Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Juncker?

Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, delivered a speech to the European Parliament. on Monday March 12th .When he mentioned that the UK was going to leave the EU on March 29th 2019, some pro-withdrawal UK MEPs started cheering, which led Juncker to add “when you will regret your decision”. It is now over 18 months since the referendum and there is little evidence as yet of any serious voter regret.  Why should things be any different in a year’s time? After all, some of us have spent years, if not decades, campaigning to regain our independence. We’re not going to have second thoughts.

The immediate post-Brexit may be painful at first, particularly if the current muddle in the Government’s Brexit strategy is not resolved, but Brexit is like an operation to remove a malignant tumour – not going through with it would be far worse and lead to certain death.  The pain is a price worth paying.  Mind you, there is no need for the pain to be any greater than necessary. We certainly do not want to find ourselves stuck in a transitional deal on the EU’s current proposed terms which would both cripple our fishing industry  and make it very difficult ever to achieve a full and complete break. Reports that the Government and the EU are close to an agreement are thus a serious cause for concern.

Thankfully, transitional arrangements will only be signed off as part of an overall separation deal and we are still a long way from this being finalised. Our side is still struggling to move beyond soundbytes and wish lists.  Michel Barnier urged Theresa May to speed up the Brexit negotiations and define her vision for the sort of future relationship she wishes our country to have with the EU.  This does beg the question as to whether our team actually realises that the soundbytes and wish lists are nothing more than that. Could it be that, in Mrs May’s eyes, this actually is her vision?

Meanwhile, in spite of the lack of progress, the UK economy continues to defy the doom merchants. There is no question that predictions of economic meltdown before Brexit day have been proved totally and completely wrong. Even Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, was uncharacteristically upbeat  in his 2018 spring statement. Annual GDP growth of  1.5% or less in the coming years is not wonderful but it’s heaven compared with the  nightmare scenario portrayed by George Osborne a couple of years back.

Mind you, economic forecasting at the moment is completely pointless until we know  what the route to Brexit will look like. The better-than-expected performance of the UK economy to date does not in any way mean that we are guaranteed to sail out of the EU’s escape hatch in a blaze of glory. M. Barnier is  right – we really must come up with an exit plan that honours the mandate given by the British people on 23rd June 2016 and yet ensures that our businesses can continue to trade reasonably seamlessly with the EU if not on the same terms as before. So far, regrettably, there has been no sign of any coherent plan and the Brexit clock continues to tick. But regret our decision to leave? NEVER.

 

Photo by UE en Perú

Welcome Intervention from Mr Gove & Ms Davidson Needs Clarity

Fishermen’s organisation Fishing for Leave strongly welcomed Mr Gove and Ms Davidson’s words but say more clarity is needed and the government needs to stop playing semantics.

Michael Gove and Ruth Davidson’s interventions come days after it seemed that senior government figures would fail to rebuff the EUs demand that a condition of a Free Trade Agreement is continuation of; “existing reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources”.

Mr Gove and Mrs Davidson stated their commitment that;

“As we leave the EU, we want the UK to become an independent coastal state, negotiating access annually with our neighbours….. the Prime Minister has been clear: Britain will leave the CFP as of March 2019”.

Fishing for Leave says it is welcome that both have lent their support to this but say where this turns south and these statements can ring hollow is they are impossible to fulfil if fishing is trapped in a transition and clarity is needed on this.

They it is an admission that fishing will be in a transition in the words;

“during the implementation period we will ensure that British fishermen’s interests are properly safeguarded.”

Alan Hastings of FFL said “It’s stating the obvious that the UK will officially “leave” the CFP on March 2019 as our membership ceases under Article 50. However, the transition means re-obeying all EU law after we leave meaning Brexit In Name Only (BRINO)”.

“During a transition the EU can enforce any detrimental legislation to cull the UK fleet which makes the pledge to safeguard British fishermen and a bright future academic and hollow”.

