German business condemns the EU’s game of chicken

We bring news from Germany, where German business representatives have criticised the EU’s intransigence in negotiations and urged its leaders to come to an agreement with the UK. This briefing draws on a much longer report on the German website www.german-foreign-policy.com, with thanks to its editor Horst Teubert.

The EU’s apparent unwillingness to negotiate a mutually-beneficial agreement with the UK has understandably been much criticised in Britain, with their tactic of weaponising the Irish border a particular point of opprobrium.

What is less well known is the criticism that the EU’s intransigence has drawn from business representatives on the continent – and Germany in particular.

German business representatives have recently stepped up their pressure on the EU to reach a mutually-agreed solution with the UK, fearing that a lack of an agreement could mean billions in losses.

“A hard Brexit would be a disaster that would bring great difficulties to tens of thousands of enterprises and hundreds of thousands of employees in Europe,” recently warned Joachim Lang, Director General of the Federation of German Industries (BDI). “A massive crisis would result.”

Lang called for “a greater amount of flexibility” from the EU, demanding that, “the political deadlock in negotiations must be overcome.”

The President of the Federal Association of Wholesale, Foreign Trade and Services (BGA), Holger Bingmann, echoed this demand, stating that the entire EU and its institutions’ main task must be “to finally come to an agreement.”

The EU’s negotiating tactics have been strongly criticised in German business circles. Joerg Kraemer, head economist of Germany’s fourth-largest bank, the Commerzbank, complained that Brussels is too inflexible. “They are sticklers for principles in the negotiations with Great Britain,” complained Kraemer, but the EU itself has “stretched the rules of monetary union to the point of being unrecognisable.”

Kraemer wrote that there is “ample leeway for finding common ground with Britain.” The insistence on a customs border between Northern Ireland and the British mainland is incomprehensible, he said. “No nation in the world would accept a customs border on its own territory.”

The German automobile sector would be particularly hard hit by a no-deal Brexit. The Cologne-based German Economic Institute has predicted a catastrophic scenario in which German exports to the UK would plummet to just 43% of present levels.

There have been occasions when the British negotiating stance has also left much to be desired. An arrogant attitude of “having our cake and eating it” was a pretty stupid negotiating ploy.

But we are now reaching the point on both sides where the posturing and points-scoring has got to stop. It is no longer an opportunity for politicians to turn clever phrases and strike attitudes.

German businessmen, bankers and industrialists are concerned that the EU authorities are using the negotiations to punish the UK for leaving. But, they point out, the effects of that punishment will rebound on their own people too. If such a thing comes to pass, it could only further discredit the EU itself amongst the German people.

For the UK, the fact that the EU’s leadership is so obsessed with its political agenda that they ignore the economic interests of their own peoples – even the usually highly-favoured German economy – provides further evidence of why it is essential that we leave.

FFL: Government’s Fisheries Bill deserves a cautious welcome

CIB affiliate member Fishing for Leave gives a cautious welcome to the launch of the Government’s Fisheries Bill, but warns that the serious threat to the fishing industry from Theresa May’s Chequers proposals remains.

The launch of the Government’s Fisheries Bill by DEFRA secretary of state Michael Gove deserves a cautious welcome.

The government’s announcement said:

‘The Fisheries Bill will enable the UK to control who may fish in our waters and on what terms… The Bill also gives the UK the power to implement new deals negotiated with the EU and with other coastal states and manage fisheries more effectively and sustainably in future.’

At its heart the Bill seeks to deliver the following:

  • Controlling access – by ending current automatic rights for EU vessels to fish in UK waters.
  • Setting fishing opportunities – by proposing powers to ensure that the UK can set its own fishing quota and days at sea.
  • Protecting the marine environment – by ensuring fisheries management decisions are taken for the benefit of the whole marine environment

Many who have fought for 25 years to escape the disastrous CFP thought we would never see this day.

We never thought we would see legislation which would allow Britain to take back control of our waters, £6-8bn of our resources, and decide access and management for our own national benefit – as Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands do.

That is hugely welcome, but it is the devil in the detail which we fear. As the government admits, this bill is subject to the wider negotiations.

Negotiations where – disgustingly – Theresa May proposes to re-obey the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) after Brexit with an ever-extending ‘transition period’ and a Chequers plan that will see the UK obey a so-called ‘common rule book’ – probably forever.

The fishing industry and Fishing for Leave have warned that, with much of the industry already struggling, continuing CFP policy for the transition would finish many off.

