policy, transferring further responsibilities to the European Commission (typically defence and defence procurement, along with regulation of financial services), following the complete EU Acquis or body of existing and future law, and giving extra rights to EU citizens living here, etc..  Meanwhile, the UK will be prevented from negotiating free trade agreements around the world whilst being excluded from existing ones negotiated by the EU.

It was Mrs May’s decision to reject the EFTA/EEA option, even as a temporary measure. She first made this clear in her Lancaster House speech in January 2017.  The EFTA/EEA option allows for control of immigration through unilaterally invoking Article 112 (the Safeguard Measures) of the EEA Agreement.  The EFTA route to EEA membership gives members outside the EU a say in EU legislation affecting the EEA, is largely free (although ‘voluntarily’ Norway does contribute to regional development funds) and is outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The EEA Acquis or body of law is about a quarter of the total EU Acquis since it only relates to successful functioning of the EEA. In other words, the EEA component of the Acquis is only about trade and not political integration. Furthermore, EFTA members make their own trade agreements with other countries.  Membership of the EEA solves the problem of maintaining a soft border in Ireland between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.  The EFTA/EEA option was claimed to be the best choice for a Brexit economy in a recently leaked overly pessimistic draft government report EU Exit Analysis – Cross Whitehall Briefing.

Unfortunately it appears that both Mrs May and Mr Davis are well and truly out of their depth.  The Department for (not) Exiting the European Union also seem to be lacking in essential competence, and is in line to face the blame for failings in getting a successful Brexit. At best, everyone is following a political Brexit whilst ignoring practicalities.  At some stage the number of Conservative MPs who will realise that the dire situation this country is facing is of their own government’s making will reach a critical mass.  At this point, there will either be an almighty rumpus following which some quite senior heads are likely to roll or else if the government persists on its stubborn course, the electorate will punish the Conservative Party severely in the next General Election in 2022 for short-changing the British people over Brexit through their acquiescence in turning this country into a permanent EU Vassal State.

Mrs May’s trashing of the Successful Nobo Industry

Notified Bodies (Nobos), together with Designated Bodies (Debos) and Assessment Bodies (Asbos), are one of our country’s least known success stories. Yet they could easily largely disappear, together with thousands of well paid jobs and millions if not billions of pounds in export earnings, if Mrs May persists in her determination to take this country out of the Single Market and European Economic Area (EEA).

A wide range of products – from equipment used in explosive atmospheres to toys – are required by EU product law to undergo third party conformity assessment and/or testing by suitable independent accredited organisations (Nobos) in order to be placed on the market in the European Union (EU) and often by extension the EEA. This is to ensure that they meet EU legal requirements, which often includes compliance with specified requirements in European Standards (ENs).  This assessment, depending upon the relevant EU product legislation and ENs may require continuing surveillance (of manufacture) and testing of the product by the Nobo.  Certification can also be time limited as well, requiring reassessment after a number of years.  Over the years, the EU has increased the scope of its legislation, which may in part originate elsewhere in world bodies or agreements and it carries out periodic updates of existing product legislation.

In turn, the Nobos need to be resident in the EEA, Switzerland or Turkey, be accredited with relevant competence(s) and are listed on the EU’s NANDO database.  Each Member State also has an accreditation organisation which regularly checks the competence of Nobos to carry out assessment and testing work. The UK-based list of Nobos includes famous and respected names such as British Standards Institute (BSI), Lloyd’s Register, the National Physical Laboratory and The Vehicle Certification Agency. There are also many other less well known, smaller organisations in the private and public sectors.

Through mutual recognition, a product with a conformity certificate issued by an accredited Nobo in one Member State is accepted in all the others without further assessment or testing.  Sometimes, however, a product may undergo further assessment as part of an overall system, but this is not intended to repeat previous work.

Recently the European Commission has published guidance for manufacturers and Nobos for after 29th March 2019 Notice to stakeholders withdrawal of the United Kingdom and EU rules in the field of industrial products.  After this date Nobos registered in the United Kingdom (as a ‘third country’ outside the EU and EEA) will lose their EU Nobo status and be removed from the EU’s database.

A manufacturer (or supplier) of a product requiring third party conformity assessment after 29th March 2019 will have to use a Nobo based in the EEA, Switzerland or Turkey in order to place a new or modified product on the EU market.  When placing a new or modified product on the UK market, the manufacturer is likely to opt for an EEA- or Switzerland-based Nobo for all conformity assessment to prevent duplication of work and costs. After all, Mrs May intends that after Brexit (if it ever happens instead of EU Vassal State status) UK legislation (presumably including product legislation) will follow EU legislation.