“There’s been well publicised representations to the government and MPs that being trapped in a transition will see a large proportion of the UK fleet culled under forthcoming inept EU policy that is already agreed”.

“This would allow the EU to use international law (Article62.2 of UNCLOS) to claim the “surplus” resources the UK would no longer have the fleet capacity to catch”.

“So why does the government stop playing semantics and clearly state in unequivocal terms not that we ‘leave the CFP’ but that there will be no continuation of it in any way shape or form post 2019?”

“Until that assurance is forthcoming everything else is a PR exercise playing on words that folk are getting sick fed up with regards Brexit”.

WELCOME COMMENT ON RESOURCES MUST BE ACHIEVED

FFL commend sboth Mr Gove and Ms Davidson for reinforcing that “we agree we must deliver a fairer allocation for the British fleet in our own waters”.  This echoes the PMs speech of “fairer allocation of fishing opportunities for the UK fishing industry.”

Fishing for Leave highlighted that under international law and ‘zonal attachment’ a nation is entitled to a proportion of any shared stocks based on the abundance of that stock in its waters.

Alan continued; “We hope and look forward to Mr Gove and Defra publicising that a “fair share” is no less than the 750,000 tons of fish the EU catches in British waters every year that are rightfully ours in exchange for the 90,000 tons we catch in theirs”.

“Anything less than fulfilling the government’s commitment to work under international law and therefore this international premise of zonal attachment would see a token gesture towards fairer shares”.

It’s music to hear senior politicians acknowledge and advocate that “We believe it is vital that we regain control over our own fisheries management…. we both agree that our fishing industry stands to benefit from our departure from the common fisheries policy”

“It is vital that the opportunity of repatriating the 60% of the fish the EU catches in British waters, which could double the British fishing industry’s worth to £6-8bn every year, is achieved”.

“FFL looks forward to the government substantiating the welcome whispers from Defra that new UK policy will give fair opportunity to all fishermen under a more sustainable management system to see the dividend of repatriating our waters help to rejuvenate coastal communities”.

“This is needed to replace the environmentally disastrous CFP which has forced consolidation to ever fewer boats and ports but if it is vital to regain control and they recognise fishing an benefit why trap fishing in a transition for 21months where the EU can move the goal posts?”

STILL NO REBUTTAL OF TRADING FISHING FOR TRADE DEALS

There is still no rebuttal to the PMs speech and Philip Hammond’s suggestion on agreeing shares and access to UK waters as a giveaway for a wider deal.

The PM said;

As part of a new economic partnership we want to continue to work with the EU to manage shared stocks in a sustainable way and to agree reciprocal access to waters

This statement and Hammond’s comments openly state that fishing will be tied and sacrificed as negotiating capital for a new economic partnership.

All this flies in the face of Mr Gove and George Eustice’s earlier comments at an EFRA Select Committee that fishing access and resources wouldn’t be tied to wider trade negotiations.

It’s time for the government to come out fighting to unequivocally succeed on this “acid test” by clearly saying there will be continuation or any ties to the CFP after March 2019 and that we really will take back control.

The Council spells it out – but David Davis doesn’t

The latest draft negotiating guidelines from the European Council on Brexit couldn’t be clearer when it comes to fishing. Section 7 begins as follows:-

“As regards the core of the economic relationship , the European Council confirms its readiness to initiate work towards a free trade agreement (FTA), to be finalised and concluded once the UK is no longer a Member State. Such an agreement cannot offer the same benefits as Membership and cannot amount to participation in the Single Market or parts thereof.

This agreement would address:

i) trade in goods, with the aim of covering all sectors, which should be subject to zero tariffs and no quantitative restrictions with appropriate accompanying rules of origin. In this context, reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources should be maintained.”

Let us be quite clear:- this document is not discussing a transitional agreement but a long-term trade deal. In other words, unless we allow essentially a continuation of the Common Fisheries Policy in all but name,  there will be no deal on trade.

