Boris Johnson, Brexit, British Government, Conservative Party, Customs Union, Irish border, Negotiating, Northern Ireland, Single Market

International Law… what’s that, says the dead cat

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Last week was some Brexit week, a week in which the UK government introduced legislation, the internal market bill, which a government minister admitted in the Commons would break international law, but only in a “specific and limited way”.

The minister, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis MP, was talking about the powers the government proposed to take which would allow them to override provisions in the Withdrawal Act signed with the EU in 2019 when it comes to the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The UK, according to the minister, was deliberately and consciously going to break an international treaty that it had only recently signed.

The international treaty, the Withdrawal Agreement, provides that Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom, will remain in the EU’s customs union and single market for goods to avoid rebuilding a hard border on the island of Ireland between Northern Ireland and Ireland, a continuing member of the EU.

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Boris Johnson, Brexit, British Government, Customs Union, Data Protection, Data transfers, Michel Barnier, Negotiating, Single Market, Trade Deals

A “No-Deal” Brexit looms ever closer

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On January 1, 2021, whether there is a deal between the UK and the EU on future trading relations or not, significant new barriers to doing business between the UK and the EU will come into existence. There is no possible agreement between the UK and the EU that can eliminate these new barriers and borders because of the UK’s decision to leave the EU’s single market and customs unions.

At best, an agreement will provide for tariff free and quota free trade in goods between the two. But such an agreement would not eliminate the need for paperwork and customs checks, to certify such things as “rules of origin” – where the goods in question, and the components in them, were actually made. Indeed, it has been estimated that UK business will need to recruit at least 50,000 customs agents just to handle the additional paperwork involved in the export of goods.

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Boris Johnson, Brexit, British Government, Data transfers, Michel Barnier

Brexit No Deal still looks likely

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A week or so ago, I came across this tweet from Simon Fraser, whose Twitter profile says: “Managing Partner Flint Global. Vice Chair Chatham House. Was Perm Sec UK Foreign Office & Business Dept & Chief of Staff EU Trade Commissioner.” A person, therefore, of some considerable substance and experience.

A good moment, after downbeat official comment on the latest #Brexit talks, to remind ourselves just how extraordinary a failure of successive governments it will be if UK leaves EU after four and a half years of negotiation with no agreement on the future relationship.

Which prompts the question: was an agreement ever possible? Or was Brexit always framed in such a way that for Brexiteers “no deal” was always the only “true Brexit”?

But before seeking to answer this question, let’s look at where we are now, following another couple of weeks of inconclusive talks between the EU and the UK. To put it as its simplest, the July intensive rounds of talks, triggered by Boris Johnson’s demand to “put a tiger in the tank, turned out to be little more than dinner in Brussels one week, in London the next.

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Brexit, British Government, Michel Barnier, Negotiating

A tale of two speeches by Gove and Frost

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The sting was in the tail. It was the last few paragraphs that really told the story. You couldn’t mistake what the story was. And it is still the story today. It is a never-ending story.

British Brexiteers will never rest content until the EU collapses. Which is why an agreement between the EU and the UK is close to impossible. How do you cut a deal with people who believe your very existence is illegitimate and would happily see you implode?

In 2016, some months before the Brexit referendum, Michael Gove then, as now, a UK cabinet minister made a speech  setting out the case for Brexit. The speech was called:  The facts of life say leave, but most people better remember it for one of its key lines “The day after we vote to leave we hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want.

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Brexit, British Government, Michel Barnier, Negotiating, Single Market

Fog in the English Channel. Continent Cut Off

 This analysis of recent developments was written and posted on Monday, May 18th, 2020

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EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (Francois Lenoir, Pool Photo via AP)

Fog in the English Channel, Continent Cut Off” may or may not be an actual UK newspaper headline, but could easily sum up the remarks of the UK’s Brexit negotiator, David Frost, last Friday after another round of discussions between the EU and the UK.

“We made very little progress towards agreement on the most significant outstanding issues between us,” Frost said, adding it was “…hard to understand why the EU insists on an ideological approach which makes it more difficult to reach a mutually beneficial agreement”. Frost’s comments were repeated on a Sunday TV show by Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove who said “…there’s a philosophical difference” in the UK-EU negotiations

In reply, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michael Barnier, commented:

“This makes me believe that there is still a real lack of understanding in the United Kingdom about the objective, and sometimes mechanical, consequences of the British choice to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union.”

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Brexit, British Government, Brussels, Conservative Party, Negotiating

Can there be a deal with no transition extension?

It is perhaps appropriate that, in these far from normal times, that this BEERG Brexit Briefing is longer and more detailed than normal. The reason relates directly to the complexity of the question which I pose and then attempt to answer as comprehensively as possible: if there is no Brexit transition phase then can there be a deal? 

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Introduction:

There will be no request from the UK to extend transition beyond the end of 2020. Nor will a deal be in place by then on the future relationship between the EU and the UK. On December 31 next, the UK will leave the EU’s single market, customs union, and associated agreements and protocols. It will be a “third country” outside the EU’s legal order. The fallout will not be pleasant. The politics will be ugly.

This is where the logic of Brexit leads and “Hard Brexit” politicians are now dominant in the UK.

Brexiteers believe that the UK, no matter what the circumstances, will always be better off out of the EU than in. For them, quite simply, the EU has nothing to offer the UK. Only this disdain for all things European can explain the failure of the UK to join the EU program scheme to bulk-buy PPE earlier this year  . The “my dog ate the email” excuse (and others) proffered by ministers simply fails to stand up.

December 31 next cannot come quickly enough for Brexiteers, the economic disruption from Covid-19 notwithstanding. They want to be able to wake up on January 1, 2021 and say: “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we’re free at last”.

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