Backstop, Boris Johnson, Brexit, Negotiating

#BorisJohnson’s Magical Mystery European #Brexit Tour

This blogpost was written late on Friday August 23

Merkel Johnson

When he became Prime Minister just a few weeks back, Boris Johnson told the world that he would not be running around European capitals, like Theresa May did, asking for a better Brexit deal. Instead, meetings would be held in London, with those annoying European leaders coming to see him.

Time to turn things around, to take back control. Oh, and before he would agree to see anyone the EU would need to “bin the Backstop”. That was a pre-condition to any talks.

No binning, no talks.

Well, that bulldog growl this week gave way to a little yelp as Johnson flew to Berlin and Paris, there to explain to Merkel and Macron why the Backstop had to go. Both politely insisted that the Backstop would stay, unless and until alternative arrangements to make the Backstop unnecessary could be agreed. Continue reading

Article 50, Backstop, Boris Johnson, Brexit, Data transfers

Brexit: To Go On Forever?

This blogpost was written late on August 17th 2019
truck queues
Queues of lorries near the Port of Dover via the BBC website

During the past week, while the political manoeuvring to block a no-deal Brexit grabbed all the headlines, probably the most significant development was one that would have fallen below most people’s radar, politicians included.

It was this Tweet from the French Embassy setting out the sanitary and phytosanitary controls that plant and animal product exporters from the UK could expect at French borders when the UK becomes a “third country”, out of the EU. Words to set the heart racing: “sanitary and phytosanitary controls”, are defined by the EU as “measures to protect humans, animals, and plants from diseases, pests, or contaminants.”

Such controls mean the end to “frictionless” trade and will lead to delays at borders. How extensive will the delays be? Who can say? All it takes to start a queue is one or two overly eager customs officers determined to make sure a trucker’s paperwork is in order. A very long queue.

Remember the chaos some months ago when French customs went on a “Brexit warning” strike? Chaos back up to the Belgian border, some 50K from Calais.

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Backstop, Boris Johnson, Brexit, Irish border, Northern Ireland, Scotland

Dead Cats and Sleights of Hand on #Brexit

This blogpost was written late on August 10th

Johnson in HOC

The ideological complexion of the Johnson administration makes a no-deal Brexit more and more likely and businesses need to get ready accordingly. At the very least, they need to prepare for a prolonged period of great uncertainty in the UK and in the UK’s relationship with the European Union.

The replacement of Theresa May by Boris Johnson was not just a change of personnel at the top. Nor was it just a change in the negotiating approach to Brussels with Johnson adopting a Trump-like “madman” demeanour, as he famously suggested he would, if given half a chance, at a dinner in London in 2018:

“Imagine Trump doing Brexit,” Johnson added. “He’d go in bloody hard … There’d be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he’d gone mad. But actually you might get somewhere. It’s a very, very good thought.”

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Article 50, Backstop, Boris Johnson, Brexit

.@BorisJohnson’s #Brexit: the red-lines are now a red-brick wall

This blogpost was written early on Saturday July 27th 2019

Johnson in HOC

Taking what has been said by Boris Johnson, the new UK Prime Minister, and other members of his government at face value during their first few days in office – and I see no good reason why we should not – it seems clear that there will be no “Brexit agreement” in place by October 31st, the date the UK is due to leave the EU.

Given what has been said, it seems to me that it would be prudent for businesses to work on the basis that the UK will leave on October 31 without an agreement and they should now plan accordingly.

Johnson’s government is almost exclusively made up of deeply committed Brexiteers, while many of his backroom staff come from the 2016 Vote Leave campaign. With this government, what you see is what you get and what they say is what they mean.

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Backstop, Boris Johnson, Brexit, Irish border, Northern Ireland

If UK plans to threaten on #Brexit, it should be a credible threat

This blogpost was written on Thursday evening July 18th, 2019

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Nye Bevan, the British Labour politician credited with creating the National Health Service (NHS), once said: “You don’t have to gaze into a crystal ball when you can read an open book”.

