MY Brexit Watch this week shifts its sporting analogy from cricket to boxing, with two heavyweights circling each other, jabbing and feinting. As Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost grows in confidence, Monsieur Barnier finds it hard to land any solid blows.
Frost has made the axiomatic point that the UK is a sovereign coastal state with its own territorial waters that cannot be bargained away in a trade deal. Barnier has not been able to accept that, behaving as though the UK were still an EU member bound by its rules. Frost has resisted this EU claim to keep its rights to fish and plunder the UK waters independently of UK licensing. This is crucial to maintain: it is not just about fish, it is about UK sovereignty, ‘taking back control’ and keeping faith with the referendum result in face of the remainer forces.
Defying the EU’s intransigence and outrageous political demands over what is supposedly a trade negotiation, Frost has reiterated the UK’s preference for an ‘off the peg’ free trade deal like Canada’s and Japan’s with the EU. Barnier had been happy with this, but later backed off, saying that the UK was ‘too close’ geographically to allow it, firing his demands for the UK’s continued subservience to EU regulation, in particular to ECJ jurisdiction.
Frost, floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee (Muhammad Ali), hit back by asking why the EU is discriminating against the UK by making unprecedented political demands when other similar sized states have not suffered such hostile treatment.
Barnier went back to his corner and was told, as the towel was applied, to say that the EU had no ‘legal obligation’ to treat the UK fairly in these negotiations and had every right to fight dirty.
Frost’s clever boxing paid off, and Barnier looked rather disreputable.
The next round opened with Barnier waving the Political Declaration a lot, and saying that the UK was not obeying it. Frost parried by explaining that the PD was not a treaty but parameter setting and open to interpretation and that the EU’s unprecedented demands breached WTO standards. Barnier replied that the only precedent the EU accepted was the PD. The fallout was reported by Sunday Express political editor David Maddox over the weekend, saying that the Prime Minister is ready to ‘fix’ the defective Withdrawal Agreement, ‘paving the way for a furious showdown with Brussels’.
That the EU position is unprecedented was admitted by a leading French politician close to President Macron in an interview with Sophy Ridge, reported again by the Express.
So the fourth round of talks has ended with ‘no progress’, meaning, it seems, that there is no longer any time left to arrange an extension for the UK departing on December 31.
There is also talk of Barnier being sidelined and of an October meeting between Angela Merkel and Boris Johnson to do a deal. That prospect, however, is worrying. Johnson is the quintessential ‘bottler’.
At home Remainer lobbyists have emerged from their burrows to use farming and food security to damage the possibility of a clean Brexit. The lobby against US food imports is large, vocal and economical with the truth. Why Johnson installed remainer ministers at the MoD and DEFRA remains a mystery.
Dominic Lawson in the Sunday Times brilliantly exposes the hypocrisy behind farmers’ objections to US food.
‘We have claimed that the EU’s demands of us are unprecedented in trade negotiations. But what the NFU wants us to demand of America would be equally so. Animal welfare standards have never been incorporated in trade negotiations. Instead, and sensibly, such deals confine themselves to the standards of the food produced specifically, that it is safe to eat. This, as the former international trade secretary Liam Fox points out, is anchored in World Trade Organisation law under the SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) agreement.’
The anti-US food lobby and DEFRA are inventing new criteria. Lawson writes that ‘the EU has used false claims that the American process known as “pathogen reduction treatment” (the spraying of poultry carcasses for a few seconds with an antimicrobial solution) is unhealthy for consumers even though the EU’s own Food Safety Authority 15 years ago pronounced that “exposure to chlorate residues arising from treated poultry carcasses would be of no safety concern”. The truth is that American factory-farmed chickens might even be safer to eat than their UK equivalent (though both have grotesquely confined and brief lives). According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, while US citizens eat more than twice as much poultry per capita as Europeans, instances of food poisoning by salmonella and campylobacter per 100,000 of population are 20.4 and 66.3 in the EU, but only 15.45 and 13.45 in America.’
DEFRA is not ‘following the science’ but peddling a myth to thwart a trade deal with USA. What DEFRA should be doing is reassuring our farmers about a no-deal Brexit, and recalibrating our agriculture to meet our needs, as was the case before we entered the EC.
Instead it has given way to a new instalment of Project Fear for remainer journalists to exploit, as Andrew Rawnsley does in the Observer. Rawnsley talks of a calamity if we leave on WTO terms, ignoring the very real concerns of economist Roger Bootle if we don’t – the vast bills we will incur from the EU as it bails out its member states to the tune of trillions. Bootle writes we must leave as soon as possible with as little connectivity as possible: ‘Italy is facing an economic and financial disaster if it stays in the euro under the current policy regime. In particular, its banks are precariously placed. Either the hairshirt governments in the north will falter and agree to substantial bailouts of southern euro members, or there will be an Italian default, possibly combined with an exit from the euro, with devastating effects across Europe. If the balloon is about to go up, we had better make sure that we get as far away as possible from the impending wreckage – and that we do this PDQ.’
Amen to that.