Boris Johnson, Brexit, British Government, Negotiating

An analysis of how Brexit is going… 2 months in

 

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Cartoon via Martin Shovel

Brexit will never be done.

Because it can never be done. Not for as long as the UK sits 50km off the European mainland and does 50% of its business with Europe. Not when the island of Ireland sits behind it – and the north east corner of that island is contested political ground.

Brexiteers may wish the UK was in the middle of the Pacific, as far away from Europe as possible, but that is not going to happen any time soon. Actually, it is never going to happen.

Brexit, for the Brexiteers, is a labour of Sisyphus. Just when they think they have pushed the boulder of absolute sovereignty to the top of the hill it rolls back again to the bottom requiring yet another heave to get Brexit over the line.

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Brexit, British Government, Customs Union, Single Market

The “Brexit of Small Things” is here… to stay

EU non EU

January 31. A full month into full Brexit. The UK is now completely out of the EU, out of its political, economic, and commercial structures. In Brussels jargon, it is a “third country”. Freedom of movement between the EU and the UK is now a thing of the past. New border barriers are in place, or soon will be. People, goods, service, and data now need permissions to cross this new border.

The new border barriers have come as a shock to many in the UK who seemed to think that a “free trade agreement” between the EU and the UK would leave things much as they were before. When you have spent much of your adult life living in the open European space that the EU has created through a mesh of agreements between its member states you can easily come to assume that this open space is the natural order of things. Except that it is not.

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Boris Johnson, Brexit, British Government, Brussels, Data Protection, Negotiating

#Brexit and the story of Paddy’s Two Rules

pint and ham

It was back in 1972. I had joined the Workers Union of Ireland, now part of SIPTU, as a trainee official. Full of naïve, student radicalism. Impatient to change the world.

I was assigned to learn my trade with an old-time official named Paddy.

Paddy was had risen through the union ranks from a shop-floor worker, to shop-steward, to full-time official. He was no intellectual, but he was full of what we would nowadays call “street-smarts”. An old-fashioned, working class union official whose heroes were Larkin, Connolly, and Bevan. Marx and Lenin didn’t come into it.

At the time, Paddy was in discussions about the renewal of a two-year agreement with a major food company. I was the junior bag carrier.

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Brexit, Data transfers, Employment law, Michel Barnier, Negotiating, Trade Deals

Brexit and Magical Thinking

cropped-barnier-and-frost2.jpgBrexit, like employee relations, politics and much else in life, is all too often driven by magical thinking. Magical thinking is the belief that there is a formula, a magic formula that, if it only can be found, will allow all sides to have all they want, all of the time.  It is only ill-will and bad faith on the part of some that gets in the way of the formula being found.

Magical thinking believes that hard choices do not have to be made, that tough decisions on resource allocation can be avoided. Conflict arises from a lack of communication. If only we “listened” more to one another a way forward could be found. It refuses to accept that what you want and what I want may simply be incompatible. Everything can be “aligned” if we just believe and work hard enough. It is at the heart of the belief that there is a “win/win” solution to every problem.

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Boris Johnson, Brexit, Customs Union, Negotiating, Single Market, Trade Deals

UK is the EU’s “sovereign equal” just as Malta is the “sovereign equal” of the USA

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In a BBC interview last Friday, the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson MP, said:

“They’ve done a deal with Canada – long way away – of a kind that we want, why shouldn’t they do it with us, we’re so near, we’ve been members for 45 years.”

Think about those comments. Then think about them again.

When Johnson said, “we’re so near” I am not sure if that means that the UK and the EU are “so near” geographically, or whether a deal is “so near”. But then, with Johnson you are never sure what he means, or whether he knows what he means himself. He is the Dali of British politics, a gushing stream of consciousness. Without Dali’s talent.

What Johnson appears to be saying is that he, the UK, wants the same deal with the EU as a country a long way away from the EU, and that has never been a member of the EU. And he wants that deal because he, the UK, is “so near” the EU and has been a member for “45 years”. The comments, like much of what Johnson says, defy logic.

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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, Data Protection, Data transfers, GDPR

The Schrems II decision and Brexit

 

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The Schrems II judgement of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) makes the transfer of personal data to the US from the EU close to legally impossible. The Court has struck down Privacy Shield as incapable of providing sufficient protection for the personal data of EU citizens transferred to the US and has severely constrained the use of Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs) as an alternative way of doing so.

The Court’s judgement is rooted in the belief that there is a significant disconnect between the EU’s emphasis on data privacy as a fundamental right, and the US’s stress on the national security imperative for its intelligence agencies to be able to access data transferred to the US. (See here for a useful summary of the background to the case).

The bottom line takeaway from the CJEU’s decision is that, no matter what procedure is used, it is illegal to transfer the personal data of EU citizens to third countries if that data cannot be protected to the standards that the EU demands when it arrives in that country.

The CJEU, in line with the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the wording of the GDPR, has prioritised data privacy over economic considerations. Whether an appropriate balance has been struck is for European politicians to decide.

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