According to a report published by BuzzFeed News, Boris Johnson, who in all likelihood will be declared the new leader of the Tory Party next week, opening the door to him becoming Prime Minister, is quoted as saying at a private dinner in June 2018:

“Imagine Trump doing Brexit… I have become more and more convinced that there is method in his madness…. He’d go in bloody hard … There would be all sorts of breakdowns, there would be all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he’d gone mad. But actually you might get somewhere. It’s a very, very good thought.”

It seems to me that Johnson thinks he can do a “Trump” with the Brexit negotiations. Go in, smash everything up, and see what happens. The EU will take fright at the chaos, throw Ireland under a bus and give Johnson what he wants.

Chris Grey calls it the “Nixon as madman” theory. Let’s describe it as the Trumpian/Nixon approach, a madman out of control. “Quick, give him what he wants before he wrecks the place”.

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Boris Johnson, Brexit, Michel Barnier, Parody

#BorisJohnson goes to #Brussels – A #Brexit parody

We imagined the first formal encounter of UK PM-to-be, Boris Johnson, and the EU’s Michel Barnier:

Boris-Johnson-July-2016

EU Good morning Prime Minister and congratulations
Johnson Call me Boris… call me Boris. None of this formal stuff. Gets in the way. I’m not like that woman, May. Not a funny bone in her body. She was a bloody difficult woman. Said so herself.
EU I’m sorry Prime Minister. But we here in the EU are a formal organisation. We have to follow the rules. So, Prime Minister it will have to be.
Johnson If you must, you must. Don’t mind if I call you Barny?
EU I would prefer Monsieur Barnier, if you please. We should say that we are aware that over many years you never had anything positive to say about the EU. We have a file of your articles to hand here if you would like us to quote.
Johnson Have it your own way. You frogs were always very formal. I’m only surprised you are not wearing a striped tee-shirt. Ha, ha.

As for those articles, out of context. Just fun. Having a laugh. Even the Telegraph says you can’t take anything I write seriously. I was just ahead of the game with “alternative facts”. Trump told me he learned a lot from me. He also told me to come in here and break up the place. That’s the way to negotiate. Ha, ha.

EU Prime Minister, we understand you wish to discuss Brexit with us. You do realise that the Withdrawal Agreement, as agreed with Mrs. May, is closed and cannot be reopened?
Johnson That agreement has been rejected three times by the House of Commons and won’t fly. Dead as a Monty Python parrot.

We must disaggregate it and keep the good bits, get rid of the bad. The backstop thing. We can do a deal. Wrap this up during the afternoon over a cup of tea. Liam Fox told me it could be done. Just needed a bit of bulldog spirit.

EU That is not going to be possible. The WA is closed. We will not reopen it or disaggregate it. However, we can certainly discuss the Political Declaration on the future relationship if you see the future differently from Mrs May.
Johnson Come on chaps. Don’t be unreasonable. We can sign off on citizens’ rights and all that. I was terribly upset when Lord Lawson had to leave his chateau in France. I want to see him go back to enjoy his sunset years in bucolic splendour among the vines. In vino veritas and all that. Latin, great language.
EU We are sorry. The WA will not be reopened. There can be no separate deal on citizens’ rights. Of course, we want to see those rights protected in the context of an orderly UK withdrawal from the EU and protected by the European Court as provided for in the WA. But we are not going to do “mini-deals”.
Johnson But I am also prepared to pay the £39bn, hand over the moolah. I’ll sign the cheque here and now. Could someone pass me the UK chequebook and a pen? I’ll make it out to cash if that helps. You can bring it to the Bank of England and they’ll hand over the cash, no questions asked. But hey, if we can’t do a deal I can’t sign the cheque. No moolah, a big hole in your budget.
EU Prime Minister, I think you misunderstand. The £39bn is not a one-off payment. It falls due over many years. Some of it goes to pay the pensions of British citizens who have worked here in the EU. As we see it, the UK has a legal obligation to pay it. If you are not prepared to pay it, then these discussions must come to an end. We might add that if we don’t have a deal then the tariffs that will be imposed on UK goods will go a long way to covering the loss of the €39bn. And, no, we don’t take cash.
Johnson But Moggy says we don’t owe the money. He has a report that was drawn up by the House of Lords which says we don’t. He says you claiming we do is just a pile of piffle on stilts. You are trying it on. You can’t get much clearer than the House of Lords
EU Prime Minister, we have a report prepared by our legal experts which says you do. We’ll take the advice of our experts over the report of the Lords. You have an duty to meet the obligations you committed to. If you don’t meet those obligations then we can go no further. May we remind you the UK is leaving the EU. We just want you to settle your bills before you go. We didn’t ask you to leave.
Johnson What’s this tariff stuff? If we have no deal we’ll be trading with you under the GATT XXIV, whatever you call it 10-year thingy. No tariffs. So you won’t be collecting any tariffs. Hadn’t thought of that, had you?
EU We think you misunderstand GATT XXIV. That only applies if two parties have agreed to negotiate a trade deal. The clue is in the word “agreed”. No agreement, no GATT XXIV, and tariffs apply.
Johnson But we have agreed to negotiate a trade agreement. It is in the Political Declaration. Now, I don’t like what May had suggested. I want one of those super-duper Canada Dry+++ deals. Preferably with gin or vodka, ha, ha.

So, the GATT thingy applies.

EU You are quite right Prime Minister. We have committed in the PD to negotiate a trade deal. But the PD comes with the WA. You can’t have one without the other. No WA, no PD. No PD no trade negotiations. No trade negotiations, tariffs apply.
Johnson Can we not agree that if we don’t have the WA we can just go straight into the transition and negotiate a trade deal and apply the GATT thingy while we are doing that. We can also sort out the Irish during the transition. As the Saj suggested, we’ll just spaff them some cash to buy some computers and iPads. They can play FIFA 2020 on them. Keep them busy. Money makes the world go around, that happy clicking sound. Always did it for me as a journo.
EU Prime Minister, again you misunderstand. If there is no WA, there is no transition. The UK leaves the EU with no agreement and no agreement means no transition. You become a third country from the minute you leave. Without a trade deal. As you might put it yourself: crash, bang, wallop.
Johnson But lot of pre-Brexit experts have told me that we can skip the WA and go into a GATT XXIV transition which would be the same as your transition only we don’t have to pay and there would be no backstop. Unlike Govey, I have a lot of respect for experts. They even gave me a plan written by that very clever Singy chap.  Brexit, From Here to Eternity, I think it is called. Top notch.
EU Prime Minister. We think there are some misunderstandings here. No WA, no transition of any sort. The transition that the UK government asked for, and that we agreed to, would see the UK leave the EU on the basis of the WA. Then, for two years, maybe four, nothing would change and the UK would continue as if it were an EU member but with no Commissioner, no MEPs and no judge in the European Court. During this transition we could negotiate future arrangements.
Johnson Cripes, does Farage know he won’t be an MEP? Nadine Dorries said she thought it was unfair that we won’t have any MEPs after Brexit. Anything you could do about that? If we have a transition could you not keep them for a few more years? You’d hardly notice them about the place. Farage only ever turns up to collect his expenses and make YouTube speeches.
EU To continue. If, in the absence of a WA, we were to agree to negotiate a trade agreement, which we won’t, and GATT 24 applied, then it would only cover trade in goods. Services would be excluded. Services exports to the EU account for 50% of all UK service exports. Data flows to the UK from the EU would be cut off as you would be outside the scope of the GDPR. Oh, and UK phone companies would e free to apply roaming charges.
Johnson But the ERG says we could do mini-deals on all of these things. Easy-peasy. But look, the only thing standing in the way of a deal is this backstop thing. Now, I tried to talk to the Irish but they wouldn’t talk to me and told me I had to talk to you. I don’t understand them. After all, they are part of the British Isles and we should be able to sort out these things domestically, between us. I’d even let them back into the Commonwealth.
EU Prime Minister, Ireland is a sovereign country, a member of the EU. In the EU we work as a team. Strength in numbers. And we are committed to protecting the vital interests of Ireland, which are also the vital interests of the EU.

