NOT only principled Brexiteers, those who voted for a clean break from the EU, but a wider penumbra of British citizens must surely be wondering whether any fair trade deal with the EU is possible. EU demands, stated as preconditions to talks, grow and grow. Now they demand eternal free access to our fishing grounds.
This week the Telegraph’s Liam Halligan and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard have both given the Government a stern reprimand. Halligan writes that the EU is fatally complacent about the crisis that is about to engulf it as the UK leaves the bloc: ‘Leaders of EU member states and their business lobbies know that Britain’s large trade deficit translates into billions of euros of profit and millions of EU jobs. New figures show the EU27 earned a €125billion goods surplus from the UK in 2019 – almost two-thirds of the bloc’s entire global surplus, with Britain set to account for over 40 per cent of the EU’s sales with the rest of the world.’
He reiterates that: ‘Since 2016, the UK has negotiated in a lackadaisical, slack-jawed manner. That must change. We need to dismiss “sequencing” from the outset, with all issues addressed simultaneously, including our ongoing defence and intelligence commitment, which in the EU’s eyes is priceless. Far too much is made of Brussels’ “formidable bargaining power”.
Yet, as reported in TCW’s latest Brexit links, the EU’s setting the terms of the negotiations seems to be continuing. Monsieur Barnier has already rejected the Government’s desired Canada-plus deal and insists the UK has to obey EU regulation, citing the Political Declaration agreed by the PM.
Exactly what legal basis supports the EU’s ludicrous preconditions and selective demands? Where does Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty allow room for the EU to avoid its duty to the UK to decouple itself from the Brussels system? A former ambassador, Sir Peter Marshall, has roundly rejected Barnier’s wholly negative approach: ‘Mr Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, clung to his usual backward and inward-looking thesis. Nothing in what has happened so far suggests that there is going to be any change. So is there any point in further negotiation with him? As a diplomat, I happily answer: ‘No and Yes.’ A calm, objective, balanced process whereby a member state may withdraw from the EU is set out in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Mrs May duly invoked it. Our EU partners were having none of it. They insisted on substituting for it, as the sole basis for negotiation, their own guidelines which are neurotic, subjective, unbalanced and in flagrant contravention of the provisions of Article 50.’
He advises EU leaders to sidestep Barnier and ‘get a grip’.
We also hear that the much-vaunted Canada trade deal is likely to be scuppered by the Netherlands, making any EU trade deal look flaky and hardly worth having.
There is a strong case for the UK to take what the EU is shouting at us as truth which cannot be changed, and walk away, and for Boris Johnson to live up to his former grand rhetoric and promise to defend Northern Ireland as part of the UK. The UK has a very powerful hand of cards now, but has he the guts to play them? Or will he live up to his reputation for ‘choking’ at the endgame? The signs are mixed, replacing his Remainer Chancellor with a Brexiteer, while sacking the last cabinet Spartan, Theresa Villiers.
Better news is that on the UK’s fishing industry the PM and his chief adviser Mr Frost are speaking more forcefully. The economic expert and Telegraph columnist Roger Bootle says the idea that the UK could swap fish for a financial services deal says is not on: the fisheries must be kept and defended from EU demands. He writes: ‘Apparently, Brussels is going to try to secure continued full access to British waters by trading this off against access to EU markets for the UK’s financial services industry. The fishing industry may be pretty insignificant economically – and especially in comparison to financial services – yet it has enormous political importance.
‘It was sold out by Edward Heath, the then prime minister at the last moment during the negotiations that took Britain into the EU in 1973. And fishing is of particular significance in Scotland. The SNP wants to keep Scotland in the EU. If we sell out the fishing industry again this will be seen as a massive betrayal, especially in Scotland.
‘As for the financial services industry, that is a different kettle of fish, as it were. The EU needs the City of London as much, if not more, than the City needs the EU. If the EU makes things difficult for British financial services firms then it will be cutting off its nose to spite its face. Meanwhile, the City will thrive, as it always has done, selling services, including new ones based on fintech, around the world.’
Meanwhile the Prime Minister appears to be taking every opportunity to insult the USA at a time when it is the big alternative trading bloc for us to deal with. Last week he cancelled a scheduled visit to the President.
Another worry is defence. Our Royal Navy is now smaller than Italy’s. The apparently covert policy of officials to cede command and control of the military to PESCO, without proper Parliamentary and Ministerial scrutiny, was once again warned against by Veterans for Britain.
The last word of the week goes to Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the Telegraph who says loudly and clearly that Barnier’s demands are monstrous and that Britain must stop negotiating with the EU.
‘Mr Barnier has put forward an extraordinary doctrine, that the UK cannot have a sovereign trade relationship because it is too big and because it sits on the EU doorstep. What this really means is that Britain will be subject to special punitive terms as an ex-EU member if it opts to be a self-governing state under its own laws.’
It is time, he says, for the UK to rejoin world trade. He is right.