Why Parliament must reject May’s dodgy deal

The government has been ploughing taxpayers’ money into propaganda ads on social media and in newspapers pushing the Withdrawal Agreement. But unsurprisingly, they withhold essential information. In this article, Brian Mooney, Editor of the Resistance newsletter, summarises the main reasons why Parliament must reject May’s dodgy deal. Although most media attention has focused on the Northern Ireland backstop, that is only one ‘nasty’ amongst many…

In November, UK and EU negotiating teams produced a Withdrawal Agreement (WA). This defines how the UK will leave the EU and the short-term relationship to 2020 (the “transition”). But the WA has been received so badly that before Christmas the PM pulled a Commons vote that she was certain to lose heavily. The vote is now due to take place on Tuesday 15 January, although don’t rule out a further postponement if a heavy defeat still looks likely in the days before the vote.

Just how bad is the WA? Most media attention has focused on the Northern Ireland backstop, but that is far from the only ‘nasty’ lurking in the WA. There are some good explainers from Dr Lee Rotherham, UKIP, and the European Research Group, with my pick being from Briefings for Brexit (in-depth and on farming). Below I summarise the main horrors concealed in the WA that the government would rather you didn’t know about.

♦ No independent escape. Franklin Dehousse, a former EU judge, revealed that the EU had smuggled permanent measures into what was supposed to be a temporary agreement. The UK will have no independent escape from the ‘choice’ of extended transition or the hyped ‘backstop’ (covering customs and Northern Ireland issues). Both impose EU control.

It is an act of faith that the EU, which has acted in such a heavy-handed way, will somehow just let the UK walk away without a further price to pay. Why would it? The PM is scurrying to find assurances to convince sceptical MPs while the EU refuses to change the substance of the WA. Commission Secretary-General Martin Selmayr has been reported as bragging that “losing Northern Ireland” would be the “price” the UK has to pay for Brexit.

♦ A border in the Irish Sea. The backstop contradicts the PM’s assertion that there will be “no border in the Irish Sea”. It creates a tax border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. A “UK Movement Certificate” for goods exported from mainland GB will be required.

♦ Contravenes the Good Friday Agreement. In several areas, the UK or bodies established by it, such as the Northern Ireland Assembly, are to be banned from law-making. So much for respecting the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement! Perversely, no UK body will be allowed to carry out any checks on farming in Northern Ireland, including those needed to stop the spread of diseases.

♦ Still tied to the CAP. Far from removing the UK from the shadow of the failed Common Agricultural Policy, the UK will be barred from deciding the level of support for farmers in any extended transition. Instead, the EU will actively require them to be disadvantaged. Under the backstop, agriculture would remain an exclusive EU competence UK-wide after Brexit.

♦ Still under EU regulatory control. The EU will be able to impose harmful new laws during transition e.g. an EU Financial Transactions Tax. The UK must transpose certain EU directives on taxation and follow EU rules on business taxes.

♦ EU controls our trade policy. The EU can effectively decide our trade policy with the UK having no right to be consulted or to vote on any trade remedies (sanctions). It may enter into agreements with third countries which give access to our markets, without the UK having reciprocal rights.

 Still under EU rulebook. The EU will be able to force “non-regression clauses” to deny UK businesses a chance to remove burdensome regulations and thus gain competitive advantage. The EU will also rule over competition issues. This is about as far from a level playing field for business as you can get: the EU will be providing the pitch, the rule book and the referee!

♦ Still under ECJ control. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is to make binding judgments on whether the UK has complied with its WA obligations. This would seem to trump any rights the UK would have in global bodies such as the WTO or ICAO that have previously overruled the EU.

