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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Brexit, Data transfers, GDPR, Michel Barnier, Negotiating

Saying things in such a way that make a deal impossible

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When I started to write this piece yesterday, I opened it with the following paragraph:

As I write this on Saturday, October 17, I have no idea whether there will be a trade deal between the EU and the UK. I do not know if talks between the two on such a deal are genuinely over. It is not clear if the discussions between the two lead negotiators, Frost and Barnier, scheduled for London this week, will actually go ahead or remain cancelled, after Frost told Barnier on Friday night not to bother turning up unless he had a new offer to make to the UK.

The next morning, Sunday, I read Michael Gove’s article in the Sunday Times. In it Gove accuses the European Union of trying to ‘tie our hands indefinitely’ as he claims the UK has ‘no choice’ but to prepare for a no trade deal split from the bloc at the end of the year.

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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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Boris Johnson, Brexit, Michel Barnier, Negotiating

“No-deal” becoming a real possibility

Barnier and Frost2

EU/UK Brexit negotiations ended last Thursday, a day earlier than planned, with both sides citing “significant disagreements”. This was the first-time face-to-face negotiations have been held since the outbreak of Covid-19, with discussions over recent months taking place by video link.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said his team had:

“engaged constructively” in a bid to “get negotiations successfully and quickly on a trajectory to reach an agreement.”

“The EU side had listened carefully to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s statements in recent weeks, in particular, his request to reach a political agreement quickly, and his red lines: no role for the European Court of Justice in the UK; no obligation for the UK to continue to be bound by EU law; and an agreement on fisheries that shows Brexit makes a real difference.” Continue reading

Boris Johnson, Brexit, Michel Barnier, Trade Deals

Putting a tiger in the tank of what?

Tiger Tank

On Friday, June 12, Michael Gove, the senior UK cabinet minister in charge of the Brexit process, said on Twitter:

“I just chaired a constructive EU Joint Committee meeting with @MarosSefcovic

I formally confirmed the UK will not extend the transition period & the moment for extension has now passed. On 1 January 2021 we will take back control and regain our political & economic independence.”

Responding on behalf of the EU, Michel Barnier, said: “The EU has always been open to an extension of the transition period. At today’s Joint Committee, we took note of UK’s decision not to extend. We must now make progress on substance. To give every chance to the negotiations, we agreed to intensify talks in the next weeks and months.”

The UK left the EU legally and politically on January 31 last. The UK no longer has any role or involvement in EU governance of decision making. However, until December 31, 2020, the UK is still part of the EU’s custom union and single market, which means that there have been no disruptions to trade flows in either goods or services between the UK and the EU. It was open to the parties to extent this transition arrangement for up to a further two years, but Gove’s June 12th announcement means that this will not now happen. Continue reading

Boris Johnson, Brexit, Data transfers, Michel Barnier, Negotiating, Trade Deals

Brexifornia: Checking out but never leaving

express

Brexit will never be over.

Brexit may be “done”, but there is no end state, no finish line, just a never-ending, groundhog day marathon. This even appears to be the case with (what we thought was) the signed and sealed Withdrawal Agreement (WA), the one Boris Johnson negotiated with the EU late in 2019.

One headline in the British press on Sunday read:

“Boris wants to fix unfair Brexit deal.”

But was not this the “oven ready” deal that Johnson told the UK electorate just needed to be “popped into the microwave”?

One government source told journalists: “Unfortunately we couldn’t fix every defect with the Withdrawal Agreement last autumn … we’ll now have to do our best to fix it but we’re starting with a clear disadvantage.”

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Brexit, British Government, Michel Barnier, Negotiating

A tale of two speeches by Gove and Frost

speeches

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, Michel Barnier, Negotiating, Trade Deals

Sometimes, you just can’t compromise

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The hilarious haggling scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian

One of the most overused and lazy words in the Brexit debate is the word “compromise”.

In how many articles on Brexit will you find some working of the phrase: everyone knows both sides will need to compromise? Why does the EU need to compromise? To get an agreement, will be the answer. But it wasn’t the EU that decided to end the relationship. The UK was the one that walked. And yet the EU is expected to bend its rules, to “compromise” to facilitate the UK?

It is not going to happen.

Picture this. Someone breaks into your house, intent on helping themselves to your goods and valuables. You confront them. Should you “compromise” with them? “Meet them in the middle”? “OK, you can take these two paintings and this watch. Maybe that laptop. That work for you?” I somehow don’t think so. Your sole intent would be to see them out the door as quickly as possible, preferably into the custody of the waiting gendarmes.

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