Brexit’s ‘Operation Dynamo’ via the EFTA/EEA Escape Route

Fast action is urgently needed to save Brexit

An improvised emergency operation is needed to extract our country from the European Union (EU) just as in the early summer of 1940 the original Operation Dynamo was required to rescue the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from occupied Europe.  And, as with the original, it will include a motley collection of ordinary people helping out under professional direction, since Mrs May’s government cannot do it alone.  As the days pass, the urgency becomes greater and our plight more desperate. There is no tangible Brexit progress under Mrs May’s leadership and with the rule-bound control-freak EU, ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’. The two options seem to be to accept the EU’s terms or let highly integrated trade with the Single Market (and wider European Economic Area, EEA) face huge disruption after we leave.

Mrs May has boxed us into an ever smaller dead end

Mrs May has seemingly left herself with no options apart from accepting the EU’s increasingly demanding terms in order to deliver frictionless trade with the Single Market and wider EEA, along with a soft border in Ireland. All imaginary technical solutions and customs partnerships or unions have already been rejected by the EU. In any case the government doesn’t have a stellar record of delivering complex IT projects to specification, on time and within budget. Further, it is membership of the Single Market (or EEA) that delivers near frictionless trade, between members not participation in a customs union.

Brexit in Name Only is coming

Brexit in name only with the UK firstly a temporary and then a permanent EU vassal state can be the only outcome unless Mrs May changes direction. This is the case whether or not she caves in to the EU’s demands. Even if she got her flimsy free trade agreement (FTA) and whimsical mutual recognition of standards, the concessions required from her by Brussels would still mean that we are a vassal state in everything but name, with the EU able to ‘turn the screws’ at any time. And frictionless trade with an FTA is a fantasy.

The EFTA/EEA Escape Route from EU Occupied Europe

Rather than being trapped under EU hegemony, which is what Mrs May is leading us towards, we could remain in the Single Market under different, much more flexible conditions by re-joining the free nations of Europe in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).  The EFTA/EEA route is a far better way of enabling us on 29th March 2019 to leave the political EU and its alien, autocratic straightjacket whilst still trading, as now, with the Single Market. As a temporary measure. it could buy time for FTA negotiations. (see also here, Brexit Reset, Eureferendum.com)

The EEA Agreement is the key to EFTA/EEA participation

The EEA Agreement, with its Annexes and Protocols, determines how the EFTA countries participate in the EEA. This agreement is regularly amended to suit the interests of the participating EFTA countries – each country has its own variation.  Hence by taking the existing off-the-shelf versions we could adapt them to produce our own bespoke version to suit our needs and then at a later date, revise it as many times as we so desire to correct errors and customise it further to suit our needs and as conditions change.

The Free Nations of EFTA are Our Brexit Rescue Partners

Any EFTA/EEA negotiation, unlike the EU Article 50 negotiations, would be a collaboration not an adversarial confrontation, and would be conducted within a different environment.  Such a negotiation  would involve amending the EEA Agreement to improve it, in both our and our EFTA partners’ interests.  And their expertise built up over many years would be invaluable.  This would also go some way to making amends for Mrs May’s betrayal of EFTA by deciding to leave the Single Market (and wider EEA), and leaving them out of any negotiations.

Key Items for the UK EFTA/EEA Agreement

We need our version of the EEA Agreement positively to address our major national interests, in particular, near frictionless trade and control of immigration. Frictionless trade is mainly about dealing with technical issues so that existing arrangements can be retained without introducing new barriers.  Control of immigration concerns strengthening existing arrangements in the EEA Agreement (Article 112, the Safeguard Measures). These would already allow us unilaterally to manage immigration.  However, in the UK there are permanent economic, infrastructural and societal factors which would justify introducing specific clauses to strengthen the right to retain permanent control of migration.

