The border which nobody wants

Ar first glance, it seems utterly bizarre. We don’t want to build a hard border fence between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and neither do the Irish or the EU. No one wants it but it may nonetheless have to be erected.

The reasons lie with the UK’s change in status. If it leaves not only the EU but also the European Economic Area, it becomes a Third Country. The EU does not permit goods to be transferred across its borders without the necessary customs clearance and the fact that we are going to maintain regulatory convergence with the EU up to Brexit day makes not one iota of difference.

But couldn’t we just agree to treat Ireland differently? In this instance, the rules of the World Trade Organisation wouldn’t allow it. Discrimination in trading arrangements that favour one country over another without any formal trade deal is not permitted – and we can’t strike a bilateral trade deal with the Irish Republic as it has no freedom to negotiate such deals, being a member of the EU. After all, this desire to regain control of trade policy was one of the reasons why we voted to leave.

So it is no surprise that Mrs May came away empty handed from her meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker yesterday. It is hard to read between the lines and fathom out what really went on. Did she really consider a deal which would have seen Northern Ireland end up with separate trading arrangements from the rest of the UK?  Such an arrangement would compromise the constitutional integrity of the UK and thus was never going to be acceptable to the Unionist community in the Province. “Northern Ireland must leave the European Union on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom,” insisted Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.

On the other hand, the Dublin government insists that EU regulations on issues such as food safety and animal welfare must be maintained in Northern Ireland, to avoid damaging cross-border trade once Britain leaves the EU’s single market and customs union.  However, to repeat, mutual recognition of standards cannot be agreed without a formal trade arrangement and that isn’t going to be on the table any time soon.

Parliament’s Exiting the European Union Committee published a report which  was decidedly pessimistic about the  prospects of a deal given Mrs May’s insistence that we will be leaving the Single Market. “The Committee does not see how it will be possible to reconcile there being no border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with the Government’s policy of leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union.”

Quite why the Customs Union has to be dragged into this debate is anyone’s guess. There are seamless borders between non-EU Norway and EU member states Sweden and Finland. This is everything to do with the Single Market but nothing at all to do with the Customs Union, of which Norway is not part.

There can be no doubt about the concern felt in the Irish Republic about the prospect of “no deal”. Comparing the UK to EU-27 as a whole, our country could well end up facing the greater problems in the short term. Some individual countries would not suffer that badly either. Germany, for example, would soon shrug off any decline in trade with one of its major export markets and find others. For the Irish Republic, however, the effect of “no deal” would be devastating. We are the second largest importer of Irish goods and services after the USA, receiving 13% of total Irish exports. We are also the biggest exporter to Ireland, with a 24% share of Irish imports.

Given these figures, you would expect the Irish government to be among the most dovish of EU27. Unfortunately, according to Anthony Coughlan, this is far from being the case. In an e-mail to Edward Spalton, our Chairman, he wrote:

The members of the political Establishment in the Republic of Ireland, dominated as they are by career Euro-federalists, hope fervently that the whole Brexit project can be aborted or made effectively meaningless by doing everything they can to obstruct the EU/UK negotiations and by interacting privately with those cross-party interests that are seeking to test Brexit to destruction in Parliament. Irish policy-makers are doing everything they can these days to encourage this end, egged on by the Brussels people –  while not saying so publicly of course.”

He went on to claim that there was some collusion between Irish Euro-federalists and UK remainiacs: “I have not the least doubt that  key Irish/EU grandees such as Peter Sutherland, John Bruton, Pat Cox  and Alan Dukes are interacting at present with the likes of  Peter Mandelson, Keir Starmer, Tom Tugendhat et al to do all they can to frustrate Brexit in Parliament and that they are being encouraged by Messrs Barnier, Juncker and the Brussels people to do this, with the full support of the Irish Government and Opposition behind the scenes.”

Some eagle-eyed readers will remember that Peter Sutherland, a former European Commissioner, was the person who told the House of Lords that the EU should do its best to undermine the ethnic homogeneity of individual nations by increasing mass immigration. Anyone in this country who is formally associated with this contemptible individual is truly beyond the pale.

Given these serious allegations of troublemaking by Irish politicians, it is unsurprising that Mrs May has been sent a letter signed by a number of Tory MPs, economists and business leaders urging her to take a tough line with the EU, insist on a trade deal and walk away if the EU will not play ball. Add into this potent brew the firm and perfectly understandable stance of the DUP that every part of the UK must leave the EU on the same terms and it is unsurprising that David Davis has found himself having to work hard to find a solution to the impasse. His latest suggestion is that that the whole of the UK, and not just Northern Ireland, should retain regulatory “alignment” – not “convergence”  -with the EU.