♦ No independence until 2029? The European Commission can bring any action against the UK to the ECJ under this wide-ranging agreement for up to 4 years after transition. It is expected that transition would extend past 2020, either because of the time taken to conclude a free trade agreement, or because it will suit the EU to drag its feet in the interest of continuing control. A 2022 completion date could leave the UK exposed until at least 2026, with the threat of arbitrary and even unlimited penalties hanging over our heads for however long it took a case to conclude. A further 2-3 years is possible – leading us up to 2029, around ten years after ‘Independence Day’.

♦ Pay with no say. During transition, the UK would have to pay, with no say, towards EU defence initiatives, and towards the Galileo/space programme – but with our suppliers restricted from bidding from contracts. The UK will also be liable for EU spending commitments made in 2021, after the advertised target date for completing transition! Should transition extend, the UK’s contribution and ongoing liabilities will be decided by EU bodies. This hardly lives up to the PM’s hyped ‘vision’ of taking back control of our laws and our money. Economics Professor David Blake has asked, “Was the Withdrawal Agreement drafted by civil servants seeking to make remaining in the EU look attractive?”

♦ Dubious legality. The WA is of dubious legality. The EU has hardly negotiated in good faith as required by the UN Charter. The WA fails to respect the Barcelona Declaration upholding sovereignty and territoriality, or an agreement on human rights. Dehousse also warns that under international law, the EU cannot impose conditions that will make Brexit impossible or extremely difficult. The Attorney-General expressed doubts on whether the WA complied with EU law. Despite a ‘contempt of Parliament’ motion, he has only released legal advice on the backstop and not on the wider WA – what has the government got to hide?

The Brexit negotiations: Key questions answered

As the Brexit negotiations enter the final phase, it can be hard to cut through all the political rhetoric and journalistic hyperbole to know what’s really going on. Brian Mooney, editor of the Resistance newsletter provides clear, objective, evidence-based answers to the most important questions.

 

Q: Is there really an impasse in the negotiations?

In the midst of so much rhetoric on both sides, it’s hard to know. The EU has acted tough to make leaving look difficult and deter others. Although the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has ruled out seeking early nomination for Commission President, he could well become a ‘compromise candidate’ later on. Boosting his standing with EU decision-makers might be one reason why he is championing the EU so aggressively.

After being seen to concede too easily, Theresa May spent the summer talking up no-deal, but this might just be for show. At the same time, several public notices have been released highlighting the problems that would be associated with a no-deal outcome.

Apart from the Northern Ireland backstop (see below), the key area seems to be governance – administration of whatever Withdrawal Agreement is agreed. The EU demand for the European Court of Justice to rule on disputes could be dropped, as in principle a lighter touch approach has been agreed for the future relationship.

 

Q: What is the Northern Ireland ‘backstop’, and is it essential to a deal?

The ‘backstop’ is also known as the ‘Protocol for Ireland/Northern Ireland’ in the EU’s draft Withdrawal Agreement. It has been justified as an ‘insurance policy’ to keep trade flowing after the transition period (when stop-gap arrangements are due to run from 29 March 2019 to 31 December 2020) in case a new permanent deal is not ready in time.

It would effectively keep Northern Ireland in the EU for trade in goods, some tax matters, and agriculture. This would create a border within the UK unless the entire UK was bound by the same rates and regulations.

The DUP’s Brexit spokesman, Sammy Wilson MP, feels that the backstop ‘push’ is more about keeping the entire UK in the Single Market and a customs union.

The EU says a backstop is needed, but the logic is strange. For a start, the proposal relates to the ‘Future Relationship’ period due to begin in 2021. So why insist it is included in the Withdrawal Agreement, which is supposed to cover a transition period of up to 2020? This is particularly contradictory given that the EU insists that the UK cannot negotiate other ‘Future Relationship’ essentials such as a Free Trade Agreement until it has left the EU.

Backstop supporters insist that it’s essential to support the 1998 Belfast Agreement, aka the Good Friday Agreement. However, the EU hardly features at all in that agreement. Furthermore, Irish foreign secretary Simon Coveney has denied claims that violence will be reignited by a no-deal situation that would clearly be without any backstop.

