Brexit, British Government, Brussels, Michel Barnier, Negotiating

#Brexit: Dealing with the EU (Part 2 of a series of 3 blogposts)

This Blogpost was wrtitten on Monday Sept 16th

bettel

As we wrote last week, it seems to us 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.

In last week’s BEERG Brexit Briefing we examined the failure of, first, Theresa May, and now Boris Johnson to attempt to build any consensus in the UK around what Brexit should mean in practice and how this lack of consensus was adversely impacting the UK’s discussions with the EU.

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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, Brexit, Negotiating, Theresa May

The #Brexit #WithdrawalAgreement negotiation – Could Anyone Else Have Done Better?

This Blog was written on Sun, Dec 2nd 2018

 

Commons Vote

At the time of writing the Commons vote on the EU/UK Withdrawal Agreement looks like it will result in a very heavy defeat for Prime Minister Theresa May.

Depending on which pundit you heed, anywhere between 65 and 90 Conservative MPs are expected to vote against the WA. When you add the government-supporting DUP, as well as all the opposition parties. the majority against could be up to 200 votes. For the moment there is little point in speculating as to what happens next. Quite simply, no one knows.

So, when Michael Barnier, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker on the EU side, and Theresa May on the UK side, say that the Withdrawal Agreement, and the accompanying Political Declaration, is the only deal available and that the choice facing the UK Parliament is the deal on the table, no deal, or remain in the EU, are they right?

I believe they are. That is indeed the choice MPs are faced with. Of course, the choice can be passed by parliament to the people in a second referendum, but it will still be the same choice: deal, no deal or remain.

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Brexit, British Government, Michel Barnier, Negotiating, Theresa May

A Bad Week for Theresa May on #Brexit in #Salzburg

Salzburg Dinner
Pic: Getty Images via BBC website

This blog was written on Sept 21st, 2018

In our Brexit Briefing last Tuesday (here) I wrote:

“So, how will Brexit end up?”, they ask. My answer is that I have no idea. I have been following Brexit developments in detail over the past two years and have written some 60 or so of these Briefings. Yet, I have absolutely no idea of what is going to happen between now and March 29th next year. Quite frankly, neither does anyone else.

What happened yesterday in Salzburg, when the EU brutally said that Mrs. May’s Chequers plan was unacceptable and would not work underscores the truth of this statement.

In the run-up to Salzburg it had been widely reported, especially in the UK press, that Mrs. May would use the occasion to appeal to the EU’s political leaders to go over the head of the “Brussels theologians” and show more flexibility in accommodating UK demands to be both in and out of the EU’s single market and customs union at the same time. “In” so as to ensure continued frictionless trade in goods between the UK and the EU so preserving the UK as the European off-shore manufacturing base for US, Japanese and, in the future, Chinese companies.

“Out” for services allowing the UK to cut buccaneering trade deals, with which a swath of UK politicians have an ideological obsession, with non-EU countries.

(For the arguments on why this approach was never going to work see this excellent article by former Irish ambassador, Bobby McDonagh: here)

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Brexit, Conservative Party, Michel Barnier, Negotiating, UK Labour Party

Chucking Chequers and #Brexit… there are just too many ‘unknown unknowns’ in play

marr gove
Michael Gove with Andrew Marr (Photo via Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire)

I took the last week off to spend a few days outside Chatal, on the west coast of France. But even there, there was no escaping Brexit.

It is important to understand that Europeans are not obsessed with Brexit in the same way as people are in the UK. Talking to people in France, Belgium or Spain over the past few months leaves you with the impression that most people think the UK is “nuts” or “mad” to leave the EU. But they also believe that the UK never really wanted to be part of “Europe” in the first place, so, goodbye to them.

Nevertheless, quite often when people in France, Belgium or Spain hear you speak English they ask you “What do you think of Brexit?” My first response is to tell them that I am Irish, not English.

It’s amazing the difference that little sentence makes. Any suggestion of hostility immediately disappears as they begin to tell you about a fishing trip they once took on the Shannon or their cycling tour of Connemara.  When they were much younger, of course.

“So, how will Brexit end up?”, they ask. My answer is that I have no idea. I have been following Brexit developments in detail over the past two years and have written some 60 or so of these Briefings. Yet, I have absolutely no idea of what is going to happen between now and March 29th next year. Quite frankly, neither does anyone else.

There are just too many “unknown unknowns” in play, political molecules bouncing around, crashing into one another, producing unintended effects.

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Brexit, British Government, Conservative Party, Michel Barnier, Theresa May

PM May middling on #Brexit: Mogg-ists to the Right of Her, Boles-ists to the Left

This Brexit Blog was written on Sept 3rd, 2018

 

Mogg May Boles

After another week of negotiations between the EU and the UK we are no further along. If anything, things have gone backwards. To coin a phrase, we are in for a long, hot winter.

As we wrote in last week’s BEERG Brexit Briefing, the real issue for the immediate future remains the “politics of hard numbers” in the UK House of Commons. Of course, the UK government and the EU are working to finalise the Withdrawal Agreement by the end of this year at the latest, the October deadline having slipped, however, as any decent trade union negotiator will tell you, there is not much point in coming back with an agreement if the members are in no mind to accept it.

Sometimes the mood is just ugly and it can take a strike to break the logjam.

If the 60, or so, Conservative Party, Moggite, “vote against anything”, ultra-Brexiteers oppose whatever Withdrawal Agreement Prime Minister Theresa May reaches with the EU then she simply doesn’t have the votes to get it through the Commons.

The Moggists are now campaigning under the rubric “Chuck Chequers” the plan on which May still places all her Brexit bets, even after the EU has said no.

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Article 50, Brexit, British Government, Negotiating, Theresa May

Six Specific #Brexit Thoughts on a Summer’s Day

This blog was written on Monday July 30th.

cropped-raab-1.jpgIt was a Brexit week in which not much happened, except for the small matter of the EU’s chief negotiator, Michael Barnier, telling the new UK Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, that a key proposition in Theresa May’s Chequers plan would never be accepted by the EU.

You know the proposition, I’m referring to. The one where the UK says to the EU we’re leaving because we never liked you and you are holding us back; we are setting up as a rival business and we are going to do our own deals with the people you already have deals with or are doing deals with. But would it be OK if we collected monies owed to you by these guys? We promise, we’ll be honest and pass it on to you. All of it, every euro.

To nobody’s surprise, Barnier politely declined the UK’s offer. The UK is now working on plan E or F, not sure which.

I started writing about Brexit a year or so ago in response to questions I was being asked by the multinational companies we deal with. I have learnt a lot in that time, not just about Brexit but about British politics and about the EU, and about the almost complete lack of understanding of the EU, what drives it and how it works, on the part of the UK political class and commentariat.

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