Even before any discussion has taken place on what this actually means, however, an un-named EU official has effectively torpedoed the whole idea:-  “The UK will not have any say on the decisions taken in Brussels and will basically implement them without having any influence over them… it makes the UK kind of a regulatory ‘protectorate” of Brussels.‘” Any suggestion that such an abject surrender would be acceptable to the signatories of the letter to Mrs May – or the DUP for that matter – is plainly ridiculous.

It isn’t easy to separate the wood from the trees in the current flurry of activity, but it is looking highly unlikely that the Brexit negotiations will be moving on to the next stage (i.e., trade talks) after the critical European Council meeting later this month. The deadlock over the Irish border issue is raising the stakes higher by the day and it would be a brave man who would place any money on what the eventual outcome is likely to be.

Photo by Michael 1952

Groundhog Day

If you think you have read a post like this before, you’re probably right. Another week of Brexit negotiations are about to begin which will almost certainly end with very little progress being made. A smiling David Davis will emerge in a few days’ time and give a very upbeat assessment of the talks at a press conference while Michel Barnier, in guarded but polite language, will say that actually very little has happened which will enable the UK and the EU to get down to discussing any sort of future trade relationship.

It’s rather like the film Groundhog Day where an American weatherman finds himself trapped in a time loop, repeating the same day over and over again, except there’s an important difference: in the film, time basically stands still whereas the Brexit clock is ticking away.

To be more precise, Brexit day, 29th March 2019, will take place 1,010 days after our vote to leave on 23rd June last year. In exactly one month’s time, November 9th 2017, four days after Bonfire Night, we will reach the halfway point and so far, there is no sign of any deal which will enable trade to flow seamlessly between the UK and the EU once we leave the EU.

Even the plans for a two-year transition will be going nowhere. Essentially, while Mrs May may be telling the EU that the ball is in their court, the EU is being asked to make an exception to its normal rules for the sake of a former member state which doesn’t want to be part of the club any more. It is under no obligation to say yes – indeed, it has given every indication that it is not going to. Mrs May’s speech in Florence did nothing to shift the predominant belief in Brussels and elsewhere that there was plenty of goodwill in it but little of substance which could unblock the negotiations in the three key areas where agreement must be reached before trade talks can begin – the Irish border question, the divorce bill and the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK.

It may be a case that Mrs May is being advised to take a tough line in the hope that the EU will blink first. If so, she (and her advisors) are likely to be disappointed. Even so, the fallout from Mrs May’s conference speech and the  failed attempts to remove her have left her with no option but to ensure we leave the EU in March 2019. Grant Shapps, the former Tory Chairman who surfaced as the leader of the failed coup, did not raise Brexit as an issue, but Nadine Dorries, a consistent pro-Brexit Tory MP, claimed that the plan was to take Boris Johnson down with Theresa May and install a new pro-remain leader who would stop Brexit.

We will never know the truth of what went on in the aftermath of Mrs May’s speech, but the strong support she has been given from pro-Brexit MPs conveys the implicit message that there can be no turning back,

So are we heading towards a no-deal situation when our delegation will walk away from the talks, blaming EU intransigence? Business leaders will not like this and will be lobbying hard to prevent such an outcome.

This leaves Mrs May caught between a rock and a hard place.  Maybe she (or her advisors) still haven’t grasped the political nature of the EU project. This is hardly her fault. From Edward Heath onwards, the wool has been pulled over the eyes of the UK so effectively that even serving MPs think that the EU is all about trade, which it isn’t. If we are to believe those who know her well, she is typical of many Tories who  have never been that bothered about the EU but was forced by Cameron and Osborne, along with a significant number of her colleagues, to come off the fence. One of our correspondents claims that at the dinner parties he hosted, Cameron and his henchmen described supporting leave as “xenophobic”.

Indeed, if the finger of blame should be pointed at anyone, it is the dynamic duo who headed up the administration before June 23rd last year. Cameron and Osborne held a referendum they didn’t expect to lose, trying to frighten the voters and intimidate their parliamentary colleagues  so that the result would never be in doubt. So confident were they of victory that the Civil Service was banned from drawing up any exit plan.  According to Craig Oliver, Cameron’s spin doctor, Cameron arrived at Downing Street after the result was announced on 24h June saying almost jokingly “Well, that didn’t go according to plan!”

