Lord David Owen: Here’s how to stop the EU yelling “heel” and prosper after Brexit

This piece first appeared in the Sunday Times and was also posted on Lord Owen’s personal website. It is used with full permission of the author.

A vital Brexit issue will have to be resolved in the next six to eight weeks. Are we to be thrust into political limbo after leaving the European Union next year or will we assert democratic control through parliament, a core reason for many voting to leave the EU?

The guidelines from the other 27 EU heads of government, published last month, called for any transitional arrangement between the UK leaving the EU on March 29, 2019 and the end of December 2020 to be “clearly defined and precisely limited in time”. It went on to say any EU legislation would have to apply to the UK under the competence of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), and that the UK would participate in the customs union and the single market.

We have already seen the peremptory way the EU-UK agreement document published in phase one of the negotiations was brushed aside a fortnight ago, when a Brussels source spoke bluntly: “The deal in December did specify March 2019 for [ending] free movement rights. That was then.” Now free movement extends throughout the transition. The European parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator says “it will be whole acquis [the term for the EU’s body of laws] and nothing else”. He says MEPs would accept a longer transition from 21 months up to 36 months.

What all this demonstrates is that, under article 50, the EU negotiators see themselves as prisoners to agreement from any of the 27 member states. Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, made this crystal clear over Ireland. Now objections from former east European countries have moved the goalposts to the UK’s detriment. We are on notice that the next problem will be Gibraltar. This pattern will continue in other areas until we have more leverage in negotiations. The UK has already shaken hands on shelling out billions of pounds during the transition and we talk in parliament of no taxation without representation. Yet that is exactly what we are going to see more of during our period in limbo with no vote.

The think tank Open Europe, an objective commentator, puts the figure at approaching €60bn. As a Brexiteer, I fully accept that the UK would make payments to the EU budget during our transition, as all non-EU members of the European Economic Area (EEA) already do. However, like Norway, we would make extra payments if there were a successful free trade agreement. Lord Kerr, who as a diplomat designed article 50, told the House of Lords: “We will come to heel in the end, probably quite quickly, because it is very important to avoid the cliff edge next year. We will not avoid it, but we will postpone it.” That sums it all up. This government is coming to heel and we had better realise it now.

We could effectively avoid both these cliff edges — an agreement on leaving the EU and on free trade — if the European Council’s guidelines for the “political limbo” period allowed for the UK to participate inside the single market as a non-EU member of the EEA. For the past 18 months, I have quietly tried to
convince the prime minister that this is the best existing democratic framework for us to be within for the transition period. It does not mean exercising the same powers as are open to the other three members — Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein — and we would be accepting the European Council’s demand for an absolutist status quo standstill, but we would not be in limbo.

We would have automatic EEA consultation rights on EU legislation and would not be under the ECJ, but the EEA-Efta (European Free Trade Association) court and the EEA governance pillar. Professor Carl Baudenbacher, a judge of the Efta court, giving evidence in the Lords, indicated that the EEA/Efta option for the UK’s transition period is feasible, even given the short timescale.

I have no doubt whatever that a transition predominantly via the EEA would, quite manifestly, be better for all concerned. A domestic advantage is it would curb any legal action over the EEA agreement that might be in prospect. A court case in November 2016 claimed that the UK had a legal right to remain in the EEA, despite ceasing to be a member of the EU, until parliament voted otherwise. This was not accepted by the High Court, which ruled that the case was being brought too early for it to adjudicate. If the UK government does not give the year’s statutory notice of leaving the EEA in March, and relies on automatic exit in March 2019, we could see the lawfulness of the government’s conduct being challenged in UK courts.

Despite constant warnings, the government has hidden behind a longstanding diverence of interpretation on whether, on leaving the EU, a country ceases to be a contracting party to the EEA agreement. The fact is the UK government— not the EU — signed the relevant documents to enter the agreement. A government that was serious about negotiations and acquiring more leverage would have no hesitation at all in testing this case as a matter of international law by the Vienna convention and where the ECJ is not the final authority. Nevertheless, that is history. Now if the EU-UK withdrawal agreement contained a few technical amendments, the UK could set aside all legal arguments by staying in the EEA during the transition period.

