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.

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.

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

Statement by Barry Legg, Chairman of the Bruges Group

Theresa May has decided to pursue a policy of Brexit in name only (BRINO). This arrangement will be worse than our current membership of the European Union as we will then be a vassal state.

If this policy is implemented the electoral consequences for the Conservative Party will be dire. I urge all members of the Bruges Group to contact their Conservative Member of Parliament if they are represented by one to explain that this is unacceptable. The decision of the British people to leave the European Union must be honoured. In many cases an appeal to a Member of Parliament`s self-interest is the most effective way of influencing him or her.

Next week on Wednesday evening we have a meeting at 7 o`clock at the ROSL with Nigel Dodds, leader of the DUP in the House of Commons, and Professor Patrick Minford. Patrick has an unapparelled knowledge and understanding of the huge economic benefits that are to be gained by leaving the European Union. Nigel Dodds, as Leader of the DUP, is the most influential figure at Westminster as his Party holds the balance of power. I hope that you will be able to attend this meeting to hear these outstanding speakers and give your views at this critical time for our country.

Barry Legg

Chairman of the Bruges Group

Peer urges ‘negative’ Government to talk about benefits of Brexit on anniversary of referendum

THE PRESS OFFICE OF                                                          

 

The Lord Stoddart of Swindon (independent Labour)                                                                                         

News Release

22nd June 2018

On the eve of the second anniversary of the EU referendum, the independent Labour Peer, Lord Stoddart of Swindon has criticised the Government for its: “negativity and failure to make clear the many benefits the UK will enjoy outside of the European Union.  The British people had a vision of a positive future outside of the EU, when they bravely voted for Brexit on 23rd June 2016.  It is a about time the Government did too!”

Lord Stoddart said: “It really is very disappointing that it has to be the American Ambassador who is reminding us of what a great country we are and of the optimistic future we can look forward to outside of the EU.  He is absolutely right to be dismayed at the defeatism we, as a nation, are exhibiting towards Brexit. It is high time that our rather negative Government, which seems to regard the negotiations with the EU as some sort of damage limitation exercise, started being a cheer leader for the benefits of leaving the EU, not least the £10.5 billion net and rising that we will no longer have to pay to be in this failing economic bloc.

“The passage of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill through both Houses of Parliament this week is hugely significant because it means that the European Communities Act 1972, which made the EU supreme over Westminster, will be repealed.  In other words, despite the endless anti-democratic wailing of the Remain brigade, there is no going back, we are leaving the EU and re-establishing the supremacy of our own Government and Parliament.  Not before time!”

Ends