Stakeholder Working Groups for frictionless Trade

Delivering near frictionless trade is where the bulk of the work in amending the EEA Agreement would be needed, as it must cover a wide range of economic activities from aeronautics to zoology.  This is obviously beyond the competence of Mrs May, Mr Davis or the Department for (not) Exiting the European Union. Yet untapped real expertise exists amongst the various (industry) stakeholders who are already familiar with relevant EU/EEA legislation and working practices.  These people would be highly motivated to solve any issues, once they recognise the government’s limitations, since their livelihoods often, in part at least, depend on frictionless trade.  Multiple working groups from industry can function concurrently, whilst learning from each other and ‘comparing notes’ to speed up their ‘learning curves’.  The inclusion of public consultations and publication of drafts could add considerable transparency to their activities, whilst moving the process away from destructive political in-fighting.

Preventing Abuse of the EEA Agreement

The EU doesn’t want us back as a troublesome full member state. As an EU vassal state, they can get everything they want from us.  However, it would be prudent to send a strong message to EU ‘fifth columnists’ that the EFTA/EEA agreement cannot be subverted – that it must always be used for its original purpose to provide access to the Single Market for free European nations (i.e., those outside the EU).

Brexit’s Operation Dynamo can be made to work

It is all straightforward project management, not rocket science, and much less risky than Mrs May’s fraught and furtive Article 50 negotiations. For starters, it need to:  address resourcing requirements; build competences; set objectives, priorities and timetables; manage risks and co-ordinate efforts. This is merely following a systematic document preparation process, which can be adapted to build in various procedures, checks, controls and risk mitigation measures. Many industry specialists do this sort of thing all the time, for example, under the aegis of the British Standards Institution. There may also need to be continuity planning to keep trade moving under existing arrangements until the EFTA/EEA bespoke UK EEA Agreement can be fully adopted. This would not be difficult since we would be staying in the EEA anyway.  Work carried out now and resources developed could also be useful in the years to come in developing international trade and reforming the Single Market.

Other Lessons from the Original Operation Dynamo

The original Operation Dynamo was a collective effort of improvisation in a short time – it worked better than expected in a national crisis. It provided a hard lesson about the pitfalls of insular complacency and laid foundations for a future national cooperative effort.  A new crisis is coming as a consequence of Mrs May’s shambolic negotiations and recklessness in deciding to leave the Single Market without a plan for frictionless trade.  Just as in 1940, we need a committed, courageous and practical prime minister. Is Mrs May the person? I’ll let you decide!

The origins of the EU – a new booklet by our Chairman

Because of my work, it was the European Common Agricultural Policy which puzzled me from 1972 onwards. The whole thing was so utterly strange in comparison to the common sense system we had before. It was not until 2002 when I received a copy of “European Economic Community”, published in Berlin in 1942, that I really grasped the ideological framework behind it. I translated the introduction and lead papers which form part of this pamphlet.

In 2017 I recorded an interview with Lord Walsingham, who was a Third Secretary in the Foreign Office of 1950 when Britain stayed out of the European project. He revealed that British Intelligence then knew of the hostile intent towards Britain of former fascists and Nazis in the post war French & German governments – their plan of subsidising each other’s heavy industries when in competition with Britain, to weaken our defence capability and assure their eventual ascendancy over the continent of Europe.

Like Lord Walsingham, the perspective of years leads me to the view that today’s EU is not “all a Nazi plot” but that it was heavily influenced from its beginnings  by such authoritarian ideas and that has contributed to  the alien ethos with which British people have never really been at home.

On a recent visit to Greece, I found that all sorts of people blamed Berlin rather than Brussels for the terrible austerity which EU policy has forced upon them. Back home, I wrote about  this to a Greek colleague, a business executive, pointing out the ideas of the German government of 1942 about management of European currencies in the post war era. The exchange rate of the euro gives Germany the export advantage of a currency of relatively low value, compared with  Germany’s highly capitalised, productive economy. For Greece and other “Club Med” countries with smaller, less developed resources, the euro exchange rate is far too high for them to be able to export their way out of their predicament.

