BREXIT Watch has been fundamentally affected by Covid-19 Watch, as shown by the resumption of EU-UK talks on a video link basis. The Telegraph headline says it all: ‘Brexit negotiators meet as EU says it will discuss transition period extension due to coronavirus’. The EU is pressing very hard indeed to get the UK to request an extension to the statutory leaving date of 31 December. This ensures further billions to the EU in vast membership fees and hidden liabilities. The Telegraph quotes EU officials as denying as impossible the claim reported in the Sun that the UK planned to limp on month by month on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ extension if no deal is agreed by the deadline. This quoted the PM as wanting this backstop, and could be evidence that the government really has rejected a sector by sector WTO exit if, as expected, the EU stops any sort of fair comprehensive deal with its political demands. It has every motive to stop Brexit and get what it can from the UK as it faces massive recession and existential meltdown.
As Catherine McBride explains in Briefings for Britain, the Whitehall pressures on the government to rule out a WTO exit must at all costs be resisted. Interestingly the BfB introduction gives a great example of the ease of a no-deal exit, given sensible preparation and the need to quit the EU fully:
‘Mario Ferrari, the EU’s own science chief, has resigned over their shambolic response to coronavirus, saying EU incompetence has made him a Eurosceptic: “I arrived at the ERC a fervent supporter of the EU [but] the Covid-19 crisis completely changed my views.” The coronavirus crisis is a reminder that complex supply chains always entail some risks of disruption. It was interesting to hear Toby Anderson, the UK Chief Executive of McKesson, on the Today programme this week [on 9 April at around 1hr 18min], noting that the UK pharmaceutical industry was relatively well prepared for Covid-19 thanks to No Deal planning.’
The EU continues like a machine to make its impossible demands, but the UK is nevertheless agreeing to talk, and that sounds worrying, unless the UK can throw off its deference and for once play the strong cards it has.
I would go further and suggest the possibility of the EU not even being a partner to any negotiating by December 31, such is the economic and existential crisis engulfing it, though Barnier talks as if nothing has happened. In fact Italy is enraged along with the Club Med at the Germano-Dutch refusal of a common fiscal system to help pay the Italian debt; the German plan to use Stability Fund money, with conditions, has been furiously rejected, and there is now a genuine fear of Italy splitting off, which would end the EU. So Barnier is dancing on his own ‘cliff edge’, not the UK.
The UK’s main problem is its Remainer civil service and Sir Mark ‘Huawei’ Sedwill desperately blocking the WTO exit we need, and indeed stopping all talks with the USA, thus weakening our negotiating hand. But would anyone now, even the most fervent Remainer, suggest that the UK would join this shipwrecked EU given its economic state and its collapse into mutual acrimony? Even the Guardian is saying that it is a fake union, bust, with no bonds of mutual friendship under the official language. As Simon Jenkins’s article puts it, ‘The coronavirus crisis has exposed the truth about the EU: it’s not a real union’. Why there can still be any Remainers has to be a matter for psychologists now. We simply must quit and cut free from EU political controls while we can. Now is the time, we must hold fast to the deadline and prepare for WTO sector deals meantime.
The EU is now deeply unpopular in Europe and the Irish Times reports that even President Macron wants what the UK wants, its sovereignty back and manufacturing brought home, as does President Trump although he does not make that parallel!
And the global geopolitical context is more than interesting as regards Whitehall’s adamantine pro-EU and pro-China orientation and its apparent dislike of the USA, having ended trade talks with Uncle Sam. President Trump has just followed up his criticism of the WHO by temporarily withdrawing funding, on the grounds that the organisation has become overly influenced by China and failed to tell the rest of the world the full facts about the coronavirus. Needless to say Downing Street squeaked back that it disagreed with the President. And of course the UK’s extraordinary decision to use Huawei in its 5G network is a major security risk, implemented by ‘securocrat’ Sir Mark. We risk being cut off from US intelligence-sharing as result.
But how much do we know of the UK’s bonds with China and the EU? They are very much deeper than I realised till I came across this article in the Journal of European Studies.
It says there are now high-level strategic structures set up. In 2013, China and the EU launched a framework of co-operation named ‘the EU-China Strategic 2020 Agenda for Co-operation’ that serves as the guide to the enhancement and promotion of relations until 2020. Now EU-China relations have strengthened to the extent that they have around ‘60 high-level and senior-level dialogues, working groups and steering committees reflecting the wide-ranging scope of the relationship, including in areas such as cyber, transnational crime, economics, high-tech innovation, tourism, energy, and the environment.’ Proposals for the development of legal frameworks and exchanges, and enhanced digital connectivity and collaborations are also in the pipeline.
Now the Huawei plan of Whitehall for 5G has an explanation: it fits perfectly with the EU-China strategic plan, and no doubt with Chinese participation in UK transportation development under China’s Belt and Road projects.
But coronavirus is sharply turning UK opinion into being suspicious about China, and Sir Huawei may need to watch his step very carefully, indeed maybe go back to cultivating friendship with the USA. John Hemmings in the Telegraph headlines his article: ‘The World Health Organisation has come under China’s growing – and malign – influence’. Whitehall wants the geopolitical future to lie with an EU-China axis, it seems, and away from our Anglosphere alliances with the Five Eyes bond. Hemmings tell us that after the USA brokered China’s entry into the WTO it has allowed ‘Chinese companies to take their foreign competitors’ valuable intellectual property through joint ventures and prejudicial legal outcomes. Its Made in China: 2025 policy sought to enshrine Chinese dominance in key strategic sectors in the global economy as a matter of state policy. There was little surprise that the US blocked its attempt to have one of its officials lead the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).’ And our civil service wants to trust China with our telecoms?
Whether the UK can hold out for a clean break from the EU will decide our geopolitical future.