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

#Brexit hits the #IrishBorder, again.

This blogpost was written on Tuesday morning, Oct 8th. 
Border 1
 Pic via:  twitter.com/marksugruek

As things stand, the UK is due to leave the EU on October 31st next. UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, has said he will take the UK out on that date, “do or die”. However, the UK parliament has passed legislation, The Benn Act, which instructs the prime minister to request a further Brexit extension from the EU should there be no withdrawal agreement in place by October 31.

Johnson has said that his government will “obey the law” but will still take the UK out of the EU on October 31 next. At the same time, he has given an assurance to the Scottish courts that he will write the mandated extension letter to the EU, if necessary.

“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

It would appear that the only way that the UK can now leave the EU on October 31st next is with a “Brexit deal”. The former prime minister, Theresa May, had negotiated such a deal but it was rejected three times by the House of Commons for a variety of reasons.

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Backstop, Boris Johnson, Brexit, Brussels, Trade Deals

#Brexit and the Wider World (Part 3 of 3)

This Blogpost was written on Sunday Sept 22nd, 2019

Liz-Truss-in-Sydney

Simon Nixon, in a recent column in the Times, draws attention to a passage about the European Union in David Cameron’s memoirs. In trying to persuade Boris Johnson to back Remain, the former Prime Minister writes that “Boris had become fixated on whether we could pass legislation that said UK law was ultimately supreme over EU law”.

Cameron sent Sir Oliver Letwin on a “nightmare round of shuttle diplomacy” between Mr Johnson and the government’s lawyers to see if a way could be found to address his concerns by domestic legislation.

“But those lawyers were determined to defend the purity of European law and kept watering down the wording … Our officials were determined to play by the rules.”

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Backstop, Boris Johnson, Brexit, Customs Union, Data transfers, Single Market, Theresa May, UK Labour Party

Can #Brexit be “Made to Work” (Part 1).

Thsi blogpost was written early on Tuesday Sept 10th
stephen-morgan-pic.jpg
Pic via Stephen Morgan (Lab) MP on Twitter

An article in the Times reports that David Frost, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit negotiator, told Johnson that there was no hope of agreeing a new deal on the Irish backstop while uncertainty in parliament continues. According to the Times:

In a one-page memo to Mr Johnson and his chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, Mr Frost wrote that until there was clarity on the domestic front the European Union would not offer a renewed deal.

“The EU are not under pressure to agree alternative arrangements until they know the process will not be taken over by parliament,” he wrote. “Until then they will listen to us but avoid committing. Talks will only become serious when it’s a choice between deal or no deal.”

Frost’s comment on the opposition in Parliament to the Johnson approach to Brexit reminded me of when I first started thinking and writing about Brexit some two years ago. Then it seemed to me that if the UK was to “make Brexit work” three things were of fundamental importance.

  1. The government needed to develop a consensus in the UK about what Brexit meant, some form of widely-shared vision of what the UK outside the EU should look like.
  2. Resulting from one, negotiate a future deal with the EU that would minimise the impact of withdrawal on the UK economy and provide for a “good neighbour” relationship for the future
  3. Hope that geopolitical developments across the globe would fall favourable for a UK out of the EU, facilitating the conclusion of new trade deals which would open new export markets.

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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

For Ireland: the only good #Brexit is No-Brexit

This blogpost was written on Sunday June 2nd 2019
NI MEPs
Northern Ireland’s 3 MEPs: 2 Remainers & 1 Leaver

For Ireland, the only good Brexit is no Brexit. That goes for Ireland and for Northern Ireland (NI). Little noticed during the past week in the UK press, much less commented on, was the fact that in the European Parliament (EP) elections a majority of people in Northern Ireland voted for Remain candidates.

Of the three NI MEPs, two are now Remainers. Meanwhile in the rest of Ireland you would need a microscope to see the votes the Irexit candidates got. Calls for Ireland to follow the UK out of the EU simply have no traction.

But then, when it comes to NI, the UK behaves a bit like Boris Johnson when he was foreign secretary. Whenever his officials brought him Brexit news he didn’t want to hear he would stick his fingers in his ears and sing God Save the Queen. Or it could have been Rule Brexannia.

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Article 50, Backstop, Brexit, British Government, Customs Union, Irish border, Single Market, Theresa May

Now #Brexit shifts from omnishambles to megashambles

This blogpost was written on Thurs March 21, 2019

May

How did it come to this? Just eight days before the UK is due to leave the EU and we still do not know whether it will leave on agreed terms or leave with no deal. What a megashambles!

A megashambles is beyond an omnishambles, it is on route to being a blackhole-shambles, into which everything disappears. If that happens there is every chance that the UK, as we have known it, will never be seen again.

That would be a great pity because, leaving aside dark times past and crimes in foreign lands, in recent times the UK has given the world so much. I am of the 1960s generation. When Ireland was still a closed, introspective, Catholic-dominated country, the UK in general, and London in particular, opened windows and showed us that other lives were possible. Clothes that went beyond the drab, rock concerts in Hyde Park, the West End on a Saturday night. Magazines and writers suited to all tastes. Best of all, no church on a Sunday.