The details will soon emerge where it will be clear that the EU accepts the EEA agreement continues to apply during the limbo period but the UK is not allowed to participate. The EEA option I am arguing for — for the duration of the transition only — is a mixture of bespoke and off-the-shelf. It cannot become a
permanent mechanism for leaving the EU, as many Brexiteers feared might happen. It is being advocated as a good-faith response to the European Council’s guidelines. It would help fill in the detail of how the UK government will approach the transition to achieve its aim of a bold and ambitious free trade agreement. Having the greatest possible tarie and barrier-free trade with our neighbours is an achievable ambition, as well as negotiating our own trade agreements around the world on leaving the EEA.

Few want a hard Brexit, but to avoid it the UK needs to put forward a reasoned democratic arrangement for handling the transition. Any proposed limbo status is unacceptable. The UK should insist on full participation and full rights under this agreement, including, subject to the consent of its non-EU parties, the ability to participate in its EEA-Efta governance pillar, free of direct ECJ and European Commission supervision. For EU members, an EEA transition follows precedent in using existing democratic machinery and treaties. It could hopefully unite all shades of “leave” opinion, and attract some former remainers who are vocal over continuing in the single market outside the EU for the transition. It is high time we came closer together in parliament as we embark on this national endeavour.

Lord Owen was the Labour foreign secretary from 1977 to 1979 and later led the Social Democratic Party

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?

Taking Stock

Where are we with the Brexit negotiations and where would we like them to be going?

It’s hard to find any sort of consensus about the former, let alone the latter. Are we being led deliberately towards a Brexit in name only or are we about to see our side walk away from the negotiations and rely on so-called “WTO rules” to govern all our future international trade? Was Article 50 always a trap which was going to end up locking us into the EU?

Given the multiplicity of deeply-held views, this piece could end up being just one other person’s opinion. I hope not.  In summing up where we are now, I have read a fair number of different commentators and weighed their opinions before writing this summary.

Firstly, I think it is beyond dispute that the talks have not gone brilliantly from the UK’s point of view, but at least we can be thankful they did not grind to a halt last December as some had predicted.

David Davis and his team got off to a bad start by agreeing to the EU’s sequencing – in other words, “sufficient progress” had to be made on the Irish border issue, the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK and the “divorce settlement” before we could proceed to other issues. Under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, there was no requirement for him to agree to this.

Next comes the transitional arrangement. This was our side’s idea and does not reflect well on our politicians and civil servants.  Not that long ago, we were hearing from some quarters that a trade deal between the EU and the UK would be “the easiest in human history” because of our regulatory conformity. It has since dawned on at least some politicians (although possibly not even all of them, even now)  that this isn’t the case.

The mistake is a very fundamental one because it reveals a profound ignorance of the purpose of the whole European project. We have always viewed the EU as a trading bloc – after all, that was what Edward Heath sought to emphasise in the early 1970s. He did occasionally talk about the sharing of sovereignty, but he didn’t exactly bend over backwards to  explain even to Parliament what we were joining. Of course, Heath knew the truth and now our team is having to learn the hard way. The EU is primarily a political project and trade issues are only a means to an end.

It is also a very rules-bound organisation. Belatedly, our team is discovering that “flexibility” is not a popular word in Brussels. Treaties with precise wording govern every aspect of the EU project. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, knows its workings inside out and unfortunately, comes across as far more on the ball than David Davis.

Is Barnier an ogre? Does he want to punish the UK? Is he merely a puppet whose strings are being pulled by Berlin? A delegation of pro-Brexit businessmen met him in Brussels recently. One of them, CIB Committee member John Mills, described him as “tough and charming“. Essentially, he wants these negotiations to succeed but not at the expense of the integrity of the EU’s single market.  The European project unquestionably took a knock when we voted to leave and he as much as any senior figure in the EU is committed to damage limitation and keeping the show on the road.  The EU has other crises on its hands and Brexit is an unwelcome distraction. After all, it was our decision to leave.  Given these factors, Barnier is merely sticking to the EU rulebook which he knows so well. There is no evidence of any personal animosity towards us our our politicians.  His biggest gripe is that we don’t seem to know what we want from Brexit.

This is essentially where our request for a transitional arrangement comes in. There have been pro-withdrawal groups, including the Campaign for an Independent Britain, even before we joined the European project in 1973. We have been good at arguing the case for independence and ultimately persuaded over 17 million voters of our point of view. We have been less good at explaining how we can leave seamlessly and this has been the root of the Government’s problems.

The Transitional deal, at least if it is negotiated according to the rules laid down by the European Parliament, will be very bad news for us.  It seems to be being pursued purely because the Government knows that a full trade deal will not be ready by March 2019; in other words, it buys us more time.  Theoretically, there is a “sunset clause” – it will only last 21 months, but what if the trade deal isn’t signed by the end of this period?