The backstop is part of the WA. It underwrites the Good Friday Agreement. It also protects the integrity of our single market. No substandard Chinese good, for example, coming in through the backdoor. Need we remind you that the people of NI voted 56% to 44% to remain in the EU and that two of its three MEPs are pro-remain. And the border issue is about much more than trade, as is North-South cooperation.

And no, no mini-deals.

Johnson Yes, I know all that. But if we have the backstop we won’t be able to negotiate trade deals on our own. And if we can’t negotiate trade deals what is little Liam Fox to do? His heart will be broken. Can you not agree that the backstop will only last five years and will then be replaced by alternative arrangements? Whatever they are. We could agree to work hard together to discover them. With something like that I could go back to the Commons. The “Boris Breakthrough” we could call it.
EU We can certainly work together to discover alternative arrangements. That is already in the WA/PD. But what if such arrangements cannot be found? That’s why we have the backstop. And alternative arrangements alone won’t solve the border issue.

And may we remind you that we originally proposed that the backstop only apply to Northern Ireland. It was the UK government that asked us to apply it to the whole of the UK. We reluctantly agreed. The backstop stays.

Johnson No deal it is then. No payment and no backstop. Can we agree to immediately open negotiations on a trade deal after we leave?
EU Certainly. We can begin preparations today. But we will only open such negotiations after we have reached an agreement on your outstanding financial obligations, citizens’ rights and the backstop. We can call it an “exit package” as opposed to a Withdrawal Agreement if that helps. And, of course, there will be no transition. May we ask if there is now a majority in the Commons for no-deal”
Johnson GATT XXIV?
EU Certainly. After you have fixed your bills….
Johnson You said we asked for the backstop to be extended to the whole of the UK? Yes? What if we changed our minds and agreed that the backstop only applied to NI?
EU That would not be a problem for us. We would not regard that as reopening the WA but as the UK withdrawing a request.
Johnson So, I could go home and say that I had gotten rid of the backstop and that we are free to negotiate our own trade deals but that we will have to make special provisions for NI, which most people in NI want anyway, that we have agreed that there is no one-off payment of £39bn, the money is phased, citizens’ rights are guaranteed and we get a transition to negotiate a super-duper Canada+++ trade agreement.

So, it’s the “Boris Breakthrough” or a general election as the Commons won’t agree to no-deal. And a general election could mean I would no longer be Prime Minister. Something I am entitled to be.

Fox was right. We could sort it out over tea in an afternoon.

EU Yes, Prime Minister

 

 

Article 50, Backstop, Boris Johnson, Brexit, Conservative Party, Theresa May

3 years after #Brexit vote: EU is more united and Brexit is less clear

This blogpost was written on Sunday June 16th, 2019

AACSCdX

Next Sunday will be June 23rd. It will be three years on from the date the UK voted to leave the European Union. Or, to be more accurate, the date a majority of those who voted in England and Wales so voted, while a majority in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay.

History may well decide that June 23, 2016 was not only the date on which the UK voted to leave the E.U. but that it was also the date the United Kingdom began to crack. The date on which the United Kingdom became disunited.

With just a week to go to the third anniversary of the vote to leave we still have no idea what leave means and when it will happen. If, indeed, it will happen. Never has a project of such constitutional and economic importance been so ill-conceived, ill-prepared and ill-managed.

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