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

A letter from one of our members to his MP

A LETTER FROM ONE OF OUR MEMBERS TO HIS MP

after a visit 22 July 2018

Hi!

Thanks for seeing me again on Friday – here is my summary of our meeting for you to consider.

I covered three main points:-

First. I asked you for an update on how you felt things were going . You seemed slightly surprised I keep asking this but it is the only way I have of knowing how aware you are of the disaster looming before us. You acknowledged there are difficulties but felt Mrs May would get there in the end. I pointed out how her proposals to the EU for “frictionless” trade would not be accepted as they still were trying to have our cake and eat it. I again point out how Efta/EEA resolves all the critical issues we face while still freeing us from the EU’s politics and would allow us to act independently on the world stage again.

Second. I asked you if in any dispute or negotiations it was essential to hear from both sides. After I gave you the example of a divorce you said of course it was.

So Third, I asked you what you knew if anything of the Notices to Stakeholders of which 68 have been issued . You replied that you didn’t know what they were. I then explained they were issued by the EU to alert and address the problems for businesses if they are to face a No Deal or Hard Brexit. I then gave you the latest publication from the EU, including COM (2018), its press release and seven point fact sheet to consider. You said you would read them . I believe it is essential that you do.

In parting you said that you could see no likelihood of an election before 2022 and that unlike Johnson or Davis you supported the PM and would not be resigning. Finally I urged you to contact that MP whom I mentioned, urging you to engage with him and influence Mrs. May towards an Efta/EEA style deal.

I would like to meet you again after the 18th October EU Summit and speak to you as soon as possible after this defining Brexit event.”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Now people may agree or disagree with the points made here but nobody can feel happy that any MP could be so unaware of the conditions in the EU notices which are certain to affect his constituents’ businesses.

More holiday homework – further suggested reading

This piece may come from the European Commission, but it is very clearly written and shows how much more on the ball the EU has been regarding Brexit than our government. It is well worth reading.

As the Government Brexit White Paper (otherwise known as the Chequers plan) will shortly be facing scrutiny in Brussels, readers may like to read it. Here is the full text.

 

Holiday homework – suggested reading

So much of the information around the Brexit debate is highly partial and skewed to one agenda or another, as politicians, media folk and journalists ride their hobby horses fiercely in all directions, often to tight deadlines which preclude calm thought and deep research. So it is refreshing to have a balanced view from a man of undoubted expertise, deep knowledge and unrivalled experience who is trying to bring some clarity and balance to the debate.

Sir Ivan Rogers was the UK’s Representative to Brussels until his resignation shortly before Mrs. May’s Lancaster House Speech in January 2017. His parting advice to his colleagues was that they must be sure to speak truth to power, especially when the truth was unwelcome. Judging from subsequent events, it seems that all of it may not have got through.

Here he reviews the history of the Eurosceptic debate and suggests a way forward towards the achievement of a rational, prosperous and mutually satisfactory relationship with our nearest neighbours and largest trading partners, as well as with the wider world.

His comments on free trade, the customs union and the unrealistic tone of much of the post-referendum debate are well worth reading. While one cannot know exactly where Sir Ivan stands, he comes across as one of those people who, while naturally not wanting us to be leaving the EU, has accepted the result and genuinely wants to see a successful Brexit. There are unquestionably some pseudo-Brexiteers around – i.e., people who deliberately wish to create a Brexit in name only in order to prepare the ground for our re-entry into the EU, but there are also a good number of ex-remain supporters who are far more concerned about the consequences of a botched Brexit and don’t have any hidden agenda. The insights of such people are well worthy of consideration, regardless of their stance prior to the 2016 referendum.

