The Fisheries white paper – Where the Government has got it wrong.

The Fisheries White Paper was better than I was expecting and certainly a lot of thought has gone into the wording, but – and there is always a but – the whole paper has been written on the assumption that there will be an implementation/transitional period, which is far from guaranteed.

I was also surprised to see in the Executive Summary the following two statements:

1) We do not yet know the outcome of the UK’s negotiations to withdraw from the EU or on a future economic partnership.

2) Access to markets for fisheries products will be agreed as part of our future economic partnership, just as with other goods and food products. This is separate to the question of fishing opportunities and access to waters, which consequently will be addressed separately, founded on the UK’s legal status as an independent coastal state.

Those two statements by DEFRA are an honest assessment firstly because the withdrawal agreement which includes the implementation period, is not complete, so whatever the White Paper proposes, there is no guarantee that will happen, especially given we are a long way from securing any sort of trade deal. Secondly, we know full well that the EU will demand present levels of access into UK waters as part of a trade deal. Having sacrificed fishing during the Implementation period –  and those 21 months could be crucial for the survival of the UK’s fishing industry – will the same happen for a trade deal whereby the EU refuses to separate access to market and access to UK waters?. No one knows until that crunch point arrives.

The White paper, in my opinion, places too much emphasis on flawed the quota system. In this, it copies Norway and New Zealand. Neither of their fisheries management systems would rejuvenate our coastal communities. However it is admitted other management systems are available and HMG would be prepared to trial such systems, which I passionately believe would dramatically increase our scientific data, as every fishing vessel should­ become a scientific data point.

Throughout Brexit the UK has made the serious mistake of not understanding the functioning of the EU, and has therefore put forward proposals that were inevitably going to be rejected. It will be interesting to see what today’s White paper states, and if it in turn is expecting policy that the EU can’t provide.

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.

The older Milipede – partly right but partly very wrong indeed

Before the referendum, at least one well-known pro-remain politician talked of leaving the country if we voted to leave. Unfortunately, not only has there been no indication that Red Ken has kept to his word and cleared off to somewhere like North Korea, where he would probably feel far more at home, but also some equally odious politicians whom we thought we had already got rid of have re-emerged from obscurity to give us their pennyworth on the subject of our future relationship with the EU.

David Miliband (remember him?) has recently chipped in to the Brexit debate, saying that we should have a second referendum which would include the option of staying in the EU. He was critical of Theresa May for her decision to start the two-year countdown to Brexit by triggering Article 50 without knowing the outcome.

Irksome as it is to find oneself in agreement with this arch-Blairite and remoaner, unfortunately, he is correct – at least on this point. The government does not seem to know what it wants. Yes, in the long term, it wants a deal with the EU which will give us considerable access to the single market without being subject to the “four freedoms”  – in other words, a bespoke trade deal like CETA. But utterances from HM Government have been very heavy on  the “deep and special” relationship but very light on detail. Furthermore, how are we to get there? We are hearing talk of a transitional deal or “deferred withdrawal”, as David Davis calls it, but while it is no pleasure either to be agreeing with someone like the former Chancellor Alastair Darling, he is right in saying, “you can only transition to a destination.”

Such outlines as have been released about the proposed transitional deal are distinctly unsatisfactory. The “deferred withdrawal” would see the UK spending a further two years after March 2019 as an honorary member of the EU with no voting powers. We would continue to apply all the EU acquis and to pay into the EU budget, but would be totally passive, with no input into the EU’s processes. This would be not only a betrayal of Brexit but “a legal minefield” according to Chris Bryant, an EU expert at lawyers Brewin Leighton Paisner. Even this arrangement simply cannot be agreed, signed and ratified in time for Brexit Day.

Mr Bryant then went on to say that the government doesn’t seem to have got to grips with the need to pin down even a transitional deal legally. “Vague talk is not going to cut the mustard.” This is the problem. The government is convinced that the EU will agree to some sort of transitional deal, but when David Davis was asked about what legal authority the EU had for this, he was very evasive – and with good reason.

This exchange with the SNP MP Joanna Cherry in the Sel;ect Committee on Exiting the European Union on 25th October is particularly enlightening:-

Q67            Joanna Cherry: Can I go back to the transitional period or the implementation period?  What is your understanding of the legal basis for a transitional deal or an implementation period?

Mr Davis: The presumption we have been working on is that it comes under the Article 50 proposal.  It was raised with us by the Commission.  The European Parliament sees it in those terms.  I am assuming the Commission legal service does.  But in many ways it is a question almost for the Commission rather than me.

Q68            Joanna Cherry: Do you have any legal advice of your own as to the basis of a transitional deal or implementation period?

