Awaiting the storm (or explosion!)

It cannot be much longer before the penny finally drops regarding the terms being proposed by the EU for the UK’s 21-month “transitional arrangement.”

Businessmen like John Mills and John Longworth, both of whom met Michel Barnier in Brussels last week, are distinctly unimpressed with what we are likely to be offered, but it is surprising that there haven’t already been even louder cries of outrage from the Conservative back benches. Last November, at a meeting organised by Conservative MEP David Campbell Bannerman, Rt Hon David Jones MP was quite unequivocal that any further involvement of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the legal affairs of the UK after Brexit would be an “absolute red line” for himself and a number of his colleagues, who would rather leave with no deal.

As more details emerge, it is becoming clear that it’s not just a role for the ECJ in our affairs which the EU wishes to incorporate into the transitional deal. According to an article in The Times, the EU will insist on the free movement of people throughout the period and the inclusion of people moving to the UK before 31st December 2020 in any post-Brexit agreement on citizens’ rights.. This again is a slap in the face for leave voters. It’s not just that many of us voted leave because we want to see a drastic cut in immigration; more to the point, we voted leave because we wanted our institutions to be sovereign – and this means that the EU must have no say in determining who can or cannot come into the UK or how long they can stay.

This tougher stance is contained in a new document dated 15th January. It is not the final word on the EU’s position, which will not be published until the end of the month, but it certainly gives us an idea of the general direction of travel. The guidelines produced last year by the European Parliament, although essentially a consultative document, were bad enough. We would be, in effect, a colony of the EU, unable to sign any trade agreements with other countries and still subject to the Common Fisheries and Common Agricultural policies. This document was bad enough, but according to Bloomberg, the latest document also states that we would need to seek the EU’s permission even to start negotiations on trade deals with third parties. We would be unable to strike out on our own path. The net “divorce bill” may also be increased.

Perhaps ironically, the Council President Donald Tusk told the European Parliament that “our hearts are still open “that the UK might “have a change of heart” and stay within the EU. This suggests a warmth towards us which just is not reflected in the negotiating guidelines which seem designed to squeeze and humiliate us as much as possible. Chancellor Philip Hammond claimed recently that the EU is “paranoid” that other countries will follow us out of the door. It has also been claimed that the EU is pressurising Switzerland not to make a bilateral deal with the UK The EU’s tough stance may well all be technically justifiable from the treaties, but it clearly wishes to interpret them in the toughest way possible as far as Brexit is concerned. No one with any sense of self-respect should give in to this bullying.

The transitional deal must therefore be kicked into the long grass as soon as possible, especially as there is no guarantee that a new trade deal will be ready to replace it after 21 months. The EU’s ambassadors have signalled a willingness for the transitional period to be extended, but this would only prolong an unsatisfactory situation which is not Brexit in any real sense of the term.

A further complication is looming on the horizon. The Norwegians have indicated that they would seek to renegotiate their trading arrangements with the EU if we were given favourable access to the EU’s single market  while not being a member of it.  This, of course, refers to any long-term deal and therefore is not an issue for Mrs May at the moment as the EU has insisted that negotiations on a long-term trading arrangement cannot start yet.  Let’s face it, she has enough on her plate as her team prepares to negotiate the transitional arrangements. We must hope that there is already a storm brewing up on the Conservative back benches which will rapidly knock these unacceptable proposals on the head and force the government to take a different approach.

If not, the storm is likely to strike with far greater ferocity  in four years’ time. A botched Brexit where we leave in name only is not what we voted for and not what Mrs May promised us when she became leader.   Brexit must mean Brexit or our Prime Minister will not only find herself consigned to a “rogues gallery”, excoriated by posterity alongside the likes of Lord North, Neville Chamberlain, Heath, Blair and Brown, but she may well take her party down with her.

A storm is coming

In the fishing industry, we expect winter storms – they are part and parcel of the job, Is our government, however, aware of the looming storm of its own making?

The best news of 2017 was our Government’s success in moving the Brexit negotiations from phase one to phase two, although in reality we are only moving on to to phase one and a half, because the transition/implementation period was not on the original agenda and this is what will create the storm.

Storms expose weaknesses, and for the Government it will be its entire Brexit strategy, focussed on this supposed “deep and special relationship.” Just to remind ourselves, Mrs May first used this phrase in herLancaster House speech.”The United Kingdom would seek to secure a new, deep and special partnership with the European Union”.