My Greek friend replied “It is clear now to many Greeks and Europeans that Germany is responsible for the economic plunder of Greece. What happened to Greece was not an accident but a carefully made plan on the part of the always patient, ruthless and very scholastic Germans. It seems that they learned well their lessons from the two previous World Wars. This time Germany managed to conquer Europe without firing a single shot. Unfortunately Greece now (as it was then too) is suffering more casualties than any other European country….”

That is how things are seen in Greece today.

Ireland may lose badly by obstructive behaviour over the border

This piece, by Ray Bassett, was forwarded to us by the veteran Irish Eurosceptic Anthony Coughlan

Playing the EU’s Game on the Border Will Damage Ireland’s Interests, says former Irish diplomat in Politeia’s new analysis.

Dublin should accept UK border plan and work with Britain to make Brexit a success for both islands

The Irish border has become an obstacle to the Brexit negotiations. All sides want to keep the border ‘soft’ and friction free and preserve the gains of the Good Friday Agreement. But the EU and Dublin have rejected Britain’s proposals.

In Politeia’s next publication, Brexit and the Border: where Ireland’s True Interests Lie, Ray Bassett considers the border against the background and reality of Ireland’s economic and political interests, and the options for the UK government. A former diplomat, who served as Ireland’s Ambassador to Canada and was also a Good Friday Agreement negotiator, Dr Bassett explains that the Irish Government’s present policy is not in the country’s best interests. It leaves Ireland dangerously exposed if the border problem scuppers an overall EU/UK deal.

The author analyses the different options floated to ‘solve’ the border question. Politically the only possible solution is one based on technology along the lines proposed by the UK. This would be based on a trusted trader programme. Proven models, such as that in Australia, already exist from which some useful features might be adopted.

By contrast the EU’s proposals would endanger the stability of the island. Brussels should abandon its red line that anything on the island of Ireland must “maintain the integrity of the Union’s (i.e. the EU’s) Legal Order”. Bassett questions the wisdom of the Irish Government in aligning itself with Brussels at a time when the EU itself is undergoing changes, none of which are in Ireland’s interests. Moreover, a number of national elections across the EU have made clear a rising alienation of voters from the centralising policies of the present EU.

Irish leaders should change course and work to resolve the border dispute rapidly and towards a comprehensive free trade agreement between the UK and the EU. Given the historic, ethnic, cultural and economic links between Ireland and Britain, it is strongly in their country’s interests to do so. Ireland needs a successful Brexit.

The author concludes by proposing the Irish government should:

 *   Make clear both to London and Brussels that the Border must not be used as a weapon to thwart Brexit.
 *   Enter into immediate and practical bilateral discussions with London to resolve the border question.
 *   Work with the British government and the political parties in Northern Ireland to avoid any undue hardening of cross-border arrangements on the island of Ireland.
 *   Work with the British government to avoid any new barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
 *   Seek to join EFTA and leave the EU. EFTA membership would facilitate continued trade with the EU and allow a free trade with the from outside the Customs Union

Commenting on the legal framework, Professor David Collins explains that legally Bassett’s proposals would work well to Ireland’s interests. Liam Halligan explains why economically, Ireland cannot afford to play the EU’s game over the border, but should accept that Ireland’s economic interests demand that it should work with Britain to develop and put into effect the technological solution.

The paper was launched at a special meeting in House of Commons Committee on Thursday 17th May, with the speakers including the author, Ray Bassett, David Collins, Professor of International Economic Law, City University, and Liam Halligan, co-author of Clean Brexit with Gerard Lyons and Economics Columnist at The Sunday Telegraph.

THE  AUTHOR


Dr Ray Bassett has been a senior diplomat at Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin and has served as the country’s Ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas 2010-2016. Other diplomatic postings include Copenhagen, Canberra, Belfast (twice), London and Ottawa. He was involved in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations as part of the Irish Government Talks Team and participated throughout the discussions, including the final session at Castle Buildings in Stormont.


