Stupidity or sabotage part 2

Following last week’s debate on the Customs Union in the House of Lords, Thursday saw the Commons stage a debate, entitled “Customs and Borders”. Dr Richard North followed it and the title of his blog post, “a showpiece of ignorance”  is enough in and of itself to make the point that the level of understanding about the nature of a customs union in the lower chamber is, with a few exceptions, as  appallingly low among MPs as among their Lordships. Dr North described the contribution of Yvette Cooper  and others as “an exercise in futility.” If we have needed any further evidence since the referendum of why we ought to leave the EU, it is our MPs’ total cluelessness of the true nature of the beast.

He also suggest a reason why some MPs are clinging on to the fantasy that staying in the customs union would enable us to enjoy seamless trade with the EU. It only needs a plane trip to the Turkish/Bulgarian border crossing at Kapikule to watch Turkey’s version of “Operation Stack” to expose the fallacy of their argument, so why cling to their illusions?

The most likely answer is that the remoaners have realised that their dream of a second referendum is a non-starter. There is no groundswell among the public to go through all that again. Desperate to stop us leaving the EU, their only hope is via Parliament.

Can they succeed? Unlikely but one must never underestimate the malice of convinced remoaners. They could easily be thwarted, however, if the bulk of MPs realised that a customs union (i) is not joined at the hip to the single market, (ii) would not solve the Irish border problem and (iii) would not lead to seamless trade with the rest of the EU. We can be thankful that the penny has dropped with a few MPs bu they need to show a bit more evangelistic zeal among their colleagues.

Mrs May’s flimsy free trade agreement with the EU

If and when Mrs May, Mr Davis and the Department for (not) Exiting the European Union eventually  finalise a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the European Union (EU), it could potentially render the UK somewhat powerless against EU hegemony.  It will most certainly not be “taking back control” in any meaningful sense of the term, instead it will give the EU carte blanche to ‘turn the screws’ on the UK any time it wishes.  This potentially painful situation arises as a consequence of how the Single Market, the EU and our own Government, including the Civil Service, functions.

As first stated in her Lancaster House speech 17th January 2017, Mrs May recklessly decided to leave the Single Market (and the wider European Economic Area, EEA) when the UK notionally leaves the EU on 29th March 2019. As a result, under current plans, we will become either a temporary or permanent Vassal State of the EU. In place of membership of the Single Market, she is proposing an ambitious Free Trade Agreement (FTA) which, she hopes, will offer a continuation of existing stable ‘frictionless’ trade with other Member States of the EU and avoid trade ‘falling off a cliff’.  In the real world, trade deals with the EU are usually complex and slow to negotiate, taking several years. However, Mrs May and Mr Davis still believe it can be negotiated and finalised in a matter of months. At first, they hoped to have everything signed, sealed and delivered before next March when we leave the EU. Now they are aiming for 31st December 2020, 21 months later, following what the EU calls the “transition period” although misleadingly referred to by Mrs May et al the ‘Implementation Period’.

By any standards, the negotiating timescale for the FTA is very short and likely to be further shortened due to delays in fully agreeing the necessary terms within the Withdrawal Agreement for the Transition Period. Given Mrs May’s desperation for a deal, the ticking clock is a recipe for concessions being made on the UK side. Unless closely monitored and exposed, the many mistakes and concessions she is likely to make may well only show up later when both parties start implementing the complex and wide-ranging FTA.  Shortcuts and inadequate assessment of the details and their consequential implications are likely to be the order of the day.

The British negotiating side is further hampered through a general lack of motivation and expertise in intra-governmental negotiations in Government, Parliament and the Civil Service.  After kowtowing to the EU and its executive (the European Commission) for 43 years, our government has lost much of the acumen necessary to govern a sovereign country competently and responsibly. In any case the responsibility (‘competence’) for negotiating FTAs rests with the EU.

Once competence built up over many years is outsourced to the EU, it is rapidly lost and extremely difficult to reacquire in a short period.   The Civil Service, reduced to little more than a rubber-stamping organisation for EU directives could prefer to remain under EU leadership as it makes for a quieter decision-free and responsibility-free life.  This would explain their willingness to acquiesce to EU demands.  This seems to be the case with defence and defence procurement where the plan appears to be for increasingly close integration with the EU.