But there has been nothing of any substance to give us any idea of the foundations upon which this new relationship/partnership is to be based. Is it,

  1. like the present  – in other words, almost as good a deal as if we were still a full EU member? or
  2. starting with a clean sheet of paper?

It is fair to say that, given all the hype over this phrase, that the electorate thinks it is going to be the first of these options whereas the truth is that it is more like the second. When the penny drops, there will be immense disappointment and indeed, anger.

So the storm clouds are building over continental Europe, ready to lash the British Isles. We can expect them to arrive around the end of this month – January 2018. At the eye of the storm is the harsh reality that the unity and solidarity of the 27 EU member States comes first. In order that this will not be compromised, the EU’s proposal for a 21 month transition period will see us totally subservient to our continental cousins. No wonder Barnier was delighted when the UK asked for a transitional period. It suits the EU very nicely.

The EU will spare no effort in its battle to save “Le project” which, it must be emphasized, is primarily a political not an economic project. We have been told that as far as access to the Single Market is concerned, there is to be no cherry picking by the UK, yet this is exactly what the EU itself is doing in areas such as defense and security.

The recommendations being issued by the EU institutions for the operation of this proposed 21 month transition are horrific. We will have no representation in the EU institutions, but will have to accept the full EU acquis during this period. We will be back under the Common Fisheries Policy for another 21 months and charged a hefty bill for these “privileges”. Furthermore, who can guarantee that a new trading arrangement will be signed and sealed by the end of the 21 months? The EU has indicated that it is willing to consider an extension to the transitional period in which case, we may never leave in reality, only in name.

It is easy to be cynical about this transitional period. After all, why did we vote to leave? Brexit is about control coming back to our elected representatives, not further subservience to the EU.

Some Westminster MP’s are beginning to grasp that we could end up wasting 21 months under these arrangements and on 1st. January 2021 we could be no further forward – in fact, we would be heavily weakened as these 21 months would give EU companies time to find alternative suppliers within the 27. Other MPs are hiding behind this phrase “deep and special relationship” – as if Brexit is nothing to do with them, The bottom line, however, is that responsibility rests with every MP. There is no mandate to give our country away again, even under the guise of a “transitional arrangement”. Thankfully the plans will be put to the vote, so we will know where each MP stands and how many of them are truly committed to honouring the Prime Minister’s pledge that “Brexit must mean Brexit”.

Impressions of meeting with Michel Barnier in Brussels – John Mills

ON WEDNESDAY, 10TH JANUARY 2018

    Michel Barnier is an impressive person, tough and charming, who is evidently well on top of his Brexit brief and thus a formidable person to have on the other side of the table as the Brexit negotiations take place. He wants to get a deal completed but not at any cost to the EU27.

    His primary aim is to secure the integrity and security of the Single Market and the Customs Union rather than to search for a deal which is necessarily in the overall best interest of both the UK and the EU27. The notion that the EU27 may make substantial concessions to avoid economic pain is therefore very probably misplaced.

    While the best outcome from both the UK’s and the EU27’s point of view has always seemed to be for the UK to be outside the Single Market and the Customs Union but with a free trade deal in place covering goods and as many services as possible, this now looks as though it may be difficult to achieve. This is despite the fact that this is substantially the relationship the EU27 has with other countries as varied as Israel, Peru, Mexico, South Korea, Canada and the Ukraine.

    There are at least four major reasons why this is the case, these being:

1. The UK is starting from a radically different position from these other countries – essentially looking for a divorce rather than marriage, with all the baggage that this brings with it.

2. The UK is a much larger player in EU trade terms than any of these other countries, and thus potentially more disruptive if derogations are needed from the existing carefully balanced EU acquis.

3. The UK’s negotiation position has been gravely weakened both by the sequencing insisted on by the EU27 – dealing with money, Ireland and citizenship before trade – and by the result of the recent general election which has left no majority in Parliament for the WTO option which – although not the optimal outcome – is the only realistic fall-back position for the UK to have, without which the EU27 is left with all the cards in its hands.

4. Time is running short, although some extension of time by suspending Article 50 to create the proposed transitional period may help.

    In these circumstances, the most likely offer to the UK from the EU27 seems be free movement of goods and some concessions on services with the UK formally outside the Single Market and probably the Customs Union too but with the UK having to continue to accept nearly all the legal and regulatory obligations currently in place. These will almost certainly include substantial annual net contributions to the EU budget, free movement of people, significant jurisdiction by the ECJ, constraints on the UK’s capacity to negotiate trade deals on its own, and continuing membership of both the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy.