The transition would allow the EU to enforce detrimental rules to cull the UK fleet. This would allow the EU to use Article 62.2 of UNCLOS to claim Britain’s ‘surplus’ resources that a shrunken British fleet would not have the capacity to catch.

The Fisheries Bill may set in place the legislative ability for Britain to independently take back control, but it doesn’t look like happening soon – which is disastrous.

We also reiterate our grave concern and continue to lambast the failed proposal to address discarding of fish above quota limits whilst keeping the fundamentally flawed quota system that causes the discards.

The government proposes using our repatriated resources to give extra fishing allowances to vessels, so they have enough quota for all species and therefore will not need to discard.

However, this extra will not be allowed to be profited from – it must be landed for free.

All this will do is perpetuate a race-to-fish. Vessels will have to catch more and more to find what they can profit from. Instead of discarding, they will have to land mountains of fish for free.

We have told DEFRA that this will fail spectacularly. Sadly our advice seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

The Real Brexit that Never Was

As the scale of the mess that Theresa May has created for herself and the country on Brexit becomes clear, Nigel Moore points out that we could have already left the EU while carrying on commercial activities largely as before. Why was this simple, off-the-shelf option not taken?

It is now two years and four months since the British people voted to leave the European Union. If our politicians had made wiser choices, we could have already left the EU while carrying on commercial activities largely as before.

The UK could have already been well on the way to free trade agreements with old and new trading partners. The UK together with its partners inside the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), the Visegrad countries and the European Commission could have started exploring adaptation of the EEA to better suit emerging needs.

The jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice could have ended. The Common Fisheries Policy could have ended. We could have started limiting freedom of movement to suit our interests. The UK could be once again joining the countries at the top table of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other global bodies to promote its interests.

None of this has happened, although perfectly feasible – simply through continued membership of the European Economic Area (EEA). Why was this sensible option not taken? Largely because of the antics of David Cameron, Theresa May, and the wider Conservative Party.

A FINE MESS…

Mr Cameron as prime minister prevented the Civil Service from preparing a viable and practical exit plan for leaving the political control of the EU. Such a plan would almost certainly have included retaining, even temporarily, membership of the Single Market (and wider EEA) through re-joining EFTA. This would have avoided many of the problems inherent in both no-deal, and Mrs May’s unworkable, Brexit-in-name-only Chequers Plan and White Paper. But instead of triggering Article 50 immediately, as he had claimed he would do, Mr Cameron resigned.

Once prime minister, Mrs May dithered and delayed in triggering Article 50. But nor did she use this time to develop a viable exit plan to leave the political EU whilst retaining frictionless trade. Instead, in her speech at Lancaster House on 17 January 2017 she recklessly announced her decision that the UK would also leave the Single Market. Her declared grounds related to control of immigration and the indivisibility of the ‘four freedoms’ of the Single Market.  Whilst this is true for EU Member States, it is untrue for members of EFTA participating in the EEA who can take unilateral action by implementing Article 112 (the Safeguard Measures) in the EEA Agreement.

The Conservative Party has only added to this mess. During their increasingly bitter internecine conflict, the various factions within the party have developed scenarios that are usually poorly informed, and often far from realistic or achievable. This has hampered discussion of the important issues and examination of viable options for leaving the EU.

There are some bizarre claims that need debunking: that frictionless trade is possible in the event of no-deal by falling back on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules; that a ‘bonfire’ of EU regulations is possible; and the notion that the EU will cave-in at the last minute.

WTO ‘RULES’ DO NOT ENABLE FRICTIONLESS TRADE

WTO ‘rules’ are something of a misnomer. These ‘rules’ are merely basic principles to facilitate international trade. They have to be incorporated into more detailed or prescriptive rules, regulations and laws by WTO members.  Perhaps foremost amongst these principles is that of non–discrimination.  WTO principles can be circumvented in exceptional circumstances, such as emergencies or for national security.

The WTO does not have powers to enforce its principles (or the resulting laws of WTO members) should they be contravened. However, mechanisms for redress do exist in WTO-compliant treaty provisions, although it can take some time (years) before sanctions for loss can be applied by an aggrieved party.

The Single Market (and wider EEA) has a legalistic, top down, centralised bureaucratic structure to control access, conformity assessment, and market surveillance. Protectionist as they are, the EU’s laws for the Single Market are WTO-compliant, since they apply equally to all third-countries outside the EEA. Once we’ve left the EU, the UK will also become a third-country, subject to the same EU/EEA legislation as all other third-countries.

Trying to change status from Single Market member to third-country at short notice would inevitably involve frictions. Exports to the EEA would consequently fall drastically.