The EU negotiators, on top of their subjects, are running rings around our negotiators, who are repeatedly caving in to their demands and agenda. The EU’s negotiators are demonstrating a level of competence that is far superior to that of Mrs May, Mr Davis and Department for (not) Leaving the European Union.  Their dedicated website and Notice to Stakeholders (under Brexit preparedness) are not replicated on this side of the Channel.  A major consequence has been that the EU has effectively been in the lead all the time, dictating the terms for the negotiations and setting demands far outside what they are reasonably entitled to. For example, Article 50 negotiations were originally intended to cover financial arrangements for a Member State leaving the EU, nothing more.  Now, however, the EU wants to control UK fishing during the Transition Period through a continuation of the Common Fisheries Policy and still to manage our fishing afterwards – at least, what little is left of it – by treating it as a common resource.  The EU’s position is becoming more uncompromising slipping in further demands outside those strictly necessary for trade.

Another major weakness on the UK’s side is a lack of understanding of how the EU and the Single Market (or wider EEA) function.  The aspirations of ‘frictionless’ trade through an FTA and a soft border on the island of Ireland cannot be achieved by anything so far suggested by the UK side, as the EU has repeatedly pointed out.  Leaving the Single Market (or wider EEA) on 31st December 2020 (when the Transition Period is meant to end)  makes the UK into a ‘third’ country, nominally outside EU control, and subject to the same treatment as any other ‘third’ country trading with the Single Market (or wider EEA).  It is membership of the Single Market AND NOT THE CUSTOMS UNION which delivers customs cooperation between Member States across a range of products and frictionless internal trade.

The EU’s approach to most products within the Single Market is outlined in principle in COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE COUNCIL AND THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT Enhancing the Implementation of the New Approach Directives and in more detail in the EU’s Guide to the implementation of directives based on the New Approach and the Global Approach and encapsulated in EU law in REGULATION (EC) No 765/2008 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 9th July 2008 setting out the requirements for accreditation and market surveillance relating to the marketing of products and repealing Regulation (EEC) No 339/93.

The EU’s guide, in describing the processes involved and their overall approach, also provides an indication of where future problems could occur and how out of touch with reality Mrs May and Mr Davis are.  At any time the EU can legally ‘turn the screws’ on us when it comes to trade.  Mutual Recognition of Standards or an FTA will not make much – if any – difference, simply because the EU’s negotiators will make sure they don’t.  They don’t have much alternative since to cave-in to UK demands would go against their direction of travel which was determined many years ago. Such a cave-in would set a precedent that could be exploited by other ‘third’ countries.

There is no guarantee that we will get to a Free Trade Agreement. The Transition Deal and Withdrawal Agreement are still far from finalised and, as the EU have stated many times, ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’.  However sacrificing UK fishing, defence and agreeing to continue to adopt existing and future EU laws et al in the hope of one day achieving a free trade utopia is delusional and incompetent.  Hopefully reality will dawn – in particular, the horrific electoral consequences for the Conservative Party of such an abject surrender – in time to change tack. It is not too late for Mrs May to cut off negotiations and pursue a faster, safer and simpler approach to leaving the EU – for example EFTA/EEA explained in some detail in Brexit Reset.  Is it too much to hope that our latter-day Chamberlain may net metamorphose into a Churchill or the second Iron Lady which we so desperately need? “No! No! No!” is the only language which the EU understands. They need to hear it loud and clear from Mrs May or she will soon be hearing it from disgruntled voters.

A rare piece of honesty – but bad news

When you are running a very long term campaign, it is surprising where the breaks come from, no more so than this written question from Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland.

Mr Alistair Carmichael: [135549] To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on what date the 1964 London Fisheries convention will cease to apply to the UK; and from that date all EU fishing vessels will be excluded from the UK’s 6 to 12 nautical miles zone.
George Eustice (Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food): The 1964 London Fisheries Convention will cease to apply to the UK on 2 July 2019. During the implementation period, current access arrangements will continue, including access to the 6 to 12 nautical miles zone where permitted under current EU rules. After 2020, we will decide who can access our waters and on what terms. Any decisions about giving access to vessels from the EU, and other coastal states, to our waters will then be a matter for negotiation.

To give George Eustice his due, it was an honest answer although not what our fishing industry wants ot hear. There is, however, more to his answer than appears at first sight.

The UK Government gave two years notice at the beginning of July 2017 to leave the London 1964 Fisheries Convention (which gave certain EU Member States the rights to fish in our 6 to 12 nautical mile zone).

At that period of time, only 3 months into the two years period from invoking Article 50, the government thought that this slight overlap did not matter as we would be coming out of the EU, including the CFP, taking full control of the nation’s marine resource on 30 March 2019.