    An offer to the UK along these lines would probably be supported by all the EU27, led by Germany and France, but may not be acceptable to Parliament, let alone the British electorate. In these circumstances, preparing for the UK to fall back on WTO terms appears to be essential both to safeguard the position if no acceptable deal is presented to the UK, and to stiffen the UK’s negotiating position in the meantime.

    There may well be calls in circumstances where no acceptable deal is offered to the UK, for a second referendum on the UK’s EU membership, although probably only by a small minority of diehard Remainers. Even in the unlikely event of another referendum being held, current polls indicate that it would be unlikely to produce a different outcome from the one held in June 2016, thus confirming that Brexit is some form is likely to be inevitable.

    If the EU27 wants a deal with the UK it is therefore essential that this takes account of the political realities exposed by the 2016 EU referendum and current polls, which is that – if push comes to shove – the UK electorate would very probably be willing to opt for a clean break with the EU rather than finishing up being in a worse position than we were before Brexit started – with all the obligations against which people voted still in place, but with the UK having no say in how the EU develops in future.

John Mills 11th January 2018

Tony Blair must be silenced

Do you know anyone who doesn’t hate Tony Blair? The most I can say in his favour is that I know a couple of people who loathe certain other politicians even more than they loathe him. Most people wish he would just shut up and retire to obscurity but unfortunately, being an ex-Prime Minister, the media is still more than willing to listen to what he says – and as far as Brexit is concerned, he has been rather verbose recently.

His latest outburst shows that he remains stubbornly opposed to the government carrying out the democratic will of the people.  He doesn’t want us to leave the EU. Even though much of the article focuses on the problems of a future trade relationship, his  support for the EU goes beyond trade issues. “Membership of the European Union is right as a matter of principle, for profound political as well as economic reasons.” he asserts. He goes on to say “We are making an error the contemporary world cannot understand and the generations of the future will not forgive….Brexit isn’t and never was the answer.”

Naturally, we would disagree, but if Blair and his ilk are to be silenced once and for all, two things are necessary. Firstly,  his arguments in favour of the general principle of EU membership have to be refuted, but secondly, the government must address the current weaknesses in its Brexit strategy.

The first of Blair’s points, namely that EU membership is a good thing politically as well as economically, is so fatally flawed  that no fair-minded well informed person could possibly agree.  Thanks to our EU membership, we have found ourselves unnecessarily mixed up in the EU’s empire building – for example, in the Ukraine, a part of the world where we have little strategic interest. We have found our excellent Common Law legal system compromised by our membership of  Europol or the European Arrest Warrant. Furthermore, the direction of travel in the EU is towards closer integration, which means in effect power will be taken still further away from the people and their elected representatives,  given instead to a largely unelected and increasingly unaccountable clique of bureaucrats and politicians in Brussels.

In 2012, Angela Merkel told David Cameron, “Your vision of the EU is so cold, David.’ The point she was making is that for most of us, including our former Prime Minister, the EU was about trade. We have always been sceptical about grandiose political projects.  and thus have always felt on the outside of the EU, most of whose member states do not share our scepticism. Only a few senior British politicians have ever embraced the EU’s federalism wholeheartedly. One of these few, however, was Blair’s mentor Roy Jenkins, the only Briton ever to lead the European Commission. As Prime Minister, Blair never felt himself in a position to display his federalist sympathies quite so openly as Jenkins but now Brexit looks like extinguishing the dying embers of his megalomaniac ambitions of becoming Emperor Tony the First, he clearly feels he has nothing to lose.

For those of us living in the real world, however, it is blindingly obvious that our political system needs to be reformed so that we digress further from the EU. In other words, power should be brought closer to the people – taking non-EU Switzerland as our model, which has one of the most accountable systems of government in the world. Indeed, we should seek to become the leader of Free Europe, as we were between 1940 and 1945, showing that there is a better way for countries to organise themselves than to emasculate their national democracies in favour of a remote, unaccountable bureaucracy in Brussels. We can do far more good and wield far more influence internationally this way than by remaining in the EU. The future generations, far from being unwilling to forgive us for Brexit, will be delighted that by leaving the EU, we made not only our country, but other lands too, a better place. Blair’s argument that Brexit was an unfortunate mistake will, unless the Government messes up badly, prove to be about as accurate as his conviction that Saddam Hussein possessed a vast stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.

Unfortunately, our opportunities to help the government address the weaknesses of its Brexit strategy (and thus avoid making a mess of Brexit) are more limited, but we must do what we can. Blair outlines four possible outcomes:- staying what he calls a “reformed Europe”, leaving the EU but staying within the Single Market and Customs Union, leaving the EU but negotiating a bespoke Free trade agreement which “keeps us  close to Europe politically” or leaving the EU and “negotiating a basic Free Trade Agreement and market ourselves as ‘Not Europe’”.

As far as the first option is concerned,  the Conservative Party has spent much of the last 30 years trying to “reform” the European Union. last year’s “State of the Union” speech by Jean-Claude Juncker and the strongly pro-federalist speech by Martin Schulz a couple of months later  shows how deeply federalism which, above all, led to the Brexit vote, is still embedded into the EU’s DNA. Perhaps Blair has forgotten that for all his talk of our “staying in the EU, using the Brexit vote as leverage to achieve reform” that David Cameron did come back from Brussels with some degree of reform nearly two years ago.  He secured a sort-of exemption from ever closer union and a very weak concession that the EU might allow a limited “emergency brake” on immigration. The majority of the electorate wasn’t impressed and voted to leave. 18 months on, there has been no indication of any widespread change of heart.

The way Blair frames the second option, he is either being devious or just plain stupid. Like a number of other remainers, he portrays the single market and the customs union as somehow joined at the hip. They are not. Staying in the EEA as a transitional arrangement would be a vast improvement on the transitional deal currently being discussed, which would leave us as a colony of the EU with no power. The Customs Union, on the other hand, was never even discussed during the referendum debate. Apart from micro-states like San Marino, Turkey is the only non-EU country to be part of the Customs Union. The Turks do not like this deal and given that we would not be able to secure an independent trade policy, it wold not be popular here either. It is an irrelevancy and the sooner it falls out of any discussion of our future, the better.

Blair’s third and fourth options are more about politics than trade. Both assume we end up with a bespoke deal with the EU. Do we want to stay politically close to the EU or deliberately launch out on a different path? In reality, rather than a binary choice, the question should be phrased more on the lines of whereabouts on the scale of political closeness or political divergence do we wish to position ourselves? The answer is probably far closer to the “divergence” end of the spectrum than Blair would wish, as has been noted above.

Unfortunately, the muddle which the Government has found itself in may result in our ending up stuck in limbo between options 1 and 2 – a transitional deal which sees us effectively locked into the EU for a further 21 months and which gives us access to the Single Market but on far worse terms than Norway or Iceland. It is staggering that there has so far been so little critical analysis of the proposed transitional deal, as it is a very bad arrangement indeed. Somehow, the EU’s harsh guidelines have been completely ignored by many politicians and indeed, much of the media. As mentioned above, we would essentially end up as a colony of the EU, forced to accept the full acquis but with no say in the framing or implementation of these laws.  In such circumstances, it would be all too easy to end up saying “What was the point of the Brexit vote?”

To throw in the towel is exactly what Blair and co would love us to do. No one can deny that the last 18 months have been exasperating and there is still little light at the end of the tunnel as far as a sensible exit strategy is concerned. If you are a leave voter who has become utterly fed up with the whole subject of Brexit, take heart; you are not alone! Perhaps, however, we should think back to that momentous day in June 2016. Our elation at the time should act as a reminder that we must not give up, no matter how frustrated we feel at the moment. To allow the likes of Blair to win by default, especially given the weaknesses of his arguments, would be the ultimate tragedy for our countrymen and a betrayal of all  that we have fought for over the last four decades. Blair can only finally be silenced by persevering to the end, continuing to make the case for Brexit, seeking to influence the debate on how best to achieve the best deal – and persevere we must and shall.

Short changing the British people over Brexit

It is becoming an increasing concern that the British people are being short-changed over Brexit  – by Mrs May, the Department for (not) Exiting the European Union (EU), the government generally, and Parliament. The final Brexit settlement with the EU should correspond in large part to addressing the significant wishes, hopes and fears of the electorate as expressed in the Referendum vote. Are there important pieces of pieces of information which we not being told that we really should know?  What will be the political consequences if and when we find out the hard way that our leaders are misleading and cheating us?