The significant and surprising support for this transitional deal seems to be based entirely on the assumption that this won’t be a worry. If there’s something good to look forward to, these 21 months of being essentially controlled by Brussels is a price worth paying. This is a fallacy, however, as this piece helpfully explains.

The dilemma we face is that while there is widespread agreement about where we actually want to be after Brexit, there is no agreement on how to get there.

Apart from diehard remoaners, most people would probably agree on all or most of the following:-

i) The ECJ must have no power whatsoever to interfere in the government or legal process in the UK – including those EU citizens currently resident here. We must remove ourselves from Europol and the European Arrest Warrant – in other words, we are back to being a normal sovereign independent country as far as criminal justice is concerned.

ii) Fisheries and agriculture must be 100% under domestic control (and fishing should not be managed on a quota system)

iii) We must be separate from the EU’s military machine, including in the areas of procurement.

iv) We should not make any contribution to the EU’s funds apart from covering our costs where we wish to participate in a specific scheme such as the Erasmus student exchange.

v) we must have complete control of our borders

vi) we must have complete freedom to set our own levels of taxation, benefits and tariffs.

Agreeing our long-term goal is the easy bit. The problem is that we may never get there unless the Government can define in terms which the EU can understand what we want in the immediate post-Brexit period. The transitional arrangements might at least keep industry happy inasmuch as no new guidelines need be given for life could continue for a further 21 months more or less as it does now, but this is only kicking the can down the road. If we find ourselves bogged down in a transition arrangement along the lines already discussed and this period is then extended to (and beyond) the next General Election, we may find ourselves stuck in a sort of limbo which would please no one and would leave many voters vulnerable to the remoaners’ propaganda and thus eventually crawling back into the EU. Alternatively, if we walk away from the negotiations altogether, the net result could be a sudden and severe recession. In this instance,  once again we could be faced with a clamour to re-join.

This would be a tragedy. The key to preventing this happening is to focus on the unacceptability of the current transitional proposals. While many leave voters are strongly opposed to any further membership of the European Economic Area, as a stopgap, it is much less awful, as Nigel Moore argues here. What is more, according to Profesor George Yarrow, unless we give notice that we are quitting the EEA before 29th March of this year, we will still be in it on Brexit day by default, as leaving he EEA is totally separate from leaving the EU.

Yarrow’s thesis has not been put to the test, but then, Brexit as a whole is breaking completely new ground. It is hardly surprising that the path has not been a smooth one. All the same, progress has not been satisfactory thus far and although on balance, I think that the Government’s poor performance has been borne out of an inability to master the issues as quickly as anticipated rather than out of a devious plan to stifle Brexit, Mr Davis and his team desperately need to up their game if we are to achieve a successful Brexit in just over a year’s time.

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?

MPs’ vote on Brexit deal – is it a climbdown?

Yesterday, David Davis announced that MPs would get a binding vote on the final Brexit deal agreed with the EU. Although Labour called this decision a “climbdown”, in reality, it does not concede very much and does not put Brexit in doubt.

Essentially, MPs will be asked to take it or leave it. The choices will either be to accept the deal or to crash out of the EU without a deal.

Unsurprisingly, the Tory incorrigibles, led by Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry were none too happy with Davis’ concession, calling it unacceptable.

It may well be, however, that the wrangling turns out to be academic. There has to be an agreement upon which to vote and there is no sign of the two sides moving any closer. One informed commentator, indeed, has suggested that within a few weeks, the  chances of a deal will drop to zero.

There is no question that the “transitional deal” about which there has been much talk faces huge obstacles. Such outlines as have been provided would be unacceptable to many Tory Brexiteers and would still need a huge amount of negotiation with the EU within a short timescale to be signed off by Brexit day.

Is there a via media between this pipe dream (or better, pipe nightmare) and the worrying prospect of having to fall back on the so-called WTO option?  The EEA/EFTA route has been ruled out, a “deep and comprehensive” trade deal on the lines of the EU/Ukraine agreement would take too long and any bespoke deal would take too long to conclude.

And this remains the biggest concerns for those of us desiring to see a successful Brexit. There is no doubt that the remainiacs are still causing trouble, but outside the political bubble, very few people are taking any notice of them. The real worry is that the talks may fail and we will drift aimlessly towards March 29th 2019 with the resulting chaos leaving us battling calls to re-join the EU forthwith.