The High Court heard and rejected the argument that Brexit would undermine the Belfast Agreement. Both Labour and the Conservatives reject a hard GB/NI border. BBC Europe Editor Katya Adler suspects that the wording might be made loose to secure agreement. News agency Bloomberg has speculated that the EU’s ‘support’ for the Republic via the backstop may be linked to a demand to end its low tax rates, particularly for the Digital Single Market.

 

Q: How likely is no-deal now?

Both sides want a deal. The draft Withdrawal Agreement is 80%+ agreed (Coveney says 90%), with the joint political declaration set to be agreed shortly. Guardian Economics Editor Larry Elliott cited a consensus that a deal would be 90% likely. With European Parliament elections in May and anti-EU parties making ground, EU leaders have every incentive to avoid disruption.

Any deal must be agreed by at least 20 of the 27 EU member states (with not less than 65% of the EU’s population in them). It is unlikely that individual countries would veto a deal if the EU leadership is in favour. Austrian foreign secretary Karin Kneissl noted a rare show of EU unity on the Brexit issue even if EU leaders are poles apart on others.

 

Q: How consistent is the EU’s position?

‘Not very’ is the answer. The EU has cited ‘the integrity of the Single Market’ to insist that the UK accepts free movement of services, goods, capital and labour. This is bunk – for several reasons. Firstly, the EU itself admits that all non-members get free movement of capital. Secondly, any country with a free trade agreement (e.g. South Korea) gets a bespoke deal on goods and services. Moreover, a ‘single market’ in services doesn’t truly exist yet within the EU. Finally, as Professor Anand Menon notes, the supposed ‘integrity’ of the Single Market “is obviously negotiable — as the cases of Switzerland and Ukraine illustrate all too clearly — for non-member states.” Indeed, the EU’s backstop proposal to give Northern Ireland selective access for exports of goods (but not services) is exactly the cherry-picking that the EU would apparently object to the wider UK having!

 

Q: What does the UK have in its favour?

The EU must obey WTO rules. This gives us some safeguards. Later WTO agreements (e.g. TBT, SPS) would trump the EU’s ability to use its Customs Union to discriminate against the UK. Any attempt to stop the export of goods fully compliant with EU rules could be challenged at the WTO (with fast-track procedure).

The EU already has a ‘common veterinary space’ with Switzerland. If the EU tried to insist upon British livestock and food items being rerouted to Border Inspection Posts when they were already similarly compliant to the ‘common veterinary space’ standards, the WTO could rule it an unnecessary restriction on trade – and compel the EU to accept reasonable alternative control measures.

Manufacturers are concerned about component ‘rules of origin’ that can complicate exporting. The UK has signed the PEM Convention and the Barcelona Declaration enabling free, tariff-free circulation within the EU, EFTA and Mediterranean countries. (The latter also commits to respect the UN Charter and non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs, which would mean dropping the intrusive Northern Ireland backstop proposal.)

As the UK is a signatory to these agreements in its own right, there is evidence that they would not lapse simply because we’ve left the EU. There is also a legal argument that the UK’s status as a signatory to the EEA Agreement would also not lapse upon Brexiting, although this is more controversial and contrary to both the UK government’s and EU’s current legal position. This option should not be ruled out, however. It would keep trade flowing short-term and give breathing space to our incompetent government. Avoiding an immediate economic disaster would disarm those Remainers still looking to push us back into the EU at the earliest opportunity.

Remoaners use ridicule to try to reach the ‘yoof’ vote.

 

 

It is interesting that most of the marchers on 23 June seemed to be of the older generation! Open Britain claimed 170,000 supporters for their People’s Vote petition – 1% of the actual Leave vote. It wasn’t on the government website with independent verification, and the petition webpage seemed to show multiple signatures and a lot of foreign names.