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Article 50, Brexit, British Government, Theresa May

Our first #beergbrexit blog flagged up the issues that have plagued #Brexit

Issue 1We started this online blog just after the Summer of 2017. If you scroll back though the archive you will see several BEERG Brexit blogs from June/July/August 2017 which we posted on here in late August 2017.

These first few blogs were based on Brexit Briefings prepared for BEERG members across both the EU and US. There were some earlier editions of the Briefing which we did not post, including the very first one. It was written as a general primer on Brexit and at that point we did not envisage these papers being more than occasional thoughts on the brexit process – but that situation changed in the latter part of 2017: hence this blog.

Here is that very first BEERG Brexit Briefing No 1 from 3rd April 2017. We also include the text of that briefing below.  Looking back at that first briefing we are surprised at how much of our analysis has withstood the test of time. Back then we highlighted a simple reality that very many UK politicians and pundits still fail to recognise, namely that the two negotiations on exit and trade, would run sequentially, not in parallel.

Moreover, when we looked at the three component parts of the Exit negotiation:

  1. Settling the bills
  2. Citizens Rights 
  3. Irish border

we cautioned that the it was the third one, the issue of the Irish border and its range of political, economic, trade and societal consequences would be the most difficult one to resolve.

Sadly, we were right.

  • Our next regular BEERG Brexit Blog will be posted after the EU Council, either late tonight or early tomorrow. 

 __________________________________________

The Text of BEERG Brexit Briefing No 1, 3rd April 2017

INTRODUCTION

On March 29th, UK prime minister, Theresa May, sent the letter to Brussels which formally notified the European Union that the UK was starting the procedure which would see it leave the bloc by March 2019. The following day, March 30th, the UK government published a White Paper setting out details of the “Great Repeal Act”, which will take effect when the UK leaves the EU. The Act will see the incorporation of all existing EU legislation into UK law, which the government/Parliament can then scrap or amend in its own good time.

It is clear from May’s letter to the EU that what the UK wants is a trade deal with the EU that mimics membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union in all but name. However, such a deal would leave the UK free to disregard the principle of free movement within the EU and allow it to control immigration from the European Union. It would also leave it outside the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). Further, the UK wants to be able to negotiate trade deals on its own with third countries, something not allowable to it as an EU member. The EU negotiates all trade deals on behalf of the bloc. Put it this way: The UK wants to cancel its club membership but it wants continued access to all the club’s facilities, while being free to ignore the rules committee. If you could get such membership terms at Mar-a-Lago it would be a deal of some art.

As she made clear in her letter to the EU, May wants negotiations on the metrics of the UK’s exit from the EU and on a future trade deal to run in parallel.

On Friday, March 31st, the EU gave its initial, draft response to the UK’s exit letter. The draft made it clear that the two negotiations, exit and trade, would run sequentially, not in parallel. Further, the trade negotiations would only commence when sufficient progress had been made on the exit deal, which needs to cover three items:

  1. A resolution of the UK’s ongoing financial obligations to the EU after it leaves. These obligations arise from commitments made by the EU, with the UK as a Think of it as a mortgage signed for by two people. Just because the relationship between the two comes to an end, it does not mean that one of the parties can simply walk away from their mortgage obligations.
  2. An agreement on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living elsewhere in the
  3. The potential return of a “hard border” between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. This border will be the only land border between the EU and the UK after The reintroduction of a hard border, which all parties say they want to avoid, with police checks and custom controls, could have significant consequences for political processes on the island of Ireland.

The EU will refine its the mandate for its negotiators over the coming month. It will be finalised at a meeting of EU leaders at the end of April.

Given that it is the UK that is leaving the EU and not vice versa, the EU can be expected to have the upper hand in structuring the negotiations. If the EU wants the negotiations to be structured sequentially, then that is how it will be. The UK has limited leverage to force the EU to do otherwise. “Open talks on a trade deal now, or we are leaving”. “But you are leaving anyway.” Reminiscent of the hold-up artist who threatens to shoot himself if you do not hand over your wallet.

To make matters worse for the UK, it is negotiating against a deadline of two years from March 29th, a deadline which can only be extended if the 27 remaining members of the EU unanimously agree. If there is no deal by March 2019 then the UK crashes out of the EU on March 30th. In reality, the negotiations may not seriously kick-off until after the German elections in February. They will need to finish by October 2018 to allow sufficient time for ratification. A year to try and finalise a Rubik’s Cube negotiation.

Given these circumstances, it is not surprising that some calmer voices on both sides are suggesting that there will need to be a transition phase for some years, during which a number of the British objectives for Brexit (such as its wish to escape the jurisdiction of the CJEU) will not be achieved and some membership benefits will be retained for a period.