The vote to leave the EU was a cry for a change of direction. In particular, it was an expression of the desire to leave the EU, which is evolving into a centralised homogeneous superstate. It was certainly not for “politics as usual”  – the status quo whereby an out of touch ruling establishment in Westminster and Brussels would continue to conceal the truth, using fear to manipulate people and doing what it wanted to whilst ignoring the wishes of the Electorate.  Ultimately, the Brexit vote was about ‘the sovereignty of the People’ and their right to governed by consent – in other words, government of the people, by the people, for the people.  Brexit, therefore, needs to be a complete change of political direction, not leaving us stuck in the political EU (aka Greater Germany) under a different name, all the time aided and abetted by a deceptive Westminster clique.

If we had voted to remain in the EU, whatever the reasoning of individual voters, we would have been forced to accept not only the current status quo but also of the EU’s direction of travel.   Remain voters were effectively putting their trust in the ruling establishment in both Westminster and Brussels. Any Brexit settlement outside remain voters’ ‘comfort zone’ of EU membership therefore needs to provide something like the same measure of reassurance and must address, wherever practicable, their real concerns.

Whilst it would appear the objectives of Leave and Remain voters are completely different, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they cannot, or should not, be reconciled in the resulting Brexit settlement.  To ignore the minority who voted Remain is tantamount to  a dictatorship of the majority and very un-British.  It is also quite likely that the economic fears of Remain voters are also shared to some extent by Leave voters, whilst many Remain voters share the Leave voters’ disillusionment with, and distrust of, the ruling élite and share their concerns about uncontrolled immigration and open borders. Political independence from the EU whilst maintaining close trading arrangements (such as through the Single Market) and co-operation should be achievable if Mrs May and Mr Davis understood how the EU thinks and works, following the example set by other prosperous European nations which are not in the EU.

The political establishment and main stream media are not presenting us with anything like the full picture on leaving the EU. In turn, the resulting distortion is creating misconceptions about what can and cannot be achieved.  Firstly, if we re-join EFTA (the European Free Trade Association) we can remain in the Single Market (more accurately the European Economic Area, EEA) under different, much more flexible or bespoke conditions including allowing us to control immigration (by unilaterally invoking Article 112, the Safeguard Measures) in the EEA Agreement and leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.  Secondly, the acquis (or body of law) of the EEA is about a quarter of the total EU acquis and is relevant to the facilitation of seamless trade, rather than the furtherance of a political project.  Thirdly, about 80% of the EEA acquis originates outside the EU, to facilitate more global trade, so we would (probably) need to comply with it anyway.  Fourthly, ‘all singing, all dancing’ Free Trade agreements (FTAs) take several years to negotiate and don’t provide seamless trade.  Fifthly, the EU is unlikely to agree to an advantageous FTA because it is not in the interests of their centralising control-freak political agenda. Sixthly, outside the EEA we will be a ‘third country’ subject to vastly increased difficulties while trading with the protectionist EU through tariffs and non-tariff barriers including regulation, approvals and surveillance.

Mrs May and Mr Davis’s Transitional Deal and overall handling of Brexit so far has the potential to lead to widespread dissatisfaction and disillusionment on both the Leave and Remain sides.  For the leaver, there is dissatisfaction that Brexit under the current plan will not be a clean break on 29th March 2019, but will begin a period of costly servitude to the EU, effectively a vassal state, which will last for at least 21 months and quite possibly even longer. In other words, it will be an indefinite Brexit in name only. For the concerned remainer who is not an ideological europhile but motivated primarily by worries over the economy, the limited duration of the proposed transitional period may result in either an unsatisfactory Free Trade agreement or else an extension of the transitional deal with the resulting uncertainty this would cause. Businesses share these concerns and at the moment have not been given any clear idea of the potential barriers to seamless trade with the EU that will occur whether or not there is an FTA.

Since the Referendum, the disillusionment with the ruling establishment has continued. It is not a problem peculiar to the UK or engendered by Brexit as there have been similar trends within the EU and in the United States.  Often decried as ‘populism’, it is a visible rejection of mainstream parties, the political status quo and its direction of travel. Our electoral system does not make it easy for new parties to make a breakthrough, but it cannot ultimately prevent radical change if dissatisfaction grows sufficiently. Given the trend amongst the ruling class to respond to their obvious unpopularity by becoming more insular and arrogant, we could see even greater political instability.

The Brexit dividend, which offered an opportunity for our country to reinvigorate freedom, enterprise, democracy and our world-leading traditional strengths for the benefit of all is being wasted. A period of unpredictability on the political front is looking increasingly likely given that it will not be long before the British people conclude en masse that the main problem, which is making their lives and those of their children potentially worse, is the ruling class.

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