NO ‘BONFIRE’ OF GLOBAL REGULATIONS

It has been estimated by EFTA that 90% of EU regulations affecting the functioning of the Single Market originate from higher global bodies such as the WTO and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).  If we wished to trade internationally whilst being a member of the WTO we would have to retain these regulations, although we could potentially implement the higher-level global standards and principles in different ways to the EU.

The body of laws governing the Single Market (and wider EEA) amounts to about a quarter of the whole EU acquis. Thus, we could potentially amend or scrap the remaining three-quarters of EU laws to suit our interests – whether or not we are in the EEA.

This stands in dramatic contrast to Mrs May’s Chequers Plan (and the EU’s demands in response), where it is clear that many (if not all existing and future) EU laws will remain and be enforceable within the UK, probably by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

LEGALLY, THE EU CANNOT CAVE IN AT THE LAST MINUTE

The EU cannot easily change its existing, legally-based arrangements for governing the Single Market to accommodate the UK.  This would be an exception that would create a precedent for other third-countries, going against its existing direction of travel over many years. It would also contravene basic WTO principles on non-discrimination.

In addition, there would need to be agreement by all remaining Member States both to amend large amounts of existing EU legislation, and to approve different terms of reference for their negotiating team led by Mr Barnier. At best, the EU could agree to temporary emergency measures to suit its interests, including making severe reciprocal demands of the UK.

Meanwhile Mrs May is becoming increasingly delusional, obdurate and making fruitless efforts to sell her Chequers Plan for Brexit-in-name-only to European leaders.  They cannot legally accept it.

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Note from CIB: further information about the EEA/EFTA option as a possible stepping stone to a Clean Brexit is available in our pamphlet Brexit Reset.

Brexit through the looking glass

David Dring, Conservative Party member and active contributor to the Bruges Group’s Facebook discussion group, infiltrated the so-called ‘People’s March’ on Saturday in a bid to better understand the mentality of those seeking to undermine the referendum result.

It’s not often that you get the opportunity to march with so many. It’s even rarer that you get to march with so many with whom you categorically and fundamentally disagree.

In a bid to better understand the mentality of those ‘Ultra Remainers’ seeking to undermine the referendum result, I took advantage of one of the 120 coaches put on for the so-called ‘People’s March’. I travelled down to London under an assumed name, so as not to alert the organisers to my true position on Brexit.  I had no wish to be deposited on the hard shoulder of the M1.

The composition of my coach was really a mix: academics, students, NHS workers… although I did spot a couple sporting their Chelsea football shirts, who I am convinced were just freeloading transport for the early kick off. There was a genuine feeling of excitement, but also some doubt among the participants as to how successful the march could be, given the almost impossible timetable to hold a second referendum prior to the 29 March 2019 deadline.

What was most striking was the lack of substance in the various debates going on up and down the coach.  I did not hear a single person make a positive case for why we should remain a member of the EU.

In fact, these hardcore Remainers were surprisingly Eurosceptic. There was widespread acknowledgement of the flaws of the European project: the CAP, CFP, general mismanagement and wastefulness of resources. Overwhelmingly, the consensus was that we needed to remain a member to reform the EU from within.

This, of course, wilfully ignores the fact that this is just what we have tried and failed to do in 45 years of EU membership. Mrs Thatcher’s quote from 2002 remains just as relevant today: “Europe as a whole is fundamentally unreformable.”

And so on to the march itself. Breaking away from my coach party, I tried to engage and speak with a variety of people, and ask them why another referendum was necessary.

The responses I received were generally the same tired arguments that have been regurgitated over the past couple of years. The Leave campaign lied. The Leave campaign overspent their budget. The Russians rigged the referendum. We will all be worse off and many will lose their jobs. Northern Ireland will become a war zone again. All flights will be cancelled and we won’t be able to have foreign holidays. We will lose our citizens rights in a race to the bottom. Nobody voted to be poorer. And, of course, everybody’s favourite: Brexiteers didn’t know what they were voting for.

When confronted with a more sophisticated answer, I tried to probe a little deeper. “What rights will be lost, given that on Brexit day, all existing EU law will be transposed to UK law?” I asked. “If these laws are then subsequently changed in Westminster, isn’t that a proper use of our democratic process? And if we don’t like the new outcomes, we have the opportunity to vote against the party inflicting the changes at the subsequent election.”

Nobody really provided a satisfactory response to this.  A couple inferred that the Tories would use it as an excuse to slash regulation, depriving workers of their rights, but could offer no actual examples of any minister indicating any changes of this nature.