Because the Government, through wasting so much time, has ended up having to go cap in hand to the EU Commission for extra time, at the first demand from the EU, they surrendered their trump card – fishing. The date of so called exit is now 1st. January 2021

It is not just fishing. For 21 months, unless the government changes course, much of the running of the UK will be handed to the EU. The importance of Mr Carmichael’s question is that the answer clearly shows that the decision to surrender rests entirely with the UK Government, not with the electorate nor the opposition, nor even the EU.

The only other country to leave the EU (then EEC). has been Greenland. I remember it well. While we cannot draw too many parallels, it was noticeable then that Greenland’s negotiators took a bashing from their Brussels counterparts, but they knew their ground, stood firm, told the EEC to get their vessels out of Greenland waters and ended up with an excellent trade deal. What a contrast from our team! What an  unbelievable mess they have made. Greenland understood what control of their fishing waters meant and how important it was. Here in the UK, “control” will essential mean “EU control” as our spineless team of ministers allows Brussels to make all the running.

The Customs Union – stupidity or sabotage?

Regular readers of this blog will know without a shadow of doubt that there is nothing to be gained by remaining in the EU’s Customs Union. Well, dear readers, you can pat yourselves on the back for you are clearly much wiser than 348 members of the Upper Chamber of our Parliament.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, speaking in the debate preceding the vote, said “I do not recall at the time of the referendum any debate about a customs union.” He was perfectly correct in saying this. Staying in the customs union is such a daft idea that no one felt the need to bring the subject up.  As Dr Richard North points out,  “A customs union does not in any way eliminate a border, as we see with the borders between Turkey and EU Member States.” it is therefore no help in solving the Irish border question. 

He also makes the point that, as usual, the Press are all over the place in their reporting of yesterday’s vote. It was not a “big defeat” for the government as the amendment supported by 348 peers only forced “the government to explain what it has done to pursue remaining in a customs union”. In other words, suppose that some degree of light finally dawned and the government realised that there was no point in remaining in a customs union, all this “big defeat” would require them to do would be to say to their Lordships “not much”. Hardly the sabotaging of Brexit which the headlines seem to suggest.

For people looking for a way to keep the flow of trade moving in the immediate post-Brexit period, both across the Irish border and through the Channel Tunnel, it makes for more sense to visit the invisible border between Sweden and Norway rather than Turkey’s version of “Operation Stack” at Kapikule on its border with EU member state Bulgaria. Norway is not in the customs union; Turkey is.  Need one say any more?

The Government should finally lay to rest all this nonsense about a customs union. It should also abandon the current plans for a transitional deal. Further evidence of its inadequacies emerged yesterday  when Cecilia Malmström, the EU’s trade commissioner, said that the UK would no longer be part of trade agreements negotiated by the EU with third countries  once we leave. Re-joining EFTA  as an interim arrangement would not only solve the Irish border issue but would address the issue of our trade with countries like South Korea and Mexico as EFTA has negotiated free trade agreements with virtually all the countries with which the EU has FTAs.

It remains a mystery to many observers why this sensible option isn’t being pursued. For all its well-known faults as a long-term relationship, as a stopgap arrangement it is far better than the arrangement currently being discussed with the EU. Adopting it would put to bed a number of issues which should have been dealt with well before now and thus enable the Brexit debate to move on after being stuck in the same groove for far too long

 

 

Brexit Reset – New pamphlet available for downloading

Our latest pamphlet, BREXIT RESET has been sent to  all MPs. We are also sending BREXIT RESET to the Lords and members of the devolved assemblies.

The pamphlet calls on the government to abandon the “vassal state”  transitional arrangement proposed by the EU and suggests an available, working   alternative which would save our fishing industry and leave behind three quarters of EU laws on March 29th 2019 – including those on defence and the European Arrest Warrant. It leaves the way open for the government to carry out its full programme when its negotiations are complete. The BREXIT RESET scheme can be legally terminated by simply giving a year’s notice. Please urge Ministers, MPs and peers to to look at it. Many of them are sorely in need of guidance as they seek to obey the mandate of the UK electorate.

The booklet is being accompanied by this letter from our Chairman (See also below).

 

TIME FOR A BREXIT “RESET”?

 

Dear MP

 

The constitutional authority A.V. Dicey wrote that supreme political power rested with the electorate and supreme legal power with Parliament.  Parliament has already voted to implement the people’s express wish to leave the EU and has the onerous task of giving it legal effect. Over a year has elapsed since the government notified the EU of the UK’s intention to leave. The period of Article 50 notice will expire on 29th March 2019, when the existing EU treaties will cease to apply.