Mr Davis: I am not going to share the legal advice for the reason I gave earlier: that is the convention.  But our belief is that it fits under Article 50.

Q69            Joanna Cherry: Legal advice exists, and it is your belief that it is under Article 50.

Mr Davis: I am not going to be drawn any further on that.  I said I believe it is going to be under Article 50.

Q70            Joanna Cherry: Article 50 does not actually say anything about transitional deals or implementation periods.

Mr Davis: Article 50 does not say very much about anything, if you read it.  It is the blandest and unhelpful phrase you are ever likely to come across, but there we are: that is that.

Q71            Joanna Cherry: What it does make clear is that, during any period of deferred withdrawal, the treaties would continue to apply, so if we went into a period of deferred withdrawal under Article 50 we would still be in the single market; we would still be in the customs union; and we would still be under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.  That is correct, isn’t it?

Mr Davis: My response to that is the same as my response to Mr Bone: we are not looking for deferred withdrawal; we are looking for an implementation period.

Q72            Joanna Cherry: But if it is the case that, as a matter of law, all you could have under Article 50 was a deferred withdrawal, we would not be leaving on 29 March 2019, would we?

Mr Davis: That is not what we have been negotiating for.  The phrase “deferred withdrawal” has never been used to me by the Commission.  The phrase they use is “transition period”.  Our term of art is “implementation period”.

Even the most unsatisfactory idea of being a passive honorary EU member requires the EU to agree and such an agreement would require it to go through almost as complex a legal process as a long-term deal.  There is no indication that Mr Davis has appreciated this important point. His answers suggest that he cannot explain the legal basis under which the “transitional deal”,” implementation period”, call it what you will, can be agreed. Once we leave the EU on 29th March 2019, the treaties no longer apply to the UK, including the Lisbon Treaty, with its Article 50, so it will have to be something else. But what?

Furthermore, what guarantee is being offered that the transitional arrangement, if agreed, really will only last for two years?  David Davis was not convincing in his reply here too when questioned by Sammy Wilson MP over this. Ironically, he then went on to say that “no deal” still remains an option.

But  is it really? The “no deal” option  assumes that “with one bound, we will be free.”  In other words, there may be a few little glitches but we would still survive – and indeed prosper  – if we  cut our ties at a stroke in the event of the talks getting bogged down. There are many reasons to be highly sceptical that things will run anything like so smoothly.

In summary, the government seems to believe there are only two positions in which the UK could  find itself in March 2019 and both would be disastrous.The first would see us essentially still in the EU in all but name, the second is cloud cuckoo land.  – or rather, a massive headache for many businesses which could well lead to a very severe recession.

Where the Government is going wrong in its thinking on both the proposed long and short term relationships with the EU is its assumption that if any nation has aligned its own regulation with that of the EU, the EU will happily treat it as an honorary member of the club. This is to miss the whole point of the EU project – it is not a trading bloc but a political construct. The sheer complexity of Brexit has already shown to us just how much independence we have already surrendered thanks to Edward Heath’s manic determination to shackle us to this contruct.

So  Miliband is right in saying that the government should have worked out its exit strategy before triggering Article 50. Even all this time later, less than a week before the mid-point between last year’s referendum and Brexit day, the government still seems caught between a rock and a hard place  when it comes to devising a strategy which would enable us to leave the EU satisfactorily.

His other comments, however, are totally and completely wrong. “”Those of us who are outside the country take absolutely no pleasure in the low ebb to which Britain has sunk. Brits abroad look at the fact other countries see us in retreat, having lost our way” he said. For all the muddle of the negotiations at the moment, this is not a country in retreat nor one which has lost its way. Rather, we are groping our way slowly and indeed very awkwardly towards something better. It may be a long tunnel, but one day, there will be some light at the end. To reiterate a point made above – and indeed, on many other occasions on this website – the Brexit negotiations have laid bare just how many areas of public policy have been surrendered by our government as a result of 43 years’ membership of the EU. It has been like an octopus, wrapping its tentacles around our political institutions and slowly squeezing the life out of them. We want to escape before it finally throttles us. If we have sunk to a low ebb, it’s because of our membership of the EU, not because we voted to leave.

The Brexit vote was a vote to re-join normality – a reflection of our desire to be a successful nation state once again and a vote of confidence in ourselves that we can do it. I doubt if any of us involved in the campaign to free the UK from the EU have had the slightest doubt that it was the right thing to do.  Successful nation states are flourishing in Asia, North and South America and Australasia. Nearer to home, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are happy outside the EU. Indeed, in Switzerland, one minister recently said that in his country only “a few lunatics” want to join the EU.  It will take some time to readjust and there is no denying that the government is in a mess over its Brexit strategy at the moment, but even if Miliband and his like cannot hide their contempt for the UK electorate’s decision to regain its freedom, we did the right thing and we will be vindicated  – eventually.