Indeed it didn’t and nor has the first 15 months of Mrs May’s premiership. We can but hope that the next 15 months see some significant progress but as far as the current round of negotiations is concerned, few people will be holding their breath.  She has been bequeathed a very difficult task by her predecessor and it may well take some further crisis before we start to see any real developments which will prevent the “cliff edge” that draws closer by the day and rightly concerns so many.

Photo by vastateparksstaff

CIB congratulates Henry Bolton on his election as UKIP Leader

The Campaign for an Independent Britain wishes to congratulate Henry Bolton on his election as leader of the UK Independence Party.

In particular, we welcome Mr Bolton’s concerns over plans for a future security partnership between the UK and the EU after Brexit. We sought to highlight some serious flaws in the Government’s approach to defence issues several months ago and very much hope that, with Mr Bolton leading UKIP, we can work alongside him and his party as well as other concerned groups such as Veteran for Britain in ensuring that as far as our armed forces are concerned, Brexit truly will mean Brexit.

Sir Teddy Taylor RIP

Sir Teddy Taylor shares with a number of colleagues – and with the Campaign for Independent Britain – the rare distinction of having campaigned against British membership of the then Common Market even before the UK joined in 1973. He was one of the first politicians of any party to make a principled stand on the European issue, famously resigning from his post as a Scottish Office minister over Edward Heath’s insistence on taking Britain into the European project.

After the devastating blows of British accession to the Common Market and defeat in the 1975 referendum, Teddy refused to bow down and, through a series of groups with innocuous titles such as the European Reform Information Centre and Conservative European Reform Group, set about subverting the Conservative Party – then probably the most europhile of all the major parties.

Now, before today’s hardliners throw a fit at the word ‘reform’, it has to be remembered that arguing for change was then the only way of putting the political and economic defects of the Common Market onto the agenda at all, and, perhaps, sowing the first seeds of doubt in the overwhelmingly pro-Common Market Tory Party. The political landscape in the early 1980s was so hostile to what we now call Euroscepticism that ‘withdrawal’ was a truth that dared not yet speak its name. Indeed, that vital tipping point in the story of Euroscepticism did not come until the early 1990s, when ‘reforming Europe’ ceased to be a shorthand for “let’s get out” and became instead the siren call of Conservatives and others, who, when confronted with the myriad failings of the EU, wanted to see it miraculously change so that Britain could happily remain a part of it.

Teddy recognized that freeing Britain from the EEC was probably going to be a long and intergenerational struggle. He encouraged and befriended young Eurosceptic campaigners and – a born activist himself – enthusiastically joined in their guerrilla war against the ‘leadership’ of the dismally pro-Brussels Young Conservatives. Politics alongside Teddy was never dull, with every European lunacy being summarily dispatched with his catchphrase put-down “it’s absolutely horrendous!” – generally delivered through plumes of cigarette smoke. (Teddy eventually gave up the ciggies, but never his dream of an independent Britain.)

Meanwhile, the European project continued to be controlled by an ever-centralizing political process, which saw the creation of the European Union, complete with flag, citizenship, and – shortly – single currency, under the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. Unsurprisingly, Teddy joined with other patriotic colleagues in Westminster in opposing Maastricht tooth and nail – becoming one of the ‘whipless wonders’ who were kicked out of the parliamentary Conservative Party for their temerity.

By the mid-1990s, the gloves were coming off and the word ‘withdrawal’ was increasingly being voiced, first as a whisper and then with growing confidence, in the ranks of the Conservative Party. True, there remained (and still is) a massive disconnect between the views of the increasingly Eurosceptic grassroots Tory membership and the leadership on the European question, but the seeds that Teddy had sown had taken root and were to flourish in the thousands of Conservative activists who fought alongside members of other parties and none to win the 2016 referendum.

In CIB, we remember and honour Teddy for his Euroscepticism, but it should not be forgotten either that he was a superb constituency representative who operated virtually as an independent MP in his Southend East fiefdom. I well remember campaigning in a Southend awash with fluorescent yellow ‘Vote Teddy Taylor’ posters – Teddy had dumped the anodyne blue of the Conservative Party in favour of lurid campaigning materials that were probably visible from space. No Tory candidate would get away with going ‘off brand’ like that today, and even in the 1980s this defiance of Central Office was exceptional. Yet it summed up Teddy’s independence and his absolute conviction that he was there for his constituents first, and for the Conservative Party a sometimes poor second.