 

Confusion and chaos

The Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames said recently that he didn’t think that in all his 35 years as an MP he had “ever known such a truly unpleasant and deeply uncertain time in the house” following the publication of the Government’s Brexit white paper. Michael Fabricant, the author of the hyperlinked piece, claimed that Sir Nicholas’ memory is playing tricks on him and that the battles over  the Maastricht Treaty were worse.  My colleague Robert Oulds from the Bruges Group agrees – threats of both physical violence and blackmail were used by the whips of John Major’s government. We haven’t quite got to that point – yet.

Even so, the atmosphere in Parliament is one of confusion and chaos. “We really don’t know what is going on” said one MP.  He is not the only one. A spate of ministerial resignations has been followed by the submission of a letter by Philip Davies, the MP, to the Prime Minister stating that he has “lost trust” in her ability to deliver the EU referendum result.

Mrs May is likely to cling on until the recess next Tuesday, unless firm evidence can be found which will confirm that the current impasse is something she has created deliberately and that she doesn’t want us to achieve a successful break from the EU.  Her unsuccessful attempt to bring the recess forward was defeated by MPs – and unsuprisingly, as it gave the impression of a Prime Minister wanting to run away.  Even if she does make it to next Tuesday, however, it is going to be a torrid time and Tory MPs can expect no respite when they return to their constituencies. Locals activists are incensed over what they see as a sell-out.

So what might happen? It would be a brave man to predict the outcome. Essentially, there are four possibilities: firstly, Mrs May manages to achieve a nominal Brexit based on something like the Chequers plan, but no doubt with a few more concessions thrown in. Secondly, the government falls and a general election is called. Thirdly, a second referendum may be offered to the people. Fourthly, Mrs May is ousted and a new Brexit strategy is devised by a new team.

Of the four options, the first would destroy the Conservative Party at the polls and could cause a split within the party itself. Given that the European Research group of Tory MPs led by Jacob Rees-Mogg has stated that it will vote against it, such an outcome would only be possible by relying on the Labour, Lib Dem and Scottish Nationalist parties. Labour is in a serious mess itself. Besides the deepening divisions within the party over antisemitism allegations, the party is disunited over Brexit. A minority of MPs support Brexit. Some, such as Chuka Umunna, see stopping Brexit as their main priority whereas the Corbynites are much more interested in seeing a general election called.

It is the fear of Jeremy Corbyn ending up in No. 10 which Mrs May’s team is using as a weapon against dissidents on both sides of her party. The effectiveness of this argument is questionable. However disunited the Tories may be over Brexit, the last thing any of them want is another General Election, not to mention that the Brexit clock would continue to tick during the campaign period, as it did during last year’s election. This is in no one’s interests.

A second referendum was recently proposed by Justine Greening, suggesting three options be put to the electorate – accept the Chequers deal, leave without a deal or abandon Brexit and stay in the EU.  The proposal was dismissed by Mrs May, although it is by no means an impossibility. There are nonetheless several reasons why it is unlikely. Firstly, it reflects very badly on Parliament. In effect, MPs would be saying “You gave us a mandate. We can’t deliver it so we’re throwing it back in your court.” Such a move would undermine the very authority of Parliament, although the Conservatives, as the party of government, would be the biggest losers electorally. Secondly, it would be cruel. There is no groundswell among the general public for another referendum. The message MPs have been receiving from their constituents has been simple  – “just get on with it.” Unlike the 2016 referendum, it isn’t wanted and what is more, it would reopen wounds which have largely been healed. Given the febrile atmosphere in Parliament, a second referendum would be fought in a terribly heated, bitter atmosphere which would tear communities and families apart. No sane MP could possibly want to inflict such pain on their fellow countrymen. There is also once again the ticking clock. The necessary legislation would have to complete its passage through Parliament and then a decent amount of time would need to be set aside for a serious campaign. With Brexit Day only just over eight months away, there just isn’t long enough.  Furthermore, why just these three options? There are others, including EFTA, which have some support.

So the most likely option is a new Brexit strategy. Time is short and would be shortened further by the time taken up with the inevitable leadership contest. Joining EFTA next March to give us a breathing space wouldn’t satisfy everyone, including some regular readers of this blog, but other options are running out. Even if a WTO-type exit were feasible (which some of us doubt), it would need time to prepare for it and that time just isn’t available. It also wouldn’t command a majority in Parliament. Joining the EEC was a complex business too; the government gave clear, detailed advice to business for over a year beforehand to ensure a smooth transition. There is no reason to suppose that the task  of disentangling the accumulated complexities through  Brexit would be any less.

Two years have been wasted. We are not going to achieve the Brexit we hoped for. Given the present chaos, if we achieve a smooth but genuine Brexit via the EFTA route, leaving some unfinished business for the period after March 2019, (such as negotiating a looser long-term relationship), most supporters of leaving the EU could heave a guarded sigh of relief.

Photo by Free-Photos (Pixabay)

 

Can anyone engineer such a shambles by accident?

On this website, you can read two assessments of the Government’s Brexit White Paper. Nigel Moore, one of our regular contributors, calls it “unworkable, risky thinking“, saying that it is highly unlikely that the EU will agree to it as it violates so many principles of the Single Market.   Meanwhile, taking a different angle, academics from the Brexit Studies Department at Birmingham City University have examined the plan and have declared it to be “Brexit in Name only”, keeping us tied to the EU with the only real change being perhaps a limited ability to control freedom of movement.

It is now over two years since the Brexit vote. Mrs May reached the second anniversary of her taking office last Friday. Under her watch, a new Department, the Department for Exiting the European Union, was set up, with several hundred staff employed. What have they been doing all this time?

Unless drastic action is taken, we will end up in a shambolic situation whereby our fishing industry will be devastated, our freedom to trade will be limited and we will still be subject  to virtually all the EU Acquis with no representation. It is the worst of all possible worlds.

It is not as if Mrs May isn’t aware of the less damaging EFTA option, which as a transitional arrangement, would at least get us out of the EU, save our fishing industry and enable  us to negotiate a longer-term agreement from a position of strength. We know that EFTA-supporting MPs have met with her. They seem to have made no impression.  The EFTA route would have solved many of the Irish border issues. The present plan still leaves many questions unanswered. The unfortunate Dominic Raab, parachuted into David Davis’ former position, challenged Mrs May’s critics to come up with a credible alternative. The answer is that they have and she ignored it.

What is more, It does not take much foresight to predict that her party would suffer in the event of a botched Brexit. We have been warning for some time that it could create the worst crisis for the Conservatives since the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. It should come as no surprise to readers that since the Chequers meeting and the publication of the Government White Paper, support for the Tories has fallen by 6%, with UKIP being the beneficiaries. Only 17% of voters are happy with the Chequers proposals. Unsurprisingly, some Tory MPs are getting nervous.

The big question which needs addressing is whether this is cock-up or conspiracy. An interesting piece in The Telegraph mentions how Airbus has been double-crossed by the Government.  It spurred them to publish a dire forecast of the impact of Brexit before handing a prize £2bn RAF contract to US rival Boeing without a competition. What is more, the piece mentioned that Airbus officials met with Remainer Cabinet ministers. Just coincidence?

Then there is the question of what happens if, as widely expected, the EU rejects the proposals in the White Paper. Writing in CapX, Oliver Wiseman claims that although  Mrs May might claim that this is the “furthest the UK can go”, rejection may result in yet more concessions.

It is unsurprising that some MPs are beginning to smell a rat.  Jacob Rees-Mogg claimed that the PM was only ever “pretending” to deliver Brexit and that she was a “Remainer who has stuck with remain”.  This is a damning indictment. If proof can be found that Mrs May was never serious about achieving a successful Brexit, the implications are enormous.  Unfortunately, when her behaviour over the last two years is weighed in the balance,  it is becoming increasingly hard to hold to the position that the mess we are currently in – and which Mrs May seems so determined to continue – is entirely the result of incompetence.