Is the Customs Union (or Partnership) option about to be shunted into the siding?

The government has been going round in circles with its Brexit proposals and getting nowhere. We have been saying so on this website for well over a year, but a growing chorus of voices is saying the same thing. Lord Kerslake, the former head of the Civil Service, has called the Government’s plans “undeliverable” while Michel Barnier has poured scorn on Mrs May’s hopes of breaking the Deadlock in her cabinet, which has been divided into two in order to consider two equally unworkable options – the  customs partnership or the alternative “maximum facilitation” model, which relies on as yet untried computer technology. He pointed out that neither would be acceptable to Brussels.

Is it too much to hope that the idea of a customs union or customs partnership is slowly being abandoned? In this article for Cap X,  William Davison could not be clearer:- “A new customs union will not resolve the Irish border issue.” He quotes Richard North, who has provided ample evidence ot show that it does not create frictionless trade. The customs union, he correctly states, is a key building block of European integration. There really is no point in pursuing any sort of customs union or partnership if we want to leave the EU. A recent ICM poll, discussed in the Guardian, shows that the general public is more on the ball than Mrs May’s government. Leaving the customs union is the most popular Brexit option. It is encouraging that, in the current climate where most people are utterly fed up with Brexit, that there remains at least some appreciation of what Brexit must mean among the general public.

So this leaves us with two options – leaving with no deal or the EEA/EFTA route. The Davison article mentioned above does say that the Single Market is also a “building block of European Integration”, but this doesn’t mean that re-joining EFTA would be a covert back door returning us into the EU.  It is a shame that the Davison article, after debunking the Customs Union option so thoroughly, fails to to justice to the freedom which we would enjoy as an EFTA member – accessing the single market but free from the EU’s programme of ever-closer union. Dr Richard North explains very clearly in this piece that accessing the single market via the EEA Agreement is a much better option than is widely believed. He debunks an article in Brexit Central by Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson which claims that “this arrangement was originally designed by Brussels to prepare countries for becoming part of the EU”.

Not so, says Dr North. “What became the EEA originated from an initiative taken by the EFTA member states.” He then gives the reader a thorough history lesson, which is well worth reading through, as is his previous post on “EEA Myths”, where he explains that if we used the EFTA route, we wold not end up replicating Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein but would use the flexibility within the EEA agreement to carve out our own relationship with the EU.

Whether or not this sounds appealing, few could disagree that it is vastly better than the current transitional arrangements. What is more, it looks like being the only Brexit solution which will be acceptable to Parliament. On the one side, the Lords continue to behave mischievously while on the other, a number of MPs including cabinet colleagues have lined up against any sort of customs partnership.

The only other alternative is to walk away and rely on so-called “WTO rules”. Although advocated by a number of leave-supporting MPs it would be fraught with problems. This piece offers a lengthy but readable analysis of what life would be like without any agreement:- disruption for goods crossing borders, major issues with air traffic, no nuclear safeguarding framework, mutual recognition issues and so on. Especially given the ticking clock – less than ten months remain before Brexit Day, there is no time to address these issues and make bilateral deals to avoid utter chaos.

We have been saying for some time that it will need a crisis to provoke a change of direction from Mrs May. It has yet to break, as latest reports still talk of Mrs May not only pursuing a customs union or partnership for the transitional period, but even extending if for several years. Even so, this unworkable customs union/partnership option is now being openly assailed on all fronts, so there is some hope that, amidst all the muddle, the tectonic plates are slowly shifting.

  

 

Trust you, Mrs May?

 

In an article in the Sunday Times, Prime Minister Theresa May implored voters to trust her to deliver Brexit. “I will ensure that we take back control of our borders…our money…[and] our laws.” she said.