At least the two SNP-supporting ladies I spoke to acknowledged that the centralisation of power in Brussels does not seem to be consistent with the agenda of expanding Scotland’s devolved powers. The sheer hypocrisy of the SNP’s position on independence and EU membership is plain for all to see – even its own members, it would seem.

People’s Marchers also seemed not to have given any thought to the fact that the EU is constantly evolving – and always in the federalist direction of ‘ever closer integration’. Jean-Claude Juncker quite openly stated in his recent State of the Union address that, “We must complete our economic and monetary union,” and chillingly, “we should be able to decide on certain tax measures by qualified majority.” Juncker’s proposed EU Army – which Nick Clegg either naively or disingenuously claimed was a “dangerous fantasy” and“simply not true” – continues to be created by stealth.

Yet astonishingly given their claimed love of the EU, many of the marchers I spoke to were completely unaware of this planned future direction. Fewer still were aware of the rise of the ruthless Martin Selmayr and the scandalous circumstances surrounding his promotion to Secretary-General of the European Commission.

We are entering a critical time for the Brexit process. Our future democracy and ability to be a self-determining nation is at stake. It is vital that we do not ‘steal our young people’s future’.

A clean break from the EU and its institutions is fundamental to achieving this. Based on the evidence of those I spoke to at the ‘People’s March’, an awful lot of people didn’t know what they were voting for in June 2016 – and it wasn’t the Brexiteers.

Photo credit: David Holt

How UK officials are trying to shackle us to EU military structures – despite Brexit

Brexit must mean military independence, or it will be no real Brexit at all. But with the focus on trade issues, the public and even MPs have been blindsided by UK officials’ attempts to shackle us to the EU’s military structures post-Brexit, writes former CIB Operations Manager John Petley.

Supporters of Brexit have disagreed with each other – sometimes quite vehemently – when it comes to trade issues. Which model shall we go for? WTO? Canada? Norway? Take your pick, but you’ll find someone equally committed to Brexit who will tell you that you’re wrong.

The focus of the Brexit debate has been trade, and no one would deny that our future trading arrangements with the EU and the rest of the world are an important consideration when it comes to life after 29 March 2019.

There are, however, other important issues related to Brexit which have received much less coverage. Our relation to the EU’s military structures is one of the most critical. On this subject, Brexiteers ought to be united – our Brexit should be a very, very hard one indeed.

As a member of the EU, the UK has rightly been highly sceptical about EU plans for closer military integration – at least, that is, until after the 2016 referendum.

You would have thought that, following the Brexit vote, the EU would have done two things. Firstly, stepped up its plans for closer military integration now the that member most likely to drag its heels is leaving. And secondly, frozen the UK of the discussion.

What has actually happened is rather different. The EU has indeed pushed ahead with closer military integration. But not only was the UK included in the discussion, but UK officials have been happy to sign us up to closer military cooperation with the EU. This has been done without most MPs even being aware of what was going on.

They are not alone. MPs from other member states have been equally shocked on discovering what their representatives have signed up to.

WHAT OUR GOVERNMENT HAS SIGNED US UP TO

So, what have we signed up to? We did not sign up to PESCO, the EU’s PErmanent Structured COoperation (note the word ‘permanent’). But we did sign up to five separate EU Council agreements between 14 November 2016 and 22 June 2017, relating to Federica Mogherini’s Security and Defence Implementation Plan and Jean-Claude Juncker’s European Defence Action Plan.

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty makes our signatures to the current arrangements null and void on 29 March 2019. But both the EU and its supporters in the UK are keen for us to sign a new treaty which includes a commitment to involvement in the EU’s military ambitions. This must be avoided at all costs, or else our military independence will be compromised.

The EU will increasingly make decisions about defence, and the process of gradual integration into the EU military machine will affect a number of areas – ownership of assets, defence procurement, intelligence, asset development, budgeting and research, to name but a few.

BUT WHAT ABOUT BREXIT?

So why did we sign up to anything after June 2016, considering we are going to leave?

It appears that some civil servants were not only happy to sign on the dotted line, but actually want to keep us tethered to the EU after Brexit.

What about government ministers? They, including Prime Minister Theresa May, clearly have some very serious questions to answer.

When it became known that the UK had signed up to a number of structures within the EU Defence Union, the explanation given was that it was only a formality. We were leaving anyway, and so it was best not to show dissent. Once we left, anything to which we had signed up would cease to apply anyway.

