The EU’s potential lifeline for Mrs May’s Brexit

The European Union (EU’s) Brexit negotiators from Mr Barnier (chief negotiator) downwards must have long since realised that Mrs May, Mr Davis and the Department for (not) Exiting the European Union are incapable of serious negotiations. Meaningful progress towards leaving the EU in an orderly way including suitable agreements, arrangements and infrastructure is practically non-existent; there is a mountain of detail yet to climb. What, then, can the EU do to rescue the process and Mrs May, since Mr Barnier has previously stated on more than one occasion that he can’t negotiate with himself?

The view from Brussels must be of a weak prime minister leading a fractious, divided party and government, who has a poor grasp of detail and instead relies on spin, wishful thinking and dithering.  Even the output from the Department for (not) Exiting the European Union is poor and vague to the extent of being practically useless. Their website, where comprehensive information and practical guidance on Brexit, and hyperlinks to further sources of information should be available, is more of a case study in superficiality, grandstanding and self-aggrandisement.  There is not even a link to the European Commission’s website on Brexit preparedness.  So whose job is it to help prepare the UK for Mrs May’s decision to leave the Single Market and – by extension – the European Economic Area, EEA?

By contrast, the output from the European Commission, setting out its increasingly uncompromising position, is clear, focused and comprehensive.  Right from the beginning, the EU has been making the running.  Its dedicated website illustrates the impressive (or terrifying) detail of their ‘public’ vision of where Mrs May and Mr Davis’s Brexit is heading and the implications, which appear to look like ‘falling off a cliff edge’ to many UK businesses.  Its advice to stakeholders (available here) repeatedly spell out, in as much detail as possible, what will undoubtedly happen across a wide range of activities and policy areas when the UK becomes a ‘third’ country after leaving the EU (on 29th March 2019) and the EEA.  It is quite likely EU officials often frustratingly ponder the question, “Do our British counterparts and their political leaders understand any of this, and do they actually care what it all means?”  The problem for our team of negotiators is that they do not seem to know and understand EU laws and regulations, their rationale and implementation. This is essential if they are to develop appropriate strategies, negotiating positions and challenges to the EU’s tough, logical and systematic stance.

From the EU’s perspective they have helpfully agreed to a transition period limited to 21 months which is necessary to give Mrs May time to negotiate a free trade agreement. In reality, much longer is probably needed. However, the EU’s terms for this transition period  – which have still not been agreed – would be very unpopular in the UK and thus may never be accepted given Mrs May’s weak position in Parliament.  The EU’s terms would make the UK into a temporary or maybe even permanent EU Vassal State where Brexit means Brexit in name only.  Crashing out of the EU without transition arrangements and not having any form of mitigation of the consequences of ‘third’ country status (the “cliff edge”, in other words) is becoming increasingly likely.

The European Commission is well aware of political developments in the UK and of the consequences of no deal scenarios (given the detail on their website). Its negotiators also have to confront the contradictions in Mrs May’s position.  Frictionless trade (as required by Mrs May and Mr Davis) is not possible as a ‘third’ country outside the Single Market (and the EEA).  Time is running out for businesses both here and in the remaining 27 Member States of the EU to adjust.  Time is also impractically short to put in place new facilities and legislative frameworks needed by a ‘third’ country such as border inspection points, designated entry points and the recruitment and training of staff.  What can the EU do, if it is so disposed or there is some behind-the-scenes collusion going on, to extend Mrs May a lifeline and avoid the ‘cliff edge’?

Any EU-sponsored lifeline needs to protect their interests. It has to operate within the EU’s objectives, legal framework, and established practices. It mustn’t ‘rock their boat’ or set any potentially disadvantageous precedent. It also needs to be sellable across a wide range of opinion in the UK, addressing as far as possible rational fears and aspirations.

The only viable option for an EU-sponsored lifeline is to facilitate the UK re-joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and use this as a basis for retaining membership of the EEA for at least the transition period. It appears that the European Commission may be seriously evaluating the EFTA/EEA route for transitional arrangements for the UK,  as noted by an EFTA Court judge (Mr Carl Baudenbacher) giving evidence to the Commons Committee for Exiting the EU on 7th February 2018 and reported in the Telegraph on-line.