With Teddy’s passing we say farewell to another of that small band of individuals of whom it can be said, without hyperbole, that without them there would be no Brexit. Teddy Taylor, patriot and comrade, you fought the fight from start to finish with honour, tenacity, and humour. We salute you and we thank you.

(Anyone wishing to hear Sir Teddy in action, please see this video. He does not appear until after four minutes)

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: (1) Why we need it

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which is being debated in Parliament this week, prepares the way for us to abrogate the 1972 Accession Treaty by which we joined what has become the EU and repeal the European Communities Act 1972 which gave the Treaty its force in British law. If there are no delays, we will cease to be a member state of the EU on 29th March 2019.

The campaign to regain our sovereignty has lasted for many years and it is encouraging that Parliament will finally be preparing the way whereby this is to happen. After over 45 years as a member of the European project, however, we are currently in a position whereby many items of legislation on our statute books originated in Brussels and what is more, derive their authority from the EU treaties to which we have been a signatory.

In this regard, the wording or Paragraph 3 of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which the UK Government invoked last March is particularly important:-

The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.

Note the phrase “The Treaties  shall cease to apply.” This means that the current basis for any EU-derived legislation being included in UK law disappears on Brexit Day in March 2019. In other words, if the Government doesn’t take action, a considerable number of laws completely lose their authority.

For the benefit of anyone who has never studied any EU legislative document, you may like to click on this link, which does admittedly take you to one of the most pointless of all regulations, but at least it is short, so you won’t have to plough through pages of technical detail.

It begins by saying:-

THE COMMISSION OF THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES,

Having regard to the Treaty establishing the European Community,

Right from the start, the document makes clear that it derives its authority from the EU treaties, which will cease to apply to the UK once we leave the EU. Therefore this regulation’s authority also ceases for us.

Just to confirm this point, Article 3 of this regulation says:-

This Regulation shall enter into force on the 20th day following its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union

and then the Regulation concludes with these words:-

This Regulation shall be binding in its entirety and directly applicable in all Member States

So to underline the point, we will no longer be a Member State, so it will no longer apply.

The disappearance of this particular Regulation, complete with its picture of a cuddly toy sheep, from our statute books wouldn’t create any anxiety for HM Government or the team of Civil Servants in the Department for Exiting the European Union. There are, however, many far more important pieces of EU legislation which, if they lost their authority overnight without anything else being put in their place, would cause chaos.

For instance, the EU’s Bathing Water Directive 2006/7/EC which deals with the quality of bathing water. Readers may like to study this page of the DEFRA website which tells Councils what they must do to inform bathers at beaches and lakes about the quality of the water in which they will be swimming. If there is no regulation in force to replace the one which the EU has foisted on us, there is an enormous potential for serious problems to ensue. To take an extreme example, someone could pour hundreds of gallons of a highly toxic substance into a lake used for bathing and if the local council failed to put up a notice about it, there would be no mechanism to prosecute it. The legal basis for a court case would have vanished on 29th March 2019.

What the EU (Withdrawal) Bill will do is to “repatriate” EU legislation. In other words, it will remain on our statute books but in an amended form so that its authority will derive not from the EU treaties, which no longer apply, but from our Westminster Parliament.

It may upset some Brexit supporters that we still will be stuck with this legacy of our EU membership, but it was the approach adopted by several newly-independent states in the past as the only way of ensuring life carried on normally after independence. For instance, in 1922, the Irish Free State adopted all laws bequeathed to it by the Westminster Parliament to be effective in the newly-independent country and enforced by its institutions. The alternative would have been an impossible legal vacuum.  India did likewise when the British Raj came to an end in 1947.

While it may go against the grain still to be reliant on laws bequeathed by the authority you have just shaken off, as an independent country you will be in a position to revise or repeal them at a later date if you don’t like them. Even though there is more time to prepare for Brexit than the very hasty British withdrawal from India, however, negotiating independence will be a massive undertaking. As far as the mechanisms for day-to-day administration of the UK are concerned, it is therefore best to let sleeping dogs lie during the period immediately after independence.  The EU (Withdrawal) Bill seeks to do just that. Some EU legislation is actually very sensible. An independent UK would probably have passed a very similar act to the Bathing Water Directive. It is therefore likely that this piece of EU-inspired legislation will continue as UK law more or less unaltered for the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, some EU laws do not suit the UK and would better be replaced by new domestic legislation. Take the Landfill Directive which was brought in because Denmark and Holland, two small flat countries, had run out of holes in which to bury their domestic waste.  The UK, with its quarrying industry, does not suffer from this problem, but the requirement to comply with this directive has resulted in the erection of smelly incinerators.  In due course, we can rid ourselves of unhelpful legislation like this.