This, however, is being economical with the truth. Let us be in no doubt. Senior figures in both Whitehall and Westminster wish to see us shackled militarily to the EU after 29 March 2019.

It is not too late to achieve the clean break which is an essential part of a genuine Brexit – indeed, it is vital that we do so. Cooperation with EU member states under the auspices of NATO is, by and large, very desirable. However, independence from the EU’s Defence Union is another matter altogether. Why should we be involved with the EU’s empire building?

The EU has claimed that if the UK pulls away from the EU’s defence programme, we would be isolated militarily. This is utter nonsense. Not only are we members of NATO but, free from the EU, we could conduct cooperative defence research and development projects with any partners we chose.

What is more, we still have an excellent military – although parts of it are seriously underfunded – and we are of course a nuclear power. The idea that by withdrawing from the EU’s defence programme we would be left weak and vulnerable is laughable.

FIGHTING FOR OUR MILITARY SOVEREIGNTY

Thankfully, these dangers are being highlighted by Veterans for Britain, a grassroots organisation set up to highlight the risks to the UK militarily if Brexit is compromised. Thanks to their campaigning, MPs are being made aware of the concerns expressed in this article. Many, sadly, are still unaware, particularly of the agreements signed since the Brexit vote and their implications for our future military independence.

We are heading for a turbulent period as Mrs May’s Chequers proposal comes under attack from her own MPs. We are thus still a long way from any final sign-off agreement, and there is everything to play for. But with trade issues still dominating the press coverage of Brexit, it is vital that these other areas are not swept under the carpet.

Brexit must mean military independence, or it will be no real Brexit at all.

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Comment from CIB: John Petley’s informed expose is yet another illustration of why our long fight for UK sovereignty is far from over, even assuming a satisfactory Brexit in March 2019 (something which itself looks in great doubt). It is not only EU membership itself that poses a threat to our sovereignty, but our own Europhile politicians’ and officials’ willingness to surrender our independence by stealth to the European project in the guise of ‘co-operation’ and ‘partnerships’. This is precisely why CIB has no plans to wind down post-Brexit. We have been fighting for UK sovereignty since 1969, and we will continue to do so as long as threats like those highlighted in this article remain.

Photo credit: European External Action Service

Any betrayal of our fishermen will have serious electoral consequences

Fishing for Leave’s John Ashworth explains why electoral considerations mean that British fishermen will not be sold out to the EU once again.

British fishermen have not had much reason for happiness since we joined the EEC. The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has been an ecological disaster and has run our industry into the ground. But last week’s Conservative Party Conference at last gave some glimmers of hope for the future.

The Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, gave us a much-needed reminder of just what is at stake with Brexit – nothing less than our very ability to govern ourselves:

‘At 11pm on 29 March 2019 we will leave the European Union.

‘And soon thereafter, in an extraordinary moment in our history, the EU institutions will no longer have the right to make laws for our country. That power will belong exclusively to the sovereign Parliament of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

‘That is a precious prize.’

It is indeed. It means that every single individual MP will become fully responsible for the governance of our nation, something which for 46 years has been missing.

And so how will we use this new-found sovereignty for the benefit of our agriculture and fisheries? The Prime Minister made the goal quite clear in her party conference speech:

‘Our proposal would be good for our rural communities, getting us out of the Common Agricultural Policy.

‘It would be good for our coastal communities. We would be out of the Common Fisheries Policy, an independent coastal state once again.

‘And with the UK’s biggest fishing fleets based in Scotland, let me say this to Nicola Sturgeon. You claim to stand up for Scotland, but you want to lock Scottish fishermen into the CFP forever. That’s not ‘Stronger for Scotland’, it’s a betrayal of Scotland.’

It is high time that someone from another political party took Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP to task on this subject. But it also nails Mrs May’s colours to the mast. If the Conservative government lets our fishermen down, then the SNP will be able to make the same accusation with a vengeance.

And were it not for all those newly gained Scottish Westminster parliamentary seats, Mrs May would not be prime minister now – all down to the fishing issue.

We can be certain of the following. If the EU believes there is going to be a ‘no deal’, it will raise the issue of EU access to British waters. The ball will be in their court: they will have to ask the UK.

If there is silence from the EU on fishing rights, then we can expect a deal – however bodged – so that both parties can move into the transitional period. And the EU will continue to benefit from access to UK waters via its present fisheries policy until 1 January 2021.

Remainers are fond of saying that the fishing issue is too small to bother with, and will be bartered away. I disagree. Like the Northern Ireland border, it will be a key issue, just as it was on accession. This time, British fishermen will not be so easy to sell down the river.