The EFTA/EEA option is not perfect, but as a holding position while something better is negotiated, it is much better than the transitional deal currently on offer. Hard Brexiteers could be won over by the facility to control immigration through unilaterally invoking Article 112 (the Safeguard Measures) of the EEA Agreement.  Further, the EFTA route to EEA membership gives 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  in other words, issues relating to trade. And EFTA members can 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 also gives us full control of fishing in our Exclusive Economic Zone.  Those worried about the economic effects of the ‘cliff edge’ could be won over because the EFTA/EEA option prevents this allowing practically frictionless trade to continue. The EEA agreement (for EFTA members) can be adapted to suit their interests.  Thus the UK (within EFTA) could get a customised version.

We cannot know what the European Commission is covertly doing and how far its efforts, if any, have progressed to save Mrs May, the UK and the EU from her folly.  However, given the efforts it has visibly extended to help enterprises both here and in the 27 remaining Member States to understand and adapt to the implications if Mrs May does not change her decision to leave the Single Market, nobody knows better the potential disaster she is determined to inflict and how it can be avoided.

Photo by thaddselden

Transition to a permanent EU vassal state?

Unless the proposed transitional deal is blown out of the water, the United Kingdom appears to be moving inexorably towards being a permanent European Union  Vassal State. Recent speeches and other statements by Mrs May and Mr Davis point strongly to this being the most likely outcome from their handling of the Brexit (or Article 50) negotiations.  All looks good on the surface, but they do not understand how the EU works and some worrying facts emerge when you analyse what they did and did not say. .

Mr Davis, reiterating Mrs May’s decision to leave the Single Market, in his Teesport Speech of the 26th January 2018  said:

“While the aim of the implementation period is to provide certainty and continuity, we must keep sight of the fact that this is a bridge to a new future partnership.

Where, crucially, the United Kingdom is outside of the single market, and outside of the customs union.”

He then went on to say:

“We want a good Brexit for business and a good Brexit for the British people and we will deliver that on a frictionless access to the Single Market and a freedom political and an economic freedom for the future.”

Clearly there is a contradiction here – it is not possible to have frictionless access whilst being outside the Single Market (or the European Economic Area, EEA) and being a ‘third country’. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has pointed this out on several occasions. For example, he said:

“A trade relationship with a country that does not belong to the European Union obviously involves frictions.”

Frictionless trade between members of the Single Market (and European Economic Area, EEA) occurs because of a common set of rules, regulations, processes or procedures, enforcement and overall EU surveillance. Accessing the EEA from outside its external borders involves complying with regulations, inspections and testing, processes and procedures, external tariffs, customs checks/clearance, VAT etc. intended for dealing with ‘third countries’.   These measures manage risks involved with ‘imports’ and sometimes are protectionist in nature.

The transition period (aka implementation period) clearly places this country into the status of a powerless EU Vassal State for 21 months after 29th March 2019 as explained here. However, if agreement on frictionless trade cannot be agreed during this period – which seems a certainty given Mr Barnier’s often repeated comments and how the EU normally treats ‘third countries’ – it will need to be extended potentially indefinitely.

Mrs May’s Davos speech on 25th January 2018 to the World Economic Forum provided the perfect audience to sell the opportunities presented by Brexit.  She could have outlined her vision, complete with objectives, timetable, planning and progress, in order to encourage her audience to invest here.  She could have addressed the principal concerns of business, for example, about market size and frictionless access to the EEA. She could have described (with specific detail) her vision for a ‘new, deep and special partnership’ with the EU which would have clarified and developed her Florence speech of 22nd September 2017.  Instead of which she focussed on artificial intelligence and making the Internet safer –  presumably her highest priorities.  Any business or political leader present, listening to and reflecting on the content could be forgiven for concluding that the UK government has nothing to offer, having already ceded control of Brexit negotiations to the EU and thus, any meaningful Brexit is not going to occur.

Artificial intelligence then is a very poor substitute for Brexit failure and even here Mrs May cannot easily offer unique government-supported opportunities for funding research and development nor can she use public sector procurement to facilitate innovation.  She can’t even protect the public sector from future Carillion fiascos. EU directives (laws) and gold-plating by her civil servants will interfere.