Will our government  show the necessary resolve to indicate in no uncertain terms that the jobs of our fishermen are not going to be used as bargaining chips?

Given David Davis’ performance at the most recent meeting of the European Scrutiny Committee, it is hard tt feel confident about this. Even when it came ot the transitional arrangements, he was very evasive. Questioned by both Kate Hoey MP and Richard Drax MP, he would not state clearly and unambiguously that our Exclusive Economic Zone will be managed by the UK authorities alone after March 29th 2018. He said “we are not trading away our fishing rights” but he also said “we haven’t begun to discuss fishing”. Well, Mr Davis, the EU has made its position clear. It wants a continuation of the CFP not only in the transitional period (if it happens) but beyond.  There isn’t much to discuss – only one word needs to be uttered: NO.   

Please see also Fishing for Leave’s comments on the draft negotiating guidelines.

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

Legislation for the Great Repeal Bill to be introduced soon

The Brexit secretary, David Davis, has indicated that legislation for the “Great Repeal Bill” – the incorporation of laws passed by the EU onto our statute books so that they take their authority from Westminster rather than Brussels, could be introduced as early as next week.

The objective of this Bill is to enable life in the UK to run as smoothly as possible during the immediate post-Brexit period when, under the rules of Article 50, the EU treaties will cease to apply.

Obviously, it would not be appropriate for all EU legislation to remain on the EU’s statute book lock, stock and barrel. Thankfully, it appears that there is growing awareness that EU fisheries legislation must not apply once we leave. We will no doubt be made aware of other exceptions in due course. They will either need so much re-working that it is best to start from scratch or else they are totally unsuitable.

There are also plenty of other pieces UK legislation which have been put on our books such as the Landfill Directive or the Interoperability Directive, which are far from ideal, but with which we can live for a couple of years. After all, the Government will have its hand full dealing with essential issues, including the complex subject of trade, a subject about which little of substance has been revealed as far as exit strategy is concerned.

Therefore, much as many of us resent the fact that so much of our legislation during the last forty years has originated in Brussels rather than Westminster, we have little choice. Not bringing this legislation across would leave us without any standards and regulation in many crucial areas of our nation’s life, including health standards for bathing water or car exhaust emissions. Some of them are actually quite sensible. After all, even the worst of régimes occasionally come up with some good laws. Only when we have achieved our very challenging objective of leaving the iron grip of the EU will the resources be available for the re-evaluation of these regulations.

Photo by (Mick Baker)rooster

Brexit was never an economic proposition

If there is one universal truth about we eurosceptics it is that, aside from hating the EU, we cannot agree on anything. Over the last three years I have had more arguments with Brexiteers than I have remainers – and made more enemies on the Brexit side than remain.

The crucial bone of contention is the mode of leaving the EU. Anything that it not “hard Brexit” is denounced. There are many who believe that Brexit is simple and that there is no cause for delay. I wish that were true. Worse than that, though, are those who know it not to be simple but maintain the pretence that it is. I have no time for intellectual dishonesty.

I am also less enthused by Brexiteers who insist that Brexit is an economic miracle waiting to happen. It isn’t. Trade is a fiendishly complex endeavour and we will doubtlessly have to march double time just to get back to where we are. All of our present trade relations are via the EU and restoring and optimising those links will take time.

Personally I see no reason to make an economic argument for Brexit. It is not an economic proposition – and if there is one thing we can all agree on it is that Brexit is ultimately in the interests of democracy. The economy is entirely secondary.

At one point I might have made the case that Brexit will bring about cheaper food, clothing and much else – but I now have serious doubts about this. Trade in the modern global system is a lot like whack-a-mole and not every thread is one you necessarily want to pull on. There are no sweeping unilateral measures we can take and and every measure we do take will have consequences. Everything we do must be done carefully and with due consideration as to the potential fallout.

If Britain is to make a success of Brexit we will need to seek out sector specific alliances and work through the multilateral system and use collective pressure to bring about the changes we want to see. There is only so much we can do unilaterally.

