May’s deal: “Out of Europe but still run by Europe.”

Former CIB President George West gives his personal reaction to the prime minister’s deal and the political fallout, and concludes that the battle to leave the EU has only just begun.

Theresa May says that if Parliament does not accept her Brexit deal we will be back to square one. If only that were possible – but starting with a Leave-voting prime minister.

To get her way May resorts to bullying tactics and deceit, just as Edward Heath did in 1972. Con O’Neill, the civil servant who led the UK’s negotiating team for Heath, summed up Britain’s negotiating position as “swallow the lot, and swallow it now.” May is now expecting parliament to do the same.

She tells us the deal is the best she can get. That alone should put a stop to her political career and further damage to the UK.

Dominic Rabb boldly told us that the Withdrawal Agreement is worse than staying in the EU. That should enhance his future political career.

Lucy Harris, founder of Leavers for Britain, appeared on the BBC’s Politics Live programme on Friday. When asked to choose between the draft Withdrawal Agreement and staying in, she wisely chose not to be drawn in to such a false choice.

If only Nigel Farage and UKIP leader Gerard Batten had kept silent, rather than trading blows on internal UKIP business in public.

What are loyal UKIP supporters to think now of Farage, who opened his mouth at this critical stage and attracted more post-Henry Bolton bad publicity? And what are UKIP supporters to think of Batten’s ill-advised choice of Tommy Robinson as a special advisor and speaker for his Brexit rally, in a bid to attract Tommy’s followers?

The campaign to actually leave the EU is nowhere near an end. It is a very long time until 20XX – the year that the transition period can potentially be extended to. It is even longer until ‘never’.

Where is the new effective leader of the Brexit movement to extricate us from this mess? Quite possibly Lucy Harris, who is of an age to appeal and talk sense to the younger people who have grown up exposed to propaganda myths such as that the EU has “kept the peace in Europe”.

Mrs May seems to be intent on earning her place in history alongside those other notorious Conservative Europhile traitors, Edward Heath and ‘green peas’ John Major.

For years we have been fed dishonest political slogans to trick us into accepting the forward march of EU integration. We were told we must not “miss the train”, and that we could be “in Europe but not run by Europe.” A more honest slogan for Mrs May’s deal would be, “Out of Europe but still run by Europe.”

After 46 years of campaigning to leave the EU it seems to me that the battle has only just begun.

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.

No-deal? What are the options?

How likely is no-deal, and what will happen next? Economist and businessman John Mills, founder of Labour Leave, goes through the possibilities. This article first appeared on Birmingham City University’s Centre for Brexit Studies blog and is reproduced with their kind permission.

It is clearly impossible at this stage to predict with any confidence what the outcome of the current Brexit negotiations will be. Reflecting on some of the constraints operating on both the UK and the EU27, however, may be more helpful and illuminating.

While nearly everyone in both the UK and the EU would like there to be a deal maintaining mutual access, if not membership, for trade within the Single Market and perhaps “a” customs union, there are quite lot of people in the UK and the EU27 who would prefer no-deal to one shaped around the Chequers proposals. With members of the Conservative European Research Group (ERG) minded to vote against the sort of deal that the Prime Minister might recommend, Theresa May is likely to have to depend on at least some Labour support to get her proposals through Parliament.

Will this be forthcoming in sufficient volume to offset ERG opposition? It is very hard to tell, but it may not be. An important objective for the Parliamentary Labour Party is to bring down the government and to trigger a general election, even though not all Labour MPs may be happy with this approach.  This may lead to heavy pressure being put on Labour MPs to vote against the PM’s deal, lessening the chances of it going through. Labour will also be mindful of a backlash from its erstwhile working-class Leave-voting supporters in Wales, the Midlands and the North if it is seen to be supporting the government’s very poor deal for the country.

The timing and sequence of events is also crucial. If there is going to be a deal, this will have to be agreed and voted through by Parliament this side of Christmas 2018, to provide anything like enough time for it to be implemented by the end of March 2019. But to get there, apart from a deal on trade, Parliament will also have to agree a legally enforceable Withdrawal Agreement with – as things stand at the moment – two crucial commitments from the UK.

One is to pay £39bn to secure the go-ahead for negotiating a trade deal, without any firm commitment from the EU27 as to what this might turn out to be. The other is for the UK to abide by the EU27’s interpretation of what would be acceptable to them on the Irish border issue. Leaving aside any consideration to do with an overall trade deal, it is not at all clear that Parliament will accept these specific conditions.

Parliament is thus very likely to be faced with a highly unenviable choice: voting through a deeply unsatisfactory deal almost certainly by a very narrow majority, or facing a no-deal scenario, for which the UK – and the EU27 – are patently relatively ill-prepared. What will happen then?

Again, predictions are very difficult. Good and bad outcomes lie along a spectrum, depending very much on the extent to which – when it comes to the crunch – the UK and the EU27 are prepared to co-operate with each other to avoid a cliff edge, with aircraft not flying, ports jammed with lorries, and food and medicines running short. The most likely outcome may be some reasonably manageable disruption, especially initially, until matters slowly settle down, but there is a wide dispersion of outcomes either side of this scenario which might materialise.

This is why fear of the worst is likely to push both the UK and the EU27 into avoiding a confrontation, with the way to do this being some temporary agreement which maintains enough of the status quo to give everyone time to broker longer-term solutions. How long “temporary” would be would then remain to be seen. Norway voted not to join what was then the EEC in 1972, leading, via their membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), to the Norwegians still being half in and half out of the EU 46 years later.

It may, nevertheless, then be possible either to negotiate a free trade deal along the Canadian CETA lines, although there is no majority for this in the UK Parliament at the moment. It is also just possible that there could be a second referendum which would lead to the UK re-joining the EU, although this option is fraught with so many problems that it is also unlikely to get through Parliament. More likely, it seems, is that the temporary arrangements will drift towards becoming more permanent, as has happened in the Norwegian case.

Among all these uncertainties, however, one prediction can be made with some confidence. This is that it unlikely that the UK’s relationship with the EU27 is going to reach any satisfactory conclusion in the near-term. The UK will remain deeply divided, making any resolution of the conflicting visions as to what our future relations with the EU should be as difficult to bring about in years to come as it is now.  The EU as a major element of UK politics will run and run.

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, 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.

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.


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’ 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.


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).


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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