The transition proposals so far on offer from the EU (as explained here) are far worse than the alternative of remaining within the EEA through re-joining The European Free Trade Association (EFTA).   It is likely that the eventual transition deal (if it actually happens given  it is dependent upon Mrs May s accepting the EU’s outstanding Phase 1 conditions), will be even more onerous upon this country than already proposed.  The EU’s stance on transitional arrangements, manifested recently by the Annex to the Council Decision of 22nd May 2017 and published 29th January 2018, appears to be getting more uncompromising.  If accepted, Mrs May is likely to be forced into making further large payments into the EU’s budget, accepting continued freedom of movement of persons, taking on additional financial liabilities, remaining subject to the EU’s European Court of Justice (ECJ) and to the Common Fisheries Policy, transferring further responsibilities to the European Commission (typically defence and defence procurement, along with regulation of financial services), following the complete EU Acquis or body of existing and future law, and giving extra rights to EU citizens living here, etc..  Meanwhile, the UK will be prevented from negotiating free trade agreements around the world whilst being excluded from existing ones negotiated by the EU.

It was Mrs May’s decision to reject the EFTA/EEA option, even as a temporary measure. She first made this clear in her Lancaster House speech in January 2017.  The EFTA/EEA option allows for control of immigration through unilaterally invoking Article 112 (the Safeguard Measures) of the EEA Agreement.  The EFTA route to EEA membership gives 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. In other words, the EEA component of the Acquis is only about trade and not political integration. Furthermore, 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.  The EFTA/EEA option was claimed to be the best choice for a Brexit economy in a recently leaked overly pessimistic draft government report EU Exit Analysis – Cross Whitehall Briefing.

Unfortunately it appears that both Mrs May and Mr Davis are well and truly out of their depth.  The Department for (not) Exiting the European Union also seem to be lacking in essential competence, and is in line to face the blame for failings in getting a successful Brexit. At best, everyone is following a political Brexit whilst ignoring practicalities.  At some stage the number of Conservative MPs who will realise that the dire situation this country is facing is of their own government’s making will reach a critical mass.  At this point, there will either be an almighty rumpus following which some quite senior heads are likely to roll or else if the government persists on its stubborn course, the electorate will punish the Conservative Party severely in the next General Election in 2022 for short-changing the British people over Brexit through their acquiescence in turning this country into a permanent EU Vassal State.

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.

It’s hard to believe our government is putting us in such a vulnerable position

John Ashworth of Fishing for Leave, who has campaigned tirelessly to Save Britain’s Fish from the EU says; It’s hard to believe that our own Parliament is going to place us in such a vulnerable, dangerous position with a transition. He writes:-.

Ever since Michel Barnier was appointed to lead the Brexit negotiations for the EU he has been clear and precise. Unfortunately, neither the UK Government nor the mainstream media have taken the slightest notice in what he is saying.

In his press statement of 20th December 2017, Barnier laid out the procedure the EU wants the negotiations to follow as everyone moves on to so-called “Phase 2”:-

  • By October 2018 a withdrawal agreement and a new treaty to cover only the transitional period should be in place, in order for time to get these through the various bodies by the end of the Article 50 process on 29th March 2019 when the UK leaves regardless.
  • The Article 50 of TEU allows the negotiation of the withdrawal agreement, which must be completed on time or else there will be no agreement, whether including a transition period or not.
  • The new treaty to be agreed will come into force on 30th March 2019, and I suspect it will be the reverse of an Accession treaty, with transitional derogations.
  • This is where it gets a little complicated. At 23:01 of 29th March 2019 the UK will have left the EU and will have become a “third country”. Apart from Barnier’s talk of a treaty, no one has provided any other detail, so we have to make a guess as to what will happen next.
  • You can’t leave the EU, take up third country status, and then carry on as if nothing had happened until 1st January 2021.
  • So the new Treaty which will cover the withdrawal agreement will come in to force in tandem with the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. Together, these two pieces of legislation would, I suspect, enable us to carry on trading, as we do at present, although it will be only for a fixed period covered by a time-limited transitional derogation.
  • On 1st January 2021, the derogation will cease, and either a new EU/UK trade agreement treaty will be created, or added to the new treaty otherwise it is possible the UK will be in the same position as we are under Article 50 with the transition coming to an end and no future agreement in place.