But why should we trust her? After being office for over 18 months, there is no sign that she has come up with a trustworthy exit route that would see us make a clean break with the EU while at the same time allowing trade to continue reasonably seamlessly. Coming back to work after a week’s holiday, I signed on to my computer to find that nothing has changed; nothing has progressed. Mrs May and the Brexit negotiations are still going round in circles. An unworkable “customs partnership” is still being pursued even though no less than HMRC has described the current proposals as “unviable.” Michael Gove likewise claimed that there were “significant question marks” about them.  Mrs May has split her cabinet into two asking them both to pursue what, to any intelligent analysis, are two different but equally impractical solutions to keeping our trade flowing with the EU, including across the Irish border.

Why should we trust her when the obvious solution  – at least in the short term – to this problem is under her nose but she has so far steadfastly refused to change tack and replace her unworkable proposals with something which will get us out of the EU while giving her a longer breathing space to negotiate a longer-term arrangement? I am referring, of course, to the EEA/EFTA arrangement. Nigel Moore has written an article which sums up its strengths. Yes, it has weaknesses too – I hardly need point that out to regular readers of this blog. The weaknesses are, however, far fewer than those of the arrangements Mrs May is proposing. In particular, we can regain total control over our fishing, we can keep goods flowing across the Irish border and we will be beyond the reach of the European Court of Justice.  For more on this, please see also the “EFTA 4 UK” Facebook page.

Why should we trust her when she seems so keen to keep us shackled to the European Arrest Warrant? Her argument that other extradition routes are more costly and time consuming is a red herring. The EAW is fatally flawed and has exposed UK citizens to flawed criminal justice systems abroad on the basis of the flimsiest of evidence.

Why should we trust her when, under her watch, several agreements have been signed without Parliamentary debate (and possibly without some MPs even being aware of what is going on) which tie us to the EU’s military programme?

The Daily Express published an article today about a secret document, known as FCO30/1048, which, it claimed, was locked away under Official Secrets Act rules for almost three decades. The author’s identity is unknown, but was most likely a senior civil servant in the Foreign Office. The document, which was written before we joined the EU, suggested the Government should keep the British public in the dark about what EEC membership means predicting that it would take 30 years for voters to realise what was happening, by which time it would be too late to leave. Thankfully, the author was wrong about the last point but correctly predicted that “the increased role of Brussels in the lives of the British people would lead to a “popular feeling of alienation from Government”.

There is nothing new here. Christopher Booker mentioned this paper in a piece for the Sunday Telegraph six years ago, having discovered it as far back as 2002. However, the Express is bringing it to our attention at a very opportune moment. Mrs May has been given the chance to rebuild trust in the government and in politicians in general. She is asking for our trust and if she delivers a successful Brexit, the beginning of  that rebuilding of trust will be part of her legacy. Getting rid of her current Brexit advisor, the untrustworthy Europhile Civil Servant Ollie Robbins, whose poor advice may well be hampering her, would be a good start, but she needs to go a lot further.

As things stand, Mrs May is leading us towards a chaotic Brexit in Name Only which will only further alienate voters from the political system while possibly precipitating the worst crisis in her party since 1846. It is not too late for her to change course – after all, she did promise not to call an early General Election  and then changed her mind. That decision proved disastrous, but as far as Brexit goes, a change of direction would actually prevent, rather than precipitate a disaster, both for the Conservative party and for the country as a whole.

Photo by Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916

Confusion over our legal status in the transition period

During the House of Lords select committee on 1st. May 2018, the Earl of Kinnoull said to David Davis Brexit Secretary of State,  “I want to come back to what you said about the European Union not being able to agree a treaty with us while we are still members. I have been troubled and scratching my head over that”.

He is not the only one. Article 50, the mechanism which secures the UK departure from the EU as from  30th March 2019, raises two serious problems.

1) The EU treaties, and thus all its regulations will cease to apply to the UK as from 30th  March 2019.

2) The EU can’t sign a Treaty with the UK while the UK is still a Member, meaning the earliest being 30th March 2019.