To overturn the referendum result, crank Remoaners howl “Let the people have their say”. Hypocritically when Leave media reps are interviewed on College Green, cranks try to disrupt the show for viewers and effectively stop people having their say.

Unable to accept democracy, a Remoaner tactic is to try to link Brexit with the negative – “hate crime”, “no NHS”, Trump, (uncheckable) long term forecasts of doom and gloom.

When we got comments putting the record straight over job fears on a key local paper website, soundbite addict Remoaners were reduced to retorting “You’re a Putin bot”.

Article produced by Brian Mooney of Resistance

Q: Just say it is late 2018. Britain and the EU have just agreed a Withdrawal Agreement (WA) with us largely under EU control until 2021, losing existing voting power. The future relationship declaration is non-committal. Would there be a second referendum?

 

 

Sacked minister Justine Greening wants a complicated referendum with 3 options – accept the deal, leave with no deal or remain in the EU. Voters would also get a second choice! Sammy Wilson MP responded that voters had already had referendums to reject the EU and Alternative Voting!

BIRDS OF A FEATHER? Greening (Times) and Mandelson (Guardian) both urged a second referendum, but their articles made the same error on being unable to influence EU rules. As former Trade Commissioner Mandelson would know better – this points to their articles being orchestrated.

The government wouldn’t want a referendum. Apart from splitting the Conservative Party and reviving deep public tensions from 2016, it would take up precious Parliamentary time. Organising a poll and appointing official campaigns would be on impossibly tight timescales unless the Brexit date was put back.
The uncertainty might not actually appeal to the EU either! Bureaucrats in Brussels are overloaded with trying to get EU legislation through while the current European Parliament and Commission are still in place and would not relish the possible disruption to their preparations and extra work. However, it was noted that EU leaders quietly agreed to keep MEP seats for Britain in the event that we did not leave before July 2019!!! So, the possibility can’t be ruled out.

The EU (Withdrawal) Act doesn’t repeal the European Union Act 2011 until we leave the EU, but as current plans won’t give the EU new powers, no referendum should be triggered.

It’s a hard call how MPs would vote on the WA. Most Leaver MPs would probably vote for it to ensure Brexit, salving their consciences that it is only a temporary deal and their vote keeps Jeremy Corbyn out of power. Although Tory Remoaners will bawl “worse than EU membership”, they typically fall into line in practice.

With their 2017 manifesto preaching the benefits of the Single Market, Labour MPs might think twice about voting down legislation that kept Britain in it. On balance, a soft Brexit would probably get passed.

Greening’s line that “the final decision” should be for the people and “out of deadlocked politicians’ hands” is a joke. The deal being voted on is only interim (Transition) and the final deal should be ready towards the run up to the 2022 General Election.

Article produced by Brian Mooney of Resistance

White Paper Whitewash

Dramatic events after the Chequers cabinet meeting. A government in chaos with 8 months before Brexit. What is going on?

The White Paper on the future UK-EU relationship has united Remainers and Leavers against it. There’s no point reviewing a work that’s already scrap.

However Britain and the EU only need to agree a non-binding declaration on this. The real battle is over the 80% ready Withdrawal Agreement (WA).

The BBC’s new Europe Editor, Katya Adler, has proved to be objective, fair and switched on over some key issues.

Adler predicts that much negotiation work will be needed after Brexit! We cannot agree a new free trade deal until we’ve left and become “a third country” (e.g.). The Lisbon Treaty has produced an uneven playing field that means that the trading relationship will have to be a continuation of the EEA Agreement (“Single Market”) or falling back onto WTO-only rules.

A trade minister confirmed intentions to stay in the EEA until 2021. However the EU (Withdrawal) Act (EUWA) will repeal the legislation for this on 29 Mar unless Brexit is stopped or a new EU Withdrawal and Implementation Act (EUWAIA) is agreed.in Parliament, reflecting whatever WA deal is made.