The transition period means we will be no further forward than now but will have left the EU and in effect re-acceded to obeying all EU law under our own steam.

This means Parliament will have taken back control only to give total control of all the UK’s affairs from 30th March 2019 to 1st January  2021 back to the EU even though we have officially left.

Meanwhile, the UK government will bang on about a “deep and special relationship” and the wonderful trade deal we will get, yet at the same time, the European Commission and Parliament have both made it very clear that we will be treated like any other third country while at the same time we would be trapped as a vassal state.

It is hard to believe that our own Parliament is going to place us in such a vulnerable dangerous position.

What are the electorate going to say and do when they find the UK trapped in obedience to EU law, locked out the rest of the world as we have agreed to do so?

With the EU able to claim ‘continuity of rights established’ as the UK undid the clean slate of Article 50 by agreeing to continue obeying EU law after leaving? This is not what the British people voted leave for an anything but Brexit.

The government cannot even get their terminology correct. “Transitional” is the word the EEC/EU has used since our 1972 Accession Treaty, so why is the government using entirely different terminology by talking about an “implementation” period?

Both the Prime Minister and David Davis claim that the plan for a transitional (or implementation) period was first mentioned in the Lancaster House speech of 17th January 2017. Michel Barnier, however, claims it was first raised in the Florence speech and this appears correct.

Mrs May said in Florence; “As I said in my speech at Lancaster House a period of implementation would be in our mutual interest. That is why I am proposing that there should be such a period after the UK leaves the EU”

But what she said in the Lancaster speech was; “I do not mean that we will seek some form of unlimited transitional status, in which we find ourselves stuck forever in some kind of permanent political purgatory”

Here, Mrs  May uses ”transitional” the commonly used word of the EU since 1972 for such a situation, so why switch to “implementation” if there is not a difference of meaning?  No one seems to have offered us any real answer.

In the House of Lords Select Committee session of 13th December 2017 asked what the difference was between transition and implementation but was not given an answer – what is the government missing or trying to hide?

In the Florence speech, she continued; “we believe a phased process of implementation, in which both Britain and the EU institutions and member states prepare for the new arrangements that will exist between us will be in our mutual self-interest.”

This all sounds very confusing, but I believe the key to Mrs May’s thinking remains the words in her Lancaster House speech: “I want us to have reached an agreement about our future partnership by the time the two-year Article 50 process has concluded

I take this to mean that she wanted an agreement concerning a long-term future arrangement concluded by Brexit day, which will be 29th March 2019. She did not mean that only a withdrawal agreement would be in place by that date, with a trade deal to be discussed during a transition.

She continued; “From that point onwards, we believe a phased process of implementation, in which both Britain and the EU institutions and member states prepare for the new arrangements that will exist between us will be in our mutual self-interest”.

“For each issue, the time we need to phase-in the new arrangements may differ. Some might be introduced very quickly, some might take longer.”

Her original objectives seems to be the very opposite of the direction in which we are now heading. Caused by so much time being wasted as the government deluded itself that adopting all EU law onto the UK statute book alone would be enough rather than cracking on with new UK policy to allow the UK to be entirely independent at the end of Article 50.

Instead of applying for an extension to Article 50 of TEU the Government has chosen formally to leave the EU at 23.00 hours on 29th March 2019 but then hand over our governance back to the EU, with no representation, and accepting all the institutions of the EU.

This is a situation far worse than anything we suffered during our 44 years of membership and all for the hope of a trade deal which still may not be ready to be signed in time.

The worst feature of this proposal is that during those 21 months the EU has been clear that the UK would have to accept any new EU legislation that comes into force during those 21 months.

Commission 830 – Final ANNEX 1 to the Recommendation for a Council Decision

  1. Any transitional arrangements provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement should cover the whole of the Union Acquis…. the Union Acquis should apply to and in the United Kingdom as if it were a Member State. Any changes to the acquis should automatically apply to and in the United Kingdom during the transition period.