Photo by Hanna Irßlinger Fotografie

A Brexit that will work for nobody

“Brexit means Brexit,” Theresa May famously said on a number of occasions last year, “And I intend it to work for everybody.”  With the half-way point between the referendum vote and Brexit day looming next month, current pronouncements from the Government suggest that on the contrary, we could end up with a Brexit that works for no one.

Our fishermen have good reason to be worried. Unless the Fisheries Regulation 1380/2013 is exempted from the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – and there is no sign that this is the Government’s plan – we will end up leaving the Common Fisheries Policy only to revert to what is in effect a shadow CFP, including all the access arrangements which would continue to give away our nation’s resource to the EU. Last week, when asked about fisheries, the Prime Minister said,

“When we leave the European Union, we will be leaving the common fisheries policy. As part of the agreement that we need to enter into for the implementation period, obviously that and other issues will be part of that agreement.”.

While this “implementation period” may exist only in Mrs May’s imagination, she should instead have given an unequivocal statement that upon Brexit, we will not only immediately take full control of our Exclusive Economic Zone, but will not be running it on a quota basis.

At least as far as fisheries is concerned, there is hope that ultimately it will be Michael Gove who determines post-Brexit policy. He has shown himself sympathetic to the plight of our fishermen and his mention of John Ashworth in person during a fringe meeting at the Tory Party Conference is a recognition that the fishing community is running a well-organised campaign that not going to take no for an answer.

Another area of concern is the reluctance of this government to disentangle ourselves from the EU’s military machine. Our friends in Veterans for Britain  were understandably critical of the Government’s recent  “future partnership” paper on defence, which would limit our independence. They also do not want to see is tied in to PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation) a key factor in the EU’s military ambitions to create a defence union. It appears from an earlier briefing put out by VfB that many MPs are still in the dark about the very limited military autonomy with which government ministers plan to allow us. This is unacceptable. As an independent country, our political objectives will inevitably diverge from those of the EU. We will no longer be interested in its empire building in the Balkans or among the former soviet republics. Our defence policy must be disentangled from that of the EU before we leave. If Mrs May is planning a reshuffle, as is widely being rumoured, the appointment of a genuine Brexiteer to  replace the most unsatisfactory Micharl Fallon as Defence Secretary would be a very good move.

We also need to make a clean break with the EU on criminal justice matters.  Torquil Dick-Erikson has raised the issue of the European Arrest Warrant on this website before. We agree with him that it is totally unacceptable for the Government to keep us as a signatory to the EAW and to be a member of Europol. More than that, Torquil has pointed out that the Government has also declared its willingness to allow “special intervention units” from the EU to set foot on British soil, and under a smokescreen of “ensuring security.”

In these three areas – fishing, defence and criminal justice, Brexit must be as “hard” as possible and the Government’s shortcomings will be highlighted over and over again on this website until there is a change of heart. This is not the Brexit we voted for.  As last year’s Vote.Leave slogan said so graphically, it was all about “taking back control”. If our fishing grounds are shared with the EU, our defence is bound up with that of the EU and EU judges still have the power to haul us off to any one of 27 member countries on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations, we are not in control at all.

What is more, these issues must not be swept under the carpet while all the media focus being on trade talks – or rather, the lack of trade talks. Thankfully, as far as trade is concerned, a number of senior figures from industry, supported by a small but growing number of MPs are expressing their concern that the “No deal is better than a bad deal” mantra is unrealistic and dangerous. Leaving the EU without a deal would be a calamity for our economy, even though one recent opinion poll suggested that as many as 74% of voters would prefer this to a supposed “bad deal”. Do they realise that planes would be unable to fly? That the M20 in Kent would be turned into a lorry park overnight?

Of course, it is possible that the Government is engaging in brinkmanship to try to twist the EU’s arm and get it to start trade talks before the three contentious issues of the Irish border, the “divorce bill” and the rights of EU citizens have been agreed, but it is a high-risk strategy and one that looks unlikely to succeed. It is based on a long-standing failure to perceive that the EU is first and foremost a political project, not a trading bloc.

This mistaken perception of the EU’s nature suggests that the transitional arrangement mentioned recently by Mrs May (where we would be able to trade seamlessly with the EU after Brexit in return for being subject to most of the EU’s rules and policed by the European Court of Justice) is mercifully a non-starter.  It is an unsatisfactory pick-and-mix deal which violates the EU’s political integrity while being an extremely bad arrangement for the UK. It remains a mystery why the EEA/EFTA option is still being ruled out of court by all senior government figures when something far worse is being publicly advocated instead.

While no sane person would disagree with the statement by David Davis that Brexit is “the most complex peacetime operation in our history”, it is now nearly 14 months since the referendum vote and we do not yet have any indication that the Government has come up with a strategy which will deliver a satisfactory break with the EU.  Thanks to David Cameron’s ban on allowing the Civil Service to work on any Brexit plan before the  referendum, the Government and Whitehall have found themselves on a sharp learning curve, but some campaigners, such as John Ashworth have been active for 20 years or more and have considerable knowledge their specialist subjects. Why are their recommendations not being adopted? Why, after all this time, is the government still seemingly confused about the difference between the Customs Union and customs clearance agreements? Why has the defence integration continued since the Brexit vote without any consultation with the military, who actually understand the issues?

It does not help when anyone who dares to stick their heads above the parapet and suggest that we are heading for a disaster is labelled a “traitor” – as was the case with Philip Hammond last week. Of course, Mr Hammond supported remain during the referendum and some ardent Brexiteers refuse to believe that anyone who did not campaign for Brexit can possibly be genuinely committed to making it happen, in spite of our own soundings which suggested that most MPs, whatever side they took in the referendum campaign, have accepted the result and will not seek to be obstructive over Brexit. More worryingly, a veteran leave supporter like Christopher Booker, whose pro-Brexit credentials are impeccable, has been tarred with the same brush for expressing concern about the direction of Brexit talks. What is the point in saying things are looking good when there is every evidence that they are not?

There are two very big worries which force concerned Brexiteers like Mr Booker – and indeed, your author – to stick to their guns. The first is that a calamitous Brexit would be grist to the mill of the hard-core remainiacs who have never accepted the result of last year’s referendum. A spike in unemployment and inflation coupled with possible food shortages would lead to calls for us to start negotiations to re-join the EU, even though we would lose our opt-outs on the €uro and Schengen along with the Fontainebleau rebate won for us by Mrs Thatcher. This would be a disaster.

Secondly, it would lead to unprecedented political upheaval. Less than a year ago, some Conservatives were convinced not just that Jeremy Corbyn was unelectable but that the Labour Party was in its death throes. Last June’s election was a rude awakening for the Tories, proving their optimism to be very wide of the mark. The mood at the Party conference was apparently very sombre indeed.

There is good reason for this, as today’s young people in particular are far more likely to support Labour than the Tories, suggesting that far from Corbyn being unelectable, he is likely to become Prime Minister in 2022, bringing with him a team of MPs who are in the main, even more reluctant Brexiteers than the Tories. The best way  – indeed, probably the only way – of avoiding this is for the Tories to deliver a successful Brexit. Analysis of voter intentions suggest that the most popular reason why voters opted for the Conservatives last June was a conviction that they would deliver on Brexit. To betray the voters’ trust  would not just hand over the keys of No. 10 Downing Street to Jeremy Corbyn in 2022; it would produce the biggest crisis in the Conservative Party since the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846.

As  Anthony Scholefield, a CIB Committee member, pointed out in his 2011 critique of Cameronism, “Too ‘nice’ to be Tories – how the modernisers have damaged the Conservative party“,  attempts by the Tory leadership since 2005 to reach out to urban touchy-feely politically correct types have served rather to alienate many traditional supporters. As I argued a few years ago, there are plenty of people who genuinely want to vote for what Mrs May famously called a “nasty” party. I was wrong in predicting that Cameron wouldn’t win the 2015 election, but he only won it because he was forced to give in to the mounting pressure within his party to hold a referendum on our membership of the EU. It was the EU issue which also saved Mrs May’s bacon two years later. Given that a good few Tory voters (and indeed activists) still remain most uncomfortable about this move to the supposed centre ground since Cameron became leader, I believe that nothing else can save the Conservatives from calamity in 2022 except a smooth, well-managed and complete Brexit that will enable our businesses to keep trading while at the same time revitalising our fishing industry and freeing us from the clutches of the EU’s military and the EAW.

To put it another way, the Tories have a long list of EU-related sins for which they need to repent collectively, going back to the deceit of Edward Heath in the 1970s. This is their one and only opportunity to make atonement. They created the mess; it is poetic justice that they are being saddled with the task of getting us out of it. If they succeed, the country can move on after over 40 years in our unhappy relationship with Brussels and the party need never again “bang on about Europe”.  If they fail, our country may well end up marking the centenary of the resignation in 1922 of David Lloyd George, the last ever Liberal Prime Minister,  with the resignation of the last ever Conservative Premier. It really is as serious as that