Michael St George’s selections for comment from recent Brexit-related media articles.
NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall
Setting a deadline for a deal and then extending it is seldom a good negotiating tactic. It signals to the other party that you’re reluctant to walk away and might well be more desperate for a deal than you indicated, and thus encourage them to harden their stance. Even at the start of this week, the virtual opposite was being trailed and was being received favourably.
The UK’s negotiators have repeatedly, and rightly, made the point that until Brussels, epitomised by Barnier, accepts that Britain will agree to nothing which is incompatible with its unshakable determination to be a fully sovereign and independent country, economically and politically, then a deal will simply not be possible.
That this needs to be emphasised again and again is shown clearly by Barnier’s intransigent labelling as ‘unacceptable’ the denial of access to UK territorial waters to EU fishing vessels unless by arrangement, and his peremptory demand that any agreement must present ‘no risk’ to the EU fishing industry. These are the remarks, not of a realistic and practical negotiator, but of a blinkered ideological supranationalist.
So while it was somewhat disturbing to see the report of the UK being prepared to offer emergency talks next week if discussions broke down without a deal by this weekend, it was also mildly reassuring to see that the prime purpose of this appeared to be, not to make any further concessions, but to ensure that the blame for any irretrievable breakdown, and thus the ending of transition without a deal, would be laid squarely at the door of the EU.
David Frost’s recent statement on the latest semi-extension in the headline-linked article goes a long way towards confirming that the principles intrinsic to the UK’s future as an economically and politically independent country need to be honoured in full in any agreement reached, and that the EU’s proposals so far do not do so.
That is good, but it’s also the bare minimum. The only reason to pursue this course should be to show beyond doubt that any breakdown of talks leading to a WTO-based Brexit is the fault of the EU’s intransigence, and not the UK’s. In no way, especially, should it be used as a means of making last-minute damaging concessions just because Johnson wobbles and loses his nerve.
Throughout the years Britain was a full member of the EU, we got used to the occasional revelation of how we were, via various accounting or budgetary tricks, paying to Brussels either more cash than the Government wished the voters to know about, or funding schemes and causes which the electorate would undoubtedly have objected to had they known. One might have presumed that after we had formally left the bloc and were merely in the transition phase, such sleight-of-hand might have ceased.
Apparently not. The UK appears to be on the hook for a contribution to the EU’s latest example of paying the Danegeld in the futile hope of getting rid of the Dane in the shape of a €485million top-up to the €6billion already committed to Turkey as bribery for its holding alleged ‘refugees’ in Turkey instead of allowing them to enter the EU via Greece.
As Facts4EU points out, this liability arises primarily out of the free movement allowed between most EU member states under the Schengen Agreement once access to ‘borderless Europe’ has been gained. But not only have many of those member-states arbitrarily suspended their adherence to Schengen by closing their national borders during the Covid-19 crisis; the UK has never been a part of Schengen at all. So why are we continuing to fund this in effect blackmail at all? And why does the fact of it appear to be so assiduously obscured?
Although they have somewhat slipped below the radar in comparison to those with the EU, the bilateral UK-US negotiations for a post-Brexit trade deal have continued. As the end of transition draws closer, and with it the chances of no agreement with the EU being concluded, then the more urgent it becomes to prevent the non-EU UK from potentially being adversely affected by US retaliatory tariffs against the EU for breaches of WTO rules.
Notwithstanding the low likelihood of a comprehensive UK-US FTA being concluded before the November US elections, there does appear to be significant scope for a preliminary agreement, or at least memorandum of understanding, which will exempt the UK from being caught up in a US-EU tariff war to the detriment of its aviation-related advanced manufacturing industry and its brand-unique exports such as Scotch whisky.
In contrast to continuing to hold out an olive branch to an intractable Brussels by setting a new October deadline, our trade negotiation expertise should be shifted to look westwards across the Atlantic towards our allies, not south-eastwards across the Dover Strait towards our adversaries.
Amid all the spin and self-congratulation about the EU’s agreement on its €750billion ‘coronavirus recovery fund’ emerging from Brussels and its media cheerleaders in the early hours of Monday morning, too few were focusing on its intrinsic further power-grab away from nation-states and by inference, from their electorates.
For the first time, the EU has acquired the power, via its unelected Commission, to tax member states’ citizens directly, over the heads of their elected governments. For the first time, it can borrow against the EU budget to raise substantial funds on capital markets and also direct how they are allocated.
In the Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard describes it as ‘bordering on totalitarian in constitutional terms, mostly unchecked by meaningful parliamentary oversight’. In contrast, the money numbers, once the detail is unpicked, are so relatively small as to render the fund of limited effectiveness. The devil lies in the detail of who has control of it.
As Liam Halligan shows in the headline-linked article, were it still a member of the EU, or even in extended transition, the UK as a major net contributor would be liable to pay billions of UK taxpayers’ money into this bottomless pit, on top of the £300billion we’re already having to borrow to ameliorate the costs of the Johnson Government’s disastrously self-induced Covid-19 recession.
We’re getting out just in time, which is why offering an extended October talks deadline for anything other than purely cosmetic purposes would be so potentially dangerous.