Donald Tusk – Phase 1 talks – 8th Dec. ‘17
“As you know the UK has asked for a transition of about 2 years while remaining part of the single market and customs union…during this period the UK will respect the whole of EU law including new law”.          

However, David Davis was very evasive when questioned about this during the select committee session of 25th October 2017:

Question 89 – Mr Djanogly: During that period, will the UK have to accept new EU laws made during that period?

Answer – Mr Davis: One of the practical points of this, which anybody who has dealt with the European Union knows—as you will have done, I guess—is that it takes two to five years from inception to outcome for laws to make it through the process. Anything that would have any impact during those two years we are talking about will already have been agreed with us in advance.  Anything that happens during it will be something for subsequent discussion as to whether we propose to follow it or not.  That is where the international arbitration procedure might become important.

Mr Davis thinks we will have some choice, However, M. Barnier, made it very clear in his speech of 20th December 2017 there will be no cherry picking; we will have to accept EVERYTHING during transition period, including legislation currently in the pipeline.

This is a rather complex and technical subject, but I hope I have been able to convey just how dangerous this “transitional period” is.  Our fishing industry would still be stuck with the disastrous Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) but worse, as the EU could move the goalposts to it’s own advantage to cripple what it left of Britain’s fishing fleet and coastal communities.

If the EU can clear the UK fleet from the seas it can then invoke Article 62.2 of UNCLOS which says;
Where the coastal State does not have the capacity to harvest the entire allowable catch, it shall ….give other States access to the surplus of the allowable catch.

If the government signs up to a transition it would not really be Brexit in anything other than name only as the UK would become a vassal state.

Where do we go now?

Ever since Michel Barnier was appointed to lead the Brexit negotiations for the EU , he has been clear and precise, Unfortunately, neither  the UK Government nor the mainstream media have taken the slightest notice in what he is saying.

In his press statement of 20th December 2017, Barnier laid out the procedure the EU wants the negotiations to follow as everyone moves on to so-called “Phase 2”:-

  • By October 2018 a withdrawal agreement and a new treaty (to cover the transitional period) should be in place, in order for time to get these through the various bodies by 29th March 2019.
  • The old article 50 of TEU allows the negotiation of the withdrawal agreement, which must be completed on time or else there will be no transition period.
  • The new treaty will come into force on 30th March 2019, and I suspect it will be the reverse of an Accession treaty, with transitional derogations.
  • This is where it gets a little complicated. At 23.01 of 29th March 2019 we will have left the EU and will have become a “third country”. Apart from Banier’s talk of a treaty, no one has provided any other detail, so we have to make a guess as to what will happen next.
  • You can’t leave the EU, take up third country status and then carry on as if nothing had happened until 1st. January 2021, when it is possible we will be in the same position as now.
  • So the new Treaty which will cover the withdrawal agreement will come in to force in tandem with the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. Together, these two pieces of legislation would, I suspect, enable us to carry on trading, as we do at present, although it will be only for a fixed period covered by a time-limited transitional derogation.
  • On 1st January 2021, the derogation will cease, and either a new EU/UK trade agreement treaty will be created, or added to the new treaty.

It is hard to believe that our own Parliament is going to place us in such a vulnerable dangerous position. The period from 30th March 2019 to 1st January  2021 gives EU-based companies a more than adequate time frame to allow themselves to extricate themselves from the UK. Meanwhile, the UK government will bang on about this “deep and special relationship” and the wonderful trade deal we will get, yet at the same time, the European Commission and Parliament have both made it very clear that we will be treated like any other third country. Unless UK-based  companies realise the reality of this, they will hit the buffers unprepared.

Our side cannot even get their terminology  correct. “Transitional” is the word the EEC/EU has used since our 1972 Accession Treaty, so why are we talking about an “implementation” period?  In the House of Lords Select Committee session of 13th December 2017 asked what the difference was between transition and implementation  but was not given an answer.

What are the electorate going to say and do when they find the economy is in decline and EU continuity rights have been established? This is no real Brexit.

