I stopped writing a weekly comment on Brexit when Brexit was done. Brexit is done. The UK is no longer a member of the European Union. There can be no argument about that fact.
But some will say, Brexit is not done. Look at the ongoing dispute about the Northern Ireland Protocol. Look at the issues surrounding visas for, say, British musicians to tour Europe, or the uncertainties surrounding short-term business trips and whether visas or work permits are required for such trips. The UK has still to impose border controls on goods coming from the EU into the UK. UK scientists are shut out of the €80bn Horizon research program.
When people say “Brexit is not finished, it is not done” what they are really talking about, it seems to me, are “post-Brexit” politics in the UK which touch on two things: Continue reading →
Over the holiday break I read Gavin Barwell’s Chief of Staff, Notes from Downing Street. As a tale of intrigue, vengeance, backstabbing, delusions (multiple) and incompetence (widespread) it could hardly be bettered.
As you read through the book one thing becomes clear, beyond doubt. The Brexit fights in the cabinet and the wider Tory party that Barwell documents were fights for the ideological soul of the party.
For the most ardent Brexiters, leaving the EU was a means to an end. The end was the completion of what the regarded as the Thatcher revolution, a revolution to turn the UK into a low tax, lightly regulated, entrepreneurial driven economy. Shaking off the shackles of Brussels would allow this to happen. Britannia Unbound. Nigel Farage, one of the main drivers of Brexit, said as much a couple of days ago in an article in the Daily Telegraph, which called for a Thatcher-like leader to replace Boris Johnson.
Ranged against the ultra-Brexiters were the economic pragmatists, Tories who accepted the decision to leave the EU but wanted to do so in such a way as to minimise economic damage. But they were never certain how to do this. They were groping in the dark. Because no country had ever left a prosperous trade bloc before, recreating a border with that bloc which would put new barriers to trade in place, while trying to ensure that there would be no economic costs to so doing. Keep all the benefits, avoid all the obligations. Johnson was not the only one who believed that there was cake to be had for free. They all did.
It is almost an iron law of politics that where there is doubt and uncertainty extremists will be only too willing to claim that they, and they alone, have the answers. The pendulum of politics will swing in their direction. This is what happened with Brexit.
Over the past week I have been organising a webinar for BEERG members on the proposed EU Directive on gender pay transparency. The proposed Directive aims
“…to strengthen the application of the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value between men and women through pay transparency and enforcement mechanisms”. (See the EU proposal here)
While writing the webinar announcement, I noted that:
“this would be the first EU employment law Directive that, once adopted, would not apply to post-Brexit Britain.”
As I wrote this sentence a thought occurred to me: Is this entirely true? From this thought sprung two important questions:
Could the new Directive apply in Northern Ireland because of the Protocol?
And, if so, how could that be done?
Now, let me say straightaway that I have no idea what the answers to these two questions might be. And, I am fairly certain, nor does anyone else. That’s because we have never been here before.
Our latest BEERG Byte videocast features myself and Baroness Margaret Ritchie, an independent member of the House of Lords discussing the impact of Brexit on the cohesion of the United Kingdom, specifically as it will affect both Scotland and Northern Ireland.
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?
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”.
This could be a bitter-sweet victory for Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party.
Johnson’s gamble has paid off and the Conservatives have decisively won the UK general election . He looks like having a clear overall majority of 80. Labour has put in its worst performance since 1935, winning just over 200 seats. Corbyn and “Corbynomics” turned out not to be such a vote winner after all.
Sweet though such a victory is for Johnson, the bitterness comes with the results in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, the pro-independence, anti-Brexit Scottish Nationalists (SNP) swept the boards. The final results were SNP: 48 (+13) Conservatives: 6 (-7) Lib Dem: 4 (-) Labour: 1 (-6). Ten years ago, Labour had over 40 seats in Scotland.
Thsi blogpost was written early on Tuesday Sept 10th
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.
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.
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
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.
The ideological complexion of the Johnson administration makes a no-deal Brexit more and more likely and businesses need to get ready accordingly. At the very least, they need to prepare for a prolonged period of great uncertainty in the UK and in the UK’s relationship with the European Union.
The replacement of Theresa May by Boris Johnson was not just a change of personnel at the top. Nor was it just a change in the negotiating approach to Brussels with Johnson adopting a Trump-like “madman” demeanour, as he famously suggested he would, if given half a chance, at a dinner in London in 2018:
“Imagine Trump doing Brexit,” Johnson added. “He’d go in bloody hard … There’d be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he’d gone mad. But actually you might get somewhere. It’s a very, very good thought.”
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.
This blogpost was written on Monday, April 15th, 2019
Brexit has become a never-ending story for which there may actually be no end.
There is no majority in the House of Commons for the Withdrawal Agreement on offer. Nor is there a majority for leaving the EU with “no deal”. No one seems able to put together a winning coalition for any of the other exit strategies on offer: “Norway” (with or without +++); Canada, SuperCanada or Canada Dry; Malthouse. Alehouse or Curryhouse.
OK, I made the last two up but that’s about where we are. In restaurants BYOB normally means “bring your own bottle”. In the House of Commons read it as meaning “bring your own Brexit”.
Last week the European Union gave the UK a further Article 50 extension, to run until October 31st on condition that European Parliament elections are held on May 23rd next. As a continuing member of the EU the UK must hold the elections, otherwise the legitimacy of the Parliament, and any legislation it adopts, could be called into question.