THE EXIT NEGOTIATIONS

Settling the Bills

The first major roadblock to a successful negotiation is the resolution of the UK’s ongoing financial obligations to the EU after it leaves. Those who campaigned for Brexit never mentioned such an obligation. On the contrary, they famously proclaimed that quitting the EU would save the UK

£350m a week which could be redirected to the National Health Service. Little has been heard about such a transfer since the vote. There are those in May’s Conservative Party who will reject any exit or ongoing payment to the EU. The will be egged on in this by the rabidly anti-EU tabloid press. May has a majority of less than 20 in the House of Commons. She will do all she can to avoid splitting the Conservative Party. Caught between the EU’s insistent demand that financial liabilities must be honoured and the rejectionist stance of the ultra-Brexiters in her own party, May’s negotiating margin on this issue is slim, if non-existent. Never underestimate the negative effect the ideological purity of a raucous, parliamentary minority can have on political negotiations. American readers can think Freedom Caucus.

While we noted earlier in this paper that the UK’s obligation are somewhat akin to a mortgage obligation. Of course there may be shared equity in the property that needs to be taken into account in calculating who owes what. But if, after doing that, an amount to be repaid remains then that obligation must be met.

Negotiations could come to a halt very quickly if a solution to the issue of financial liabilities cannot be found. If the UK refuses to honour what the EU sees as financial obligations on the part of the UK could the EU take the view that the process has come to an end? What would happen then? Article 50 states:

The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.

This language suggests that the UK cannot be forced to leave the EU before the two year period ends. But what if the UK decided that there was no point in further negotiations and decided to go sooner rather than later?

Could Brexit become a reality long before March 2019?

Citizens Rights

While it might seem that it should be a straightforward matter to mutually agree the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and of UK citizens living in the EU this is far from the case. For a start, residency requirements for non-EU nationals differ across the 27 member states. (It is still 28, but we are counting the UK out). If a deal were done when would it start and how long would it last? Would an EU citizens living in the UK, or a UK citizen living in an EU member state, be free to have relatives join him or her? Would they have access to state benefits? What about health care? Pensions? If they buy property what rights have they got if the UK/EU deal is time limited?

The UK currently requires that EU citizens who have been in the UK for 5 years and qualify for permanent residency fill out an 82-page form, complete with copious supporting documentation, to have the right to residency confirmed. 20% of such applications are rejected, often for very minor reasons. The process seems designed to deter applications rather than facilitate them.

Officially, 300,000 UK citizens live in Spain. Some put the number nearer a million. Many are retired, living on a UK pension. They have already taken a hit because of the fall in the value of the pound against the euro since the Brexit vote. They are concerned, rightly, about their continued access to the Spanish medical system after Brexit. Today they can access that system on the same terms as a Spanish citizen, as a result of their EU citizenship. They will lose that access after Brexit. Will the UK be prepared to buy them access to the Spanish system? How much would that cost? The same applies to UK citizens living elsewhere in Europe, though the Spanish case is exceptional because of the number of retirees.

As always with any negotiation, the devil is in the detail. This is a matter of major importance for BEERG members. They have many EU employees in the UK and UK employees in the EU. We already know the uneasy that many of these employees are expressing to management about their futures. It is difficult to offer any reassurance when there are so many unknown unknowns. But we can listen to their concerns and let them know we understand and that we share these concerns.

Irish Borders

Post Brexit, the Republic of Ireland will be the only country to have a land border with the UK, the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland (until Scottish independence?) Ireland and the UK have long had a common travel area, without controls, whether between the Republic and Northern Ireland or the Republic and the UK mainland. No passports required. (Which is why Ireland never joined Schengen as it would have put the Ireland/UK travel zone at risk).

But, post-Brexit, Ireland will still be a member of the EU, with full freedom of movement between Ireland and other EU countries. The EU, conscious of the political risks involved, is anxious to ensure that there is no re-introduction of a hard border on the island of Ireland. But, the driving force behind Brexit is to enable the UK to control who crosses its borders. Logically, that means the UK may have to re-establish a border with Ireland. Now that does not much matter if you travel from Ireland to anywhere in the UK mainland. You’ll just have to queue up and show your passport. Like any other European. Assuming that the EU and the UK can negotiate a visa-free arrangement. Not necessarily guaranteed if the divorce goes hostile (see Settling the Bills above).

But the Republic/Northern Ireland is another matter. The politics are deep rooted in a bloody history. Within living memory. The disappearance of the border between the two parts of the small island played a significant role in bring a degree of peace and stability where before there was everyday violence.

Will Brexit see the return of a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland? Remember, Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, in no small part because it has been a significant beneficiary of EU largess. A majority in Northern Ireland sees its future in the EU. And now it is going to be dragged out of the EU by England. And have a border, with custom and police controls, between it and the Republic erected. The relative peace and stability that has developed since the Good Friday Agreement could all too easily be put at risk as old animosities re-emerge.

The difficulties of finding a solution to this problem should not be underestimated.

BEERG – April 3 2017