Both the Prime Minister and David Davis claim that the plan for a transitional (or implementation) period was first mentioned in the Lancaster House speech of 17th January 2017. Michel Barnier , however, claims it was first raised in the Florence speech and this appears correct.

Mrs May said in Florence, “As I said in my speech at Lancaster House a period of implementation would be in our mutual interest. That is why I am proposing that there should be such a period after the UK leaves the EU”

But what she said in the Lancaster speech was ,  “I do not mean that we will seek some form of unlimited transitional status, in which we find ourselves stuck forever in some kind of permanent political purgatory”

Here, Mrs  May uses ”transitional” the commonly used word of the EU since 1972 for such a situation, so why switch to “implementation” if there is not a difference of meaning?  No one seems to have offered us any real answer.

In the Florence speech, she continued, “we believe a phased process of implementation, in which both Britain and the EU institutions and member states prepare for the new arrangements that will exist between us will be in our mutual self-interest.”

This all sounds very confusing, but I believe the key to Mrs May’s thinking remains the words in her Lancaster House speech: “I want us to have reached an agreement about our future partnership by the time the two-year Article 50 process has concluded” I take this to mean that she wanted the agreement  done and dusted by Brexit day, which we now know will be 29th March 2019. She did not mean that only a withdrawal agreement would be in place by that date, with a trade deal to follow. She continued: “From that point onwards, we believe a phased process of implementation, in which both Britain and the EU institutions and member states prepare for the new arrangements that will exist between us will be in our mutual self-interest”.

“For each issue, the time we need to phase-in the new arrangements may differ. Some might be introduced very quickly, some might take longer.”

Her original objectives seem to be the very opposite of the direction in which we are now heading.  Because so much time has been wasted, instead of applying for an extension to Article 50 of TEU, where we could have carried on for a further 21 months (although we would not have been out of the EU, which would have been politically unacceptable with a general election looming), the  Government has chosen formally to leave the EU at 23.00 hours on 29th March 2017 but then hand over our governance back to the EU, with no representation, and accepting all the institutions of the EU. This is a situation far worse than anything we suffered during our 44 years of membership and all for the hope of a trade deal which still may not be ready to be signed in time.

The worst feature of this proposal is that during those 21 months we would have to accept any new EU legislation  that comes into force during those 21 months, even though David Davis was very evasive when questioned about this during the select committee session of 25th October 2017:

Q89            Mr Djanogly: During that period, will the UK have to accept new EU laws made during that period?

Mr Davis: One of the practical points of this, which anybody who has dealt with the European Union knows—as you will have done, I guess—is that it takes two to five years from inception to outcome for laws to make it through the process. Anything that would have any impact during those two years we are talking about will already have been agreed with us in advance.  Anything that happens during it will be something for subsequent discussion as to whether we propose to follow it or not.  That is where the international arbitration procedure might become important.

So Mr Davis thinks we will have some choice, However, M. Barnier, made it very clear in his speech of 20th December 2017 there will be no cherry picking; we will have to accept EVERYTHING during transition period, including legislation currently in the pipeline.

This is a rather complex and technical subject, but I hope I have been able to convey just how dangerous this “transitional period” is.  My own industry, fishing, would still be stuck with the Common Fisheries  Policy but worse, it would not really be Brexit in anything other than name only.

The financial settlement – it will be a long-term gain

THE FINANCIAL SETTLEMENT

The Prime Minister has stated that the financial settlement and any payment thereof would depend on a satisfactory overall agreement which meets the objectives of the Florence Speech, including a trade arrangement.

THE PRESENT POSITION

When going into negotiations with the EU for a ‘single financial settlement’ it is necessary to consider the current established financial relationships between the UK and the EU.

These come in two parts:

The UK’s EU budget contribution (after rebate) amounts to around £13.5 billion per annum.  That is about 20% of the total net savings of the UK economy.  It is also a legal obligation of EU membership and exists in perpetuity.  Any sum spent by the EU in the UK is not an obligation but is a matter of EU policy.  Since 1973 the total net UK contribution to the EU budget at 2017 prices is about £500 billion and, at present, the perpetual obligation adds to this every year.  (The last time it was fully worked out was for the period 1973-2010 when it amounted to £379 billion at 2010 values.)