UK-based former EU Nobos could then see much of their work disappear quickly, including any work related to putting products on the UK market.  The Annex to the EU’s Notice to stakeholders withdrawal of the United Kingdom and EU rules in the field of industrial products lists the EU product categories covered. This, however, may be just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ since, depending upon the EU product legislation, components making up a particular product may also need some form of independent conformity testing and inspection.  Manufacturers or suppliers may also like to use a ‘one stop shop’ approach developing a longer term relationship with one Nobo to cover a wide range of their independent conformity, testing and quality assessment requirements, not merely to comply with EU product legislation.

A further blow to UK based Nobos is that without the potentially larger market provided by the EU, some investment decisions, say for testing facilities, may not be justified or even feasible.  In the current climate of uncertainty, prudent UK-based Nobos could already start transferring work and jobs to other EEA members in order to retain existing EU based customers.  They may also consider working through an EU-based Nobo who will ‘rebadge’ their work and obviously charge for so doing. This would in turn undermine their unique selling proposition – competitiveness.

It is possible that this impending loss of EU accreditation by Nobos can be successfully resolved by the Department for (not) Exiting the European Union.  However, at the moment, this does not look promising given that some of the inaccurate and uncompromising statements in the EU’s Notice to stakeholders withdrawal of the United Kingdom and EU rules in the field of industrial products relating to Nobos may not be legal under EU law; Nobos are not solely within the EU.

Third party testing and certification appears to have a very promising future worldwide. It provides confidence that safety, environmental impact and energy consumption have been independently assessed.  It may be essential when assessing some of the products of the future, such as autonomous or driverless cars. Sadly the UK is potentially going to face a huge handicap if Nobos cannot viably operate here through political decisions of the government.

The potential loss of UK and EU markets for UK based Nobos would not arise if Mrs May had not made such a rash decision in ruling out any ongoing membership of the EEA after Brexit.  She could have decided instead after Brexit on 29th March 2019 to re-join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). This provides a breathing space. enabling us to remain in the EEA (whilst outside the EU) under different conditions which, for example, allow unilateral control of immigration (see Chapter 4, Schedule 112 The Safeguard Measures in the EEA Agreement).  Will she have the courage after 29th March 2019 to face people from these UK-based former EU-accredited Nobos who have worked hard over the years to build expertise, facilities, reputations and long-term relationships with customers and yet face unemployment, because of her premature rejection of a useful “holding position” without any consideration of an alternative?

Short changing the British people over Brexit

It is becoming an increasing concern that the British people are being short-changed over Brexit  – by Mrs May, the Department for (not) Exiting the European Union (EU), the government generally, and Parliament. The final Brexit settlement with the EU should correspond in large part to addressing the significant wishes, hopes and fears of the electorate as expressed in the Referendum vote. Are there important pieces of pieces of information which we not being told that we really should know?  What will be the political consequences if and when we find out the hard way that our leaders are misleading and cheating us?

The vote to leave the EU was a cry for a change of direction. In particular, it was an expression of the desire to leave the EU, which is evolving into a centralised homogeneous superstate. It was certainly not for “politics as usual”  – the status quo whereby an out of touch ruling establishment in Westminster and Brussels would continue to conceal the truth, using fear to manipulate people and doing what it wanted to whilst ignoring the wishes of the Electorate.  Ultimately, the Brexit vote was about ‘the sovereignty of the People’ and their right to governed by consent – in other words, government of the people, by the people, for the people.  Brexit, therefore, needs to be a complete change of political direction, not leaving us stuck in the political EU (aka Greater Germany) under a different name, all the time aided and abetted by a deceptive Westminster clique.

If we had voted to remain in the EU, whatever the reasoning of individual voters, we would have been forced to accept not only the current status quo but also of the EU’s direction of travel.   Remain voters were effectively putting their trust in the ruling establishment in both Westminster and Brussels. Any Brexit settlement outside remain voters’ ‘comfort zone’ of EU membership therefore needs to provide something like the same measure of reassurance and must address, wherever practicable, their real concerns.