Put together, these two conditions cause serious problems, because if you compare the procedure in joining the then EEC in 1972, there was an orderly procedure. First came the signing  the  treaty of membership on 22nd January 1972, and then followed the ratification process, resulting in the European Communities 1972 Act, which ensured everything was ready to commence membership on 1st January 1973.

The leaving process, by contrast, is topsy-turvy. The procedure has been reversed. Taking evidence from David Davis during the Lords’ session and the House of Commons select committee of 25th April, you can understand why the Earl of Kinnoull is scratching his head. Mr Davis appears to be contradicting himself.

Before the House of Commons, he stated that there will be several votes on the outcome of the negotiations with the first vote being what has been referred to as the “meaningful” vote: a vote on the overall treaty and agreement in both Houses.  We will do this before the European Parliament will vote on it. Here are some of the questions:-

Q1388 Chair: Will the document on the future relationship be a political declaration or a draft treaty?

Mr Davis: It will be at that stage a statement of the Council. I would not imagine we will have legal text at that point.

Q1389 Chair: What status will it have if it just a statement of the Council?

Mr Davis: Nearer to political declaration than draft treaty. It will not be in draft as a legal text at that stage.

Q1390 Chair: It is likely to be a political declaration, and a political declaration is not a treaty.

Mr Davis: No, it is not a treaty. Again, to remind you of previous evidence, Mr Chairman, when I have appeared in front of this Committee I have reminded you that the requirements of European law are that they cannot sign a treaty with us until we are a third country. That means they cannot sign a treaty, which is the only point at which a treaty becomes in any way binding, until the first days of April or the last day of March in 2019.

Q1391 Chair How can Parliament set any store by it if it is asked to vote on this whole process when the really important question of our future relationship is merely a statement of the Council in the form of a political declaration and not a draft treaty?

Mr Davis: That does not mean the Council will not view it as binding. After all, each of the agreements we have come to in December and March are seen as binding. They are not legally binding but we view them as completely politically binding. (By International Law, not EU Law)

In summary, Mr Davis told the House of Commons that there may be more than one treaty, for a start. It is impossible. We do not know what the full structure of the treaty will look like: whether security and defence will be separate from the future economic partnership. It is quite possible. Some of these things will have substantive domestic effects, so they will of course come with Acts of Parliament before the House as well.

However, he told the House of Lords that we have to have everything pretty well nailed down even legally at the beginning of the implementation period. It will not be ratified, because they cannot sign a deal with us until we are a third country, which will be shortly after formal departure from the Union, but the ratification process will also take place during that period. To achieve this, the agreement must be basically complete by October, at least in joint report-type terms, and fully legally watertight by the time we leave.

He added that signatures will not be put to the treaty until after Brexit Day because “they can only sign with a third party, as Lord Jay knows better than most, I guess. So I will aim to conclude the negotiation, if I can get to that point by then, so that they can sign and then start the ratification process. Remember that ratification will require a brand new European Parliament, which will only just be being elected at that point, and a brand new Commission, and almost certainly—for some of it at least, if not for all of it—it will be a mixed agreement, so it will go round the Parliaments of Europe. So there is quite a lot to get done in ratification terms. We absolutely have to have ratification concluded before the implementation period is over, otherwise we will be in a sort of limbo.”

We need to remember that ratification is the  action of signing or giving formal consent to a treaty, contract, or agreement, making it officially valid. That is , valid according to EU Law. An example of this took place with Denmark over Maastricht and Ireland over Lisbon, where EU law did not apply until after ratification yet International Law did – and of course, under the proposed implementation period, we would expect to be under the ECJ, so what would be the legal basis?

In summary, like Lord Kinnoull, we are all scratching our heads, because it is utter confusion. It needs some bright lawyer to pin Davis down to what is going on. I have only taken this line of investigation  because I questioned the legal right for the UK to have exclusive use of the 12 nautical mile fishing limit during the implementation period, fearing that we could run the risk of EU vessel owners, not only fishing inside that limit, but taking the UK to court, as happened in the Kent Kirk case in 1983.