The second part of the current relationship is that there is UK exposure to the liabilities of the EU and its entities such as the ECB (European Central Bank), EIB (European Investment Bank), etc.  There is no corresponding EU exposure to UK liabilities such as those of the Bank of England.  The UK also has ‘joint and several’ liability for all EU debts.

In comparison with the UK situation, non-EU EEA countries, such as Norway, have no exposure to EU liabilities nor do they contribute to the EU general budget (contrary to what is often asserted).

It should be noted that this study addresses only financial and fiscal matters.  There are other costly economic effects of the UK-EU relationship, such as food costs, migration costs, etc. which are not referred to here.  There are also some benefits in the internal market relationship.

The present financial situation is described more precisely in a pre-referendum study:

UK Membership of the EU – The Threat to the Balance Sheet.

THE UK’S NECESSARY FINANCIAL ASPIRATION

It is, therefore, prudent and a financial necessity that the UK ceases to hand over 20% of its net savings to the EU in perpetuity with virtually no influence of how these savings are spent (only a tiny fraction is spent on investment in the UK).

It is also urgent for the UK to extract itself from the partly one-sided exposure to the liabilities and contingent liabilities of the EU as soon as possible.  Adopting the position of the EFTA/EEA states which have no responsibility for EU liabilities would be prudent finance.

THE ‘FINANCIAL SETTLEMENT’ AS AT DECEMBER 2017

The fundamental two aims of stopping EU budget contributions with the consequent erosion of UK savings/investment and extracting the UK from EU liabilities are on the table and in the Joint Report of 8th December 2017.

These are the two core financial benefits of departure.

It is important to understand that the EU referendum was about the long-term future and not about the details of departure, not all of which are favourable.  Further, if the referendum had been won by Remain, both the half-a-trillion pound hit to UK savings would have increased every year by some 2 or 3%, and the UK would still have been responsible for its share of EU liabilities.

These will cease over the next five years, although in a somewhat unsatisfactory and messy settlement.

THE FINANCIAL SETTLEMENT – THE QUANTUM

Michel Barnier is quoted in The Guardian (19/12/2017): “He [Barnier] would not confirm British estimates that the final Brexit bill – the UK’s outstanding obligations to the EU – would be no more than Euro 45 billion (£39 billion).”

This was hardly unreasonable of Barnier because at least two of the principal subjects of financial discussion, the UK’s stake in the EIB and EU pensions seem to have been left as ongoing yearly matters and, therefore, it is difficult to form capitalized totals thereof in any meaningful way.  Pensions will be paid when this amount falls due.  This means the UK could still be paying pensions up to 2100 although the amounts will be insignificant by then.

It has also been agreed that the UK will continue its normal financial relationship with the EU until the end of 2020, that is, making budget contributions and collecting the rebate.

Some questions arise over the following (the references are to the Joint UK EU Report of 8/12/17):

  • It is not stated that the UK will receive its rebate for the year 2020 (it is normally repaid one year in arrear).
  • Item 61, “The UK will contribute its share of the financing of the budgetary commitments outstanding at 31st December 2020 (RAL).” The ‘rebate’ is not mentioned but even if the UK agrees to pay its share of RAL then this should be subject to the rebate (paying a share of the RAL is a political concession by the UK).  The whole point of the RAL is that money has been spent or authorized above the EU budget although Item 67(b) appears to negate the rebate in RAL matters.
  • Then there is ambiguous phraseology over the balance sheet. “The UK will contribute (para 62) its share of the financing of the Union’s liabilities incurred before December 2020 except for liabilities with corresponding assets and assets and liabilities which are related to the operation of the budget and the Own Resources division.”  The English is poor and obscurantist.  The clear fair method is for the UK to establish its share of the EU balance sheet (assets and liabilities) and pay its share of the net amount if there is an excess of liabilities over assets.  This is the method recommended by the Institute of Chartered Accountants. (some of the net may be subject to the rebate).
  • The European Investment Bank (EIB): The UK has agreed (item 74 onwards) that it will not receive any profit from the activities of the EIB but will participate in a share of any losses entailing Extra Capital calls.  This is a poor negotiating decision.