This is why I believe an Efta EEA Brexit would be the more intelligent path in that Efta with the UK would make the fifth largest bloc in the world and one which could bring to bear considerable pressure on the EU to drop some of its protectionist measures. In some circumstances we are more likely to achieve EU reform from the outside. Failing that, Britain is going to find it difficult going it alone.

There are some who still believe we can pick up where we left off with old allies but the old rule is still the same; twice the distance means half the trade. To an extent the internet and trade in services breaks this rule but New Zealand and Australia are in a different sphere of regulatory influence. We on the, other hand, will still be in the EU’s gravitational pull come what may.

More to the point, any alliances we make must be toward addressing particular problems – and our most pressing being that of the migration crisis where all our efforts must be focussed on those trade measures which best eliminate the push factors in Africa. We are going to have to coordinate our efforts with the EU and we will still need close cooperation in order to make an impact. We may leave the EU but we cannot turn our backs on Europe.

I take the view that Article 50 talks and any subsequent trade talks must not be viewed as a chance to get one over on the the EU. If we play that game we will lose. We have to take a more collaborative approach and for the time being we are in a mode of damage limitation. We should leave the radicalism until we have left the EU. Brexit is radical enough for the moment.

The short of it is that we need to be more honest and realistic about what Brexit will achieve economically. We are certain to take a hit and it is insulting to pretend that we won’t. We all knew Brexit would have economic consequences – and if we are honest, none of us cared. We would have voted to leave regardless.

Primarily our future prosperity depends on fixing our politics here at home. That is what Brexit is about. Our politicians continue to abdicate from their responsibilities, handing to Brussels enormous areas of policy while they tinker on the sidelines. We continue to kick the can down the road on serious economic reform and and we have only really dabbled in “austerity”. Since our politicians have been incapable of making the hard choices, we have forced their hand. Vanity spending will have to be cut, electoral bribes will have to be slashed and white elephants will have to go on the barbecue.

In this we will have a reckoning with the wastrels, posers and charlatans of Westminster. We will have some almighty rows and we will tear the status quo apart. That is primarily what I voted for. I am under no illusions that it will come at great cost, I am as worried as any remainer about what it holds for the immediate future, and I am troubled by the wrong-headed approach to Brexit. All I know for certain is that this is a thing we must do and there can be no turning back.

At heart I am a libertarian. I take the view that every entitlement from government comes as a moral cost – and everything we get from government comes at the expense of certain liberties. There is no greater means of controlling a population than to make them dependent on government.

This is the paradigm we have had ever since World War Two. It has crushed our self-reliance, it has weakened our entrepreneurial flair and it has corroded society in all manner of pernicious ways. It has made Britain a spoiled, selfish and lazy country. It has made us a command and control economy with a cosseted middle class propped up by state spending and our whole economy is a house of cards. A Ponzi scheme. And Ponzi schemes always fail.

This is why Brexit is a revolution. It is the economic and moral revival we have been unable to secure by other means. We will prosper from Brexit not because of any direct consequence of leaving the EU but by tearing down the ossified structures of yore and rediscovering ourselves.

Shortly before the referendum I was out talking to people about Brexit. I asked a lady why she was voting to leave. I told her that we probably would take an economic hit but her reply was quite simple. “Something has to change”. And that is what gives me confidence.

We were not hoodwinked by the Boris bus, we were not fooled by Russian interference or computer algorithms. We went into this with our eyes wide open. Let us not patronise or pretend. Let us say it out loud that this is not an economic venture. This is purely political and the economy must be subordinate to political concerns – otherwise we might as well go the whole hog and abolish elections.

I did not vote for Brexit to spend £350m on the NHS. I don’t think Brexit is a free trade miracle. I just know that our politics is spent and if our politics is spent then so is our economy. We cannot fix the economy until we fix our politics. Let no man or woman interfere with that. If we do not see this through then we are not deserving of prosperity.