Likewise, the Interoperability Directives,  which set the rules for the registration of newly-built railway rolling stock, are unnecessarily complicated for well over 95% of the trains running in the UK because they were designed to make it easy for trains to cross international borders. Given the UK’s island location, the Eurostar services, car, coach and lorry shuttles through the Channel tunnel, international freight trains and the handful of through Belfast-Dublin passenger trains (Currently eight in each direction on weekdays and five on Sundays) are the only rail services ever likely to cross international boundaries. We could replace it with something much simpler for the benefit of most UK domestic rail operators.

At the end of the day, however, if it takes a couple of years before Parliament has the time to look at replacing these less-than-ideal pieces of legislation with something better, the sky is not going to fall in if we still abide by them post-Brexit. What really matters is that on 29th March 2019, we don’t wake up to a huge legal vacuum where areas of our life as a nation are completely unregulated because the EU treaties no longer have any force.

This, then, is the rationale behind the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. In the next article, I will address an obvious concern that sharp-eyed readers may have spotted. Taking again our “Cuddly Toy Sheep” Regulation 1462/2006 as an example, it clearly cannot be transferred onto the UK  statue books verbatim. It is no longer a Regulation deriving its power from the EU treaties so any reference to the Commission or to Council Regulations and other EU legislation will need to be re-worded. Then there is the phrase “Member States”. This again will need to be changed in the “repatriated” version or it won’t make any sense.  You would think that it ought to be a simple job using certain formulae to make the necessary corrections in regulation after regulation without altering the provisions of the original EU law beyond limiting its scope to the UK, but in reality life isn’t quite that simple…………………

 

Why the Brexit trade team has hired a New Zealander as lead negotiator

A week in which five somewhat underwhelming position papers were published by the Department for Exiting the European Union was rounded off by a piece of somewhat better news.

Next week, Crawford Falconer, a New Zealander, will take up his position as chief trade negotiation adviser at the Department for International Trade.

Mr Falconer brings with him some valuable expertise which our EU membership has more or less rendered extinct in the UK – 25 years of trade experience. He has represented New Zealand at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and held various posts in foreign and trade affairs in his home country.

As far back as 1973, we surrendered our right to negotiate our own trade deals and thus no longer had need of people with the necessary skills. Given that the freedom to strike our own trade deals was one of the most frequently-mentioned arguments in favour of Brexit, it is therefore encouraging that Liam Fox’s department has made this appointment.

For one thing, it shows that the UK Government is serious about developing an independent trade policy. More importantly, however, it shows  that a recognition has dawned at least in one Government department that trade deals are complex, requiring specialist skills. This is in contrast to some announcements – indeed, to some of the Position papers – which give the impression that obtaining a smooth Brexit will be a piece of cake.

It won’t be. For over 44 years, our country has been progressively denuded of many attributes if a fully-functioning sovereign nation. Many of us were profoundly unhappy about this and hence the energy and vigour of the Brexit campaign in last year’s referendum. We wanted our country back  – to take control once more and to end our subservience to foreign institutions.

The ramifications of that vote are beginning to reverberate through both Westminster and Whitehall. The buck will stop here – not in Brussels or Strasbourg! The EU can no longer be the scapegoat when something goes wrong.

Reclaiming our sovereignty requires not only a new mindset but a sharp learning curve for a new generation of civil servants. They are going to have to do things which have been sub-contracted out to Brussels for two generations. Not one UK Civil Servant still in employment has had any experience of negotiating a free trade deal on behalf of our country. Inevitably, therefore, expertise will have to be brought in from elsewhere to tide us over and the obvious places to look are those countries like New Zealand which share our Common Law legal system, our language and our outward-looking approach to trade. We can be grateful not only that there is an Anglophone world out there, but that our Commonwealth friends are prepared to renew and strengthen their ties with us after having been cast adrift so shamefully in 1973.

The more announcements we therefore hear of appointments like Mr Falconer, the more confident we can be that or government is really getting to grips with what it will mean to be a sovereign nation once more.

Photo by yellow book