Whilst it would appear the objectives of Leave and Remain voters are completely different, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they cannot, or should not, be reconciled in the resulting Brexit settlement.  To ignore the minority who voted Remain is tantamount to  a dictatorship of the majority and very un-British.  It is also quite likely that the economic fears of Remain voters are also shared to some extent by Leave voters, whilst many Remain voters share the Leave voters’ disillusionment with, and distrust of, the ruling élite and share their concerns about uncontrolled immigration and open borders. Political independence from the EU whilst maintaining close trading arrangements (such as through the Single Market) and co-operation should be achievable if Mrs May and Mr Davis understood how the EU thinks and works, following the example set by other prosperous European nations which are not in the EU.

The political establishment and main stream media are not presenting us with anything like the full picture on leaving the EU. In turn, the resulting distortion is creating misconceptions about what can and cannot be achieved.  Firstly, if we re-join EFTA (the European Free Trade Association) we can remain in the Single Market (more accurately the European Economic Area, EEA) under different, much more flexible or bespoke conditions including allowing us to control immigration (by unilaterally invoking Article 112, the Safeguard Measures) in the EEA Agreement and leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.  Secondly, the acquis (or body of law) of the EEA is about a quarter of the total EU acquis and is relevant to the facilitation of seamless trade, rather than the furtherance of a political project.  Thirdly, about 80% of the EEA acquis originates outside the EU, to facilitate more global trade, so we would (probably) need to comply with it anyway.  Fourthly, ‘all singing, all dancing’ Free Trade agreements (FTAs) take several years to negotiate and don’t provide seamless trade.  Fifthly, the EU is unlikely to agree to an advantageous FTA because it is not in the interests of their centralising control-freak political agenda. Sixthly, outside the EEA we will be a ‘third country’ subject to vastly increased difficulties while trading with the protectionist EU through tariffs and non-tariff barriers including regulation, approvals and surveillance.

Mrs May and Mr Davis’s Transitional Deal and overall handling of Brexit so far has the potential to lead to widespread dissatisfaction and disillusionment on both the Leave and Remain sides.  For the leaver, there is dissatisfaction that Brexit under the current plan will not be a clean break on 29th March 2019, but will begin a period of costly servitude to the EU, effectively a vassal state, which will last for at least 21 months and quite possibly even longer. In other words, it will be an indefinite Brexit in name only. For the concerned remainer who is not an ideological europhile but motivated primarily by worries over the economy, the limited duration of the proposed transitional period may result in either an unsatisfactory Free Trade agreement or else an extension of the transitional deal with the resulting uncertainty this would cause. Businesses share these concerns and at the moment have not been given any clear idea of the potential barriers to seamless trade with the EU that will occur whether or not there is an FTA.

Since the Referendum, the disillusionment with the ruling establishment has continued. It is not a problem peculiar to the UK or engendered by Brexit as there have been similar trends within the EU and in the United States.  Often decried as ‘populism’, it is a visible rejection of mainstream parties, the political status quo and its direction of travel. Our electoral system does not make it easy for new parties to make a breakthrough, but it cannot ultimately prevent radical change if dissatisfaction grows sufficiently. Given the trend amongst the ruling class to respond to their obvious unpopularity by becoming more insular and arrogant, we could see even greater political instability.

The Brexit dividend, which offered an opportunity for our country to reinvigorate freedom, enterprise, democracy and our world-leading traditional strengths for the benefit of all is being wasted. A period of unpredictability on the political front is looking increasingly likely given that it will not be long before the British people conclude en masse that the main problem, which is making their lives and those of their children potentially worse, is the ruling class.

Mrs May’s EU Vassal State

How much humiliation are Mrs May and Mr Davis prepared take at the hands of our European Union (EU) overlords? When will the pain they are going through reach such a level that they finally grasp the reality of the EU’s superior machinations?  It is now so obvious that the United Kingdom is to be made the latest example of what happens when the power of the EU’s rigid, self-interested bureaucratic and political machine is defied; it cannot be bargained with or changed – just obeyed.  And worse, Mrs May through her mistakes and Mr Davis through his slothful ignorance, has not just allowed it to happen, but made the EU’s worst excesses unavoidable. The first (So-called transitional) phase of  Mrs May’s ‘deep and special relationship with our EU partners’ after 29th March 2019 amounts to being a vassal state to the EU Empire just as around 2000 years ago Judea under King Herod the Great was a vassal of the Roman Empire. They eventually took over completely. The EU is threatening to do the same. What has gone so disastrously wrong?

In January this year Mrs May in her Lancaster House speech ruled out continuing membership of the Single Market (and European Economic Area, EEA aka Internal Market). Continuing membership is possible through membership of EFTA (The European Free Trade Association).  All the UK has to do is join – or rather re-join – assuming the existing EFTA members would have us back, which seems far from improbable. This route offers the ability to limit immigration from the day we leave by unilaterally invoking Article 112 (the Safeguard Measures) of the EEA Agreement.  The EFTA route to EEA membership does give members outside the EU a say in EU legislation affecting the EEA, is largely free (although ‘voluntarily’ Norway does contribute to regional development funds) and is outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The EEA Acquis or body of law is about a quarter of the total EU Acquis since it only relates to successful functioning of the EEA. And EFTA members make their own trade agreements with other countries.  Membership of the EEA solves the problem of maintaining a soft border in Ireland between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.  It is EEA membership that allows seamless trade since regulatory measures are the same for each side, whereas being a ‘third country’ outside the EEA brings a hard (often protectionist) border with the EU of controls, tariffs, inspections etc.

Mrs May rejected even temporary EFTA/EEA membership (for reasons that have never been stated) and now, in order to get a transitional agreement (to buy time to negotiate a free trade agreement), she is being faced with having to agree a far worse arrangement with the EU (see European Council (Art. 50) meeting (15th December 2017) – Guidelines). For two or more years (subject to EU agreement) we will continue to be subject to the full EU acquis, pay into the EU budget, accept freedom of movement, be unable to make our own trade agreements with other countries,and accept the overall jurisdiction of the ECJ. It gets worse. During this transitional time (after 29th March 2019) the UK would have to accept unconditionally any new additional or amended laws and costs the EU wants to impose. All whilst actually being excluded from any decision making – all pay with no say.

Even an agreement from the EU to this transitional agreement is not a foregone conclusion, in spite of Mrs May being forced to fall into line just to get this far.  She has had to agree to the EU’s methodology for working out outstanding financial liabilities, She has had to accept the ECJ creating a different (potentially privileged) legal status for EU citizens here and the Irish border being effectively an internal EEA border; (though she may not yet realise that is the only workable solution for a soft border). We would be stuck with the Common Fisheries Policy and there is nothing to stop the EU imposing further demands for accepting a transitional agreement or during implementation whilst we remain a vassal state, for example, participation in the emerging EU Army and its common procurement (concealed under the initials PESCO), implementing centrally imposed migrant quotas and paying EU imposed fines.

Mrs May’s recent Brussels ‘triumph’ is more likely a poisoned chalice where there is little incentive for the EU to be accommodating or to hurry up with a free trade agreement.  Such discussions are very much on the EU back burner until after we become a vassal state (aka “leave the EU in name only” on 29th March 2019). Mr Davis talks about having a FTA agreed before we leave the EU and Mrs May talks about its implementation period, but this isn’t going to happen, as explained above. Indeed, it was spelt out by the EU’s Trade Commissioner back in 2016.  Even if they believe what they are saying, these are no more than wishful thinking and no matter how often they repeat them, it won’t make their hopes come true.

Looking at the bigger picture, progress so far by Mrs May, our EU negotiators and the Department for (Not) Exiting the European Union in managing Brexit has been lamentable and cavalier towards managing risk. The recent Joint (progress) Report, (and EU Commission Communication), containing contradictions, fudge and weasel words to appease all interested parties, amounts to 15 pages. Although not legally binding, it is likely to become politically binding upon Mrs May, contradictions and all.  Then there are the 58 non-existent sector-by-sector impact assessments which Mr Davis once claimed existed, but has since denied. How can the best route out of the EU be chosen when those doing the choosing haven’t a clue what could go wrong or even how anything works?  By contrast, here are impressively informative sector-by-sector assessments by Eureferendum.com.

Predicting the future is fraught with imponderables and the potential exists for unforeseen events completely to change outcomes.  So in the end, it is possible that things could be fine. However, judging by experience to date, this looks increasingly unlikely. We can but hope that Mrs May will abandon her single-minded rejection of the EEA/EFTA option, as the options she seems to be pursuing contain impossible contradictions. Perhaps she doesn’t know enough yet to understand all the practicalities. Meanwhile, how long can Mr Davis will keep on talking up imaginary progress towards a free trade agreement whilst getting nowhere and at the same time, making regular, very public gaffes that undermine the credibility of Brexit negotiations?

Another question remains unanswered, perhaps because nobody has asked it yet:– why put all your efforts, concessions and kowtowing into negotiating a complex transitional agreement, which could end up lasting a long time, when a far better (or less damaging) simple solution exists (of EFTA/EEA membership) at least for a transitional arrangement?  You rejected it once, now you are leading us into a worse mess all round until who knows when, why?