Michael St George’s selections for comment from recent Brexit-related media articles.
NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall
Frost outlines the areas he won’t sacrifice as he faces Barnier – Daily Express
It’s reassuring that our chief Brexit negotiator David Frost is again insisting that on three specific policy areas which can be grouped under the generic heading of sovereignty – the law, the courts, and fishing – there can and will be no concessions to Brussels. As always, however, the devil is in the details.
In the context of the article, ‘the law’ means the ‘level playing field’ issue under which Brussels, for its own self-serving protectionist reasons, wants Britain to guarantee to maintain a business-regulatory regime equivalent to the EU’s. Needless to say, the UK’s Continuity-Remainer big-business lobby has latched on to this and is pushing it, although thankfully with apparently limited success.
An independent legal regime and judicial system is a key manifestation of sovereignty. Yet the EU has continued to try to bind the post-Brexit UK as closely as possible within the pan-EU corpus juris and thus keep domestic business-regulation germane to our EU exports under the jurisdiction of the integration-biased European Court of Justice. Again, Frost’s repeated refusal to give ground on this is welcome.
The fishing issue is dealt with below, but the potential fly in the ointment in all this is Boris Johnson’s increasing personal participation in the talks. His making disadvantageous concessions just for the sake of a deal, either out of his habitual distaste for fine detail or a desire to appease opponents of No-Deal for purely domestic political reasons, can’t be ruled out. Hopefully, though, even he realises his stock has fallen so low because of his Government’s mishandling of the Covid-19 outbreak that he can’t afford to be seen to botch Brexit by fudge as well.
Well that wasn’t in the anti-Brexit fanatics’ Project Fear script, was it? Britain remaining the European country most attractive for foreign direct investment (FDI), suffering the least decline in inward FDI of all European countries in 2019, and beating the rest of Europe as the most attractive destination for financial services FDI post-Covid-19 by a margin of 40 per cent to a mere 8 per cent.
It isn’t hard to see why. Firstly, there’s the EU’s inherent ideological commitment to imposing regulatory harmonisation rather than accepting regulatory equivalence, and the fact that London is already pre-eminent in financial services, which tends to create a clustering effect. Secondly, as I’ve previously pointed out, there’s the EU’s intention to introduce a disastrous pan-EU Financial Transactions Tax, already tried by Sweden but abandoned because of its innate flaws, distortions and disincentives. Why would any financial services business pick Europe over London?
Major exporter Alastair MacMillan is undoubtedly correct in saying that the urgent need for recovery from the self-inflicted damage caused by the Johnson Government’s panicked shutdown of the economy requires trading flexibility and innovation, not an extension of the Brexit transition period.
In fact, extending the transition period would be not merely unproductive but counter-productive. As our own economy struggles to recover, we would continue to be liable both for current EU contributions and any additional ones the EU demanded as part of its own Covid-19 recovery package without any input into determining either their scale or qualification criteria.
That the EU much dislikes Britain now negotiating its own trade deals as an independent country, and is institutionally incapable of thinking innovatively on matters such as tariff definitions, is glaringly evident. We should be actively resisting any such obstructionism, and pushing for maximum flexibility at every stage.
The EU is attempting to capsize post-Brexit fishing – Get Britain Out
There appears to be an attempt by Brussels in effect to retain control over access to UK territorial waters under the spurious guise of conservation of a species (Atlantic bluefin tuna) whose rising numbers no longer merit it to anything like its previous extent. Considering the degree to which the EU’s fishing industry is dependent on such access, this looks like a blatant subterfuge, and should be dismissed out of hand.
The scale of leverage Britain enjoys over that dependence is such that it’s being suggested it should be partly traded away in return for major EU concessions on ‘rules of origin’ trade rules. Given that the EU has a history of either accepting concessions while offering non-equivalent ones in return or of demanding even more, that too should be approached warily. Time and time again Brussels has shown that it is neither honest broker nor reliable interlocutor.
Rightly or wrongly, fishing and the sovereignty of its national territorial waters are symbolic issues, by which Johnson will be judged whether he has either succeeded in extricating Britain from the authoritarian, rapacious maw of the EU or capitulated to it, however disingenuously the surrender would be spun. We would be unwise to bet against the latter outcome.