The government recognised the need for an extra period of negotiation to achieve a mutually satisfactory new trading relationship. The EU’s proposed agreement for this is so adverse that it has fairly been assessed as making the UK into a “vassal state”.  There is just time for other existing European structures to be used which can offer adequate assurance to the EU for its requirements and interests while permitting a largely unimpeded continued flow of trade. At the same time, the Brexit Reset proposals remove the roughly three quarters of EU legislation which enforces the EU political project which the UK can leave behind on Brexit Day 29th March 2019.

The procedure in the current EU (Withdrawal) Bill of transferring EU legislation to the UK statute book would be gravely and permanently disastrous to our fishing fleet. The proposals in Brexit Reset overcome these problems with the added bonus of a vastly more environmentally friendly fisheries system. The Brexit Reset proposals also remove EU law during the transition on matters which are not market-related and end the drift towards EU integration and control of defence policy which has quietly taken place in the last eighteen months. Clearly, our armed forces must be capable of independent action as well as operating in concert with allies.

This booklet is a distillation of inputs and research by people and groups of all parties and none. We hope you find it helpful in the heavy and urgent task of implementing the people’s decision to best effect.

Yours sincerely

 

Edward Spalton

Chairman

You can download a pdf of the booklet here.

 

A deep and special fantasy world

Following the return of MPs to Parliament after the Easter Recess, their responses to recent Brexit developments will be closely watched. The lack of anger from Tory MPs thus far has been disappointing. The surrender on fishing in the draft transitional agreement has greatly upset the fishing community. It poses the question as to whether it would be right to sacrifice one of our historic industries even if we did end up with an all-singing, all-dancing deal at the end of 21 months. To destroy our fishing industry for a pure illusion is even worse, but this is what our government seems to be doing.

The “deep and special” relationship between the EU and the UK exists only in the minds of a few UK politicians; it is certainly not how the EU views its future links with a departing member state whose decision to leave the bloc was one of the biggest body blows it has ever faced.

Last week, David Davis announced plans to send “hundreds” of civil servants to Brussels to work on the deal. Within days, a senior EU source announced that this wasn’t going to happen. “There will be no negotiation strands, no ‘hundreds’ of British negotiators,” said an un-named diplomat.  “Trade negotiations will not start properly until after 29 March 2019. Before that we must get the fundamentals right,” the source said.

One important, unresolved issue is the status of Gibraltar, with Michel Barnier indicating that Spain will enjoy strong support from the other EU member states. Spain’s demands include the joint control of Gibraltar’s airport, cross-border cooperation on smuggling and ending what it sees as a tax haven with far lower corporation rates.

Yesterday’s Parliamentary written questions laid bare the depths of unreality which still pervade our government. Steve Baker, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, was anything but clear when questioned by the Labour MP Paul Blomfield. When discussing the transitional priod, he said “The agreement will be underpinned by a duty of good faith and governed by a Joint Committee to ensure it is faithfully and fully implemented by both sides.” As John Ashworth of Fishing for Leave asked, “Since when have the EU run on good faith?” Mr Baker also went on to say, “As we move towards our future partnership with the EU, we will need to discuss how we manage the relationship once we are two separate legal systems.” The legal divergence begins on 29th March 2019, when “the  treaties will cease to apply” to the UK.  There still seems very little idea, from the UK point of view,  how the UK will relate to the EU in the transitional period from a legal point of view. We may keep our laws in step with Brussels but they will have a different legal basis.

Discussions on Brexit in the House of Lords revealed the same sense of muddle. Questioned by Lord Taylor of Warwick, Lord Callinan said, “During the implementation period the UK will be in a continued close association with the EU Customs Union. This will ensure a smooth exit and minimise disruption for businesses. HMRC are confident that they are on track to deliver the functioning customs, VAT and excise regimes the UK will need once it leaves the EU.” It is hard to share HMRC’s confidence, especially as far as the Irish Border issue is concerned.

It is becoming apparent to anyone following these negotiations that the performance of Mrs May and David Davis has been completely pathetic. The EU has walked all over them.  We can but hope that opposition from Brexit-supporting MPs within their party is merely dormant and that they will make it loud and clear that they will not support the proposed arrangements, including the terms for a transitional deal, nor the surrender on fishing nor, indeed, the proposed close military cooperation.  Sooner or later, it will dawn on them that their party will pay heavily for a botched Brexit. it is in everyone’s interest for that moment to arrive as quickly as possible so that there is time to change tack.

 

Photo by Internet Archive Book Images