If Britain and the EU cannot both ratify a deal, the only alternative to WTO-rules only is for both sides to request a dispensation (WTO Waiver) to allow current trading terms to continue.

This would help keep trade flowing on Single Market lines, but require Britain and the EU then having a working agreement, including a clear plan for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA)

Monmouth MP David TC Davies rues that there seems no Parliamentary majority for any one kind of Brexit.

Labour’s “Six Tests” would mean opposing any deal that wasn’t a close match to EU membership. Jeremy Corbyn seeks to exploit any defeat on the government to bring about a General Election. Deputy leader Tom Watson won’t rule out a second referendum. The New Statesman adds that a petition needed only 1400 more names for Labour to debate making this party policy!

At the same time we must ask if a Withdrawal Agreement  deal was agreed to the EU’s liking, would pro-EU Labour really scupper it? With UKIP reviving, would Labour seek to fight an election as the party that ignored many of its voters and stopped Brexit (even temporarily)?

European leaders are having jitters. Austria’s Sebastian Kurz, leading the EU until December, is hot on avoiding hard Brexit. Adler notes that many in the EU don’t want Brexit. (This could in theory lead to delaying Brexit for continuing negotiations, which, if repeated indefinitely, would block it.)

However Adler senses an EU feeling “Brexit must be done in time”, but with a perception that our government tends to make a fuss then just cave in. EU negotiator Michel Barnier has been pushing Britain to remain in the Single Market and Customs Union.

Whereas Barnier’s assistant Stefaan de Rynck hinted that Britain would duly get a FTA, Berlin Foreign Policy journalist Dave Keating warned that “Transition is likely to be permanent”.

Even if a British government preferred to end “vassal status” in 2021, a FTA could take a good 5 or 6 years to agree, according to former WTO head Pascal Lamy. (This could be reduced if parts of the existing EEA Agreement were carried forward.)

The EU would also have to be willing to offer us a more flexible trading deal and could simply say “Take it or leave it – and lose trading rights”.

However, time can be a healer, and with the ghosts of Brexit exorcised, the EU might realise there’s an opportunity to deepen trade with its largest trading partner? The EU is supposed to back a WTO holy grail of multi-lateral free trade – a single global FTA covering substantially all goods and services. It won’t happen overnight, but a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with Britain would provide a ready model towards freeing up trade for other partners?

Another option is an Association Agreement (AA). Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian liberal MEP, has proposed one for Britain. The Lisbon Treaty already provides for an AA for countries with a “special relationship, with “the same treatment” (i.e. privileges) on trade? However, there is more flexibility – a proposed new AA for Chile wouldn’t involve payments to the EU, free movement or being under the ECJ, yet could cover most goods and services.

This article first appeared in Brian Mooney’s Resistance newsletter and is reproduced with permission

The EU is proposing to add fingerprints to ID cards

A proposal from the European Commission has called for the mandatory inclusion of biometrics (two fingerprints and a facial image) in all EU Member States’ identity cards.

Although the EU is not per se proposing ID cards in the UK, they could still be theoretically be forced through as a transition obligation and furthermore, as “third country nationals”, UK nationals visiting France, Spain, Rep. Ireland etc. might in time face being fingerprinted and thus  become part of a Big Brother centralised EU database.

Statewatch, an organisation set up to monitor civil liberties in Europe, does not mince its words  . This proposal by the EU will go down like a lead balloon with the more civil liberties- minded people who might have voted Remain,  particularly some idealistic young people.

ID cards are not compulsory across the EU, although ominously only Denmark and the UK do not have them. Readers might recall from last month’s Resistance   how the EU might be tempted by compulsory ID cards. The claim that ID cards including this biometric information will make freedom of movement easier has to be treated with scepticism.

Over the years Statewatch has provided evidence for the EU’s wish to control ever more of our lives and with it, to intrude increasingly into our privacy  The British people’s decision to leave the EU nearly two years ago may have come at just the right time