Sunday, 24 September 2017

Bluffing with an empty hand

Theresa May's use of the phrase "No deal is better than a bad deal" in her Lancaster house speech was seen by some as an "unnecessarily provocative".

I never understood this. If we say "we will not leave without a deal", EU hears "a superficial deal will do, they're not really leaving". If we are not willing to say "No Deal" at any point, we will eventually say Yes to every EU demand. We will be casting ourselves upon the mercy of the EU- not a quality the EU is known for. A guaranteed "bad deal" scenario.

1) The full 100bn exit bill will be extracted, with no offset from any EU assets.

2) EU expats in the UK will be granted full EU freedom of movement and citizen rights, with ECJ jurisdiction and enforcement.

3) The EU will insist upon a border in the Irish Sea, with Northern Ireland having special status within the single Market and Customs Union - in effect separating Northern Ireland from the UK.

4) The EU's negotiating objectives insists upon "safeguards against unfair competitive advantages through, inter alia, tax, social, environmental and regulatory measures and practices". The EU's current grip on social, environmental and regulatory law will not be relaxed, and control will be extended further to cover taxation.

5) The EU have already demanded they retain current fishing access in UK territorial waters. Combined with the same SPS regulations and likely same laws over shoals crossing boundaries, we will have left the CFP in name only.

6) The EU will demand we follow all SPS regulations for agriculture. While we will be outside the CAP subsidy scheme, the EU will regard any divergence from current policy as "unfair competition". We will be in CAP in all but name.

7) Somewhat out of the public eye, the UK Government has signed up to 5 EU Defence Union initiatives since November (see Veterans for Britain  twitter feed and web site). With May's unconditional commitment on security, likely to be bound via an association agreement, we are being de facto signed up to Juncker's EU Army.

8) Foreign Policy. I also expect May's association agreement to encompass foreign policy co-ordination and commitment to the EU's foreign policy aims. It will be impossible to distinguish this from the current position under the EU's Common Foreign Policy.

9) Human rights law. At present we already have pro EU MP's demanding that May sign up to the EU's Fundamental Charter of Human Rights. I expect May's association agreement to also contain similar commitments. So much for repealing Blair's Human Rights Act or establishing a British Bill of Rights.

10) Contributions. Well at least we won't be paying £10bn per annum nett to the EU, you may think. Don't bet on it. The EU will extract commitments to funding EU agencies and bodies and also for generous grants to poorer states in the EU. I doubt there will be any significant savings at all.

11) Four Freedoms and homogeneity of EU law. The EU have repeatedly made clear that the four freedoms are indivisible. Nor are they going to let us diverge from EU law and participate in the Single Market. The EU's negotiating objectives state they will "effectively protect its autonomy and its legal order, including the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union." At the end of August, Michel Barnier stated UK requests were "simply impossible" as the EU must protect the integrity of the single market.  Barnier again emphasised this on the eve of May's Florence speech 
"It is not – and will not – be possible for a third country to have the same benefits as the Norwegian model but the limited obligations of the Canadian model. And naturally, any agreement must respect the regulatory autonomy of the EU, as well as the integrity of its legal order."
12) Free Trade Deals. Leaving the Customs Union will enable Britain to set and negotiate trade tariffs. But if we opt to retain single market benefits, which means full regulatory harmonisation (as discussed above the EU will not compromise on this), then we will be unable to secure meaningful trade deals on regulations and non-tariff barriers. The major obstacle for many trade partners is the EU's restrictive SPS regime, which blocks agricultural trade. The proposed Swiss-USA FTA foundered on this point. African farmers are excluded from EU market primarily by regulations and non-tariff barriers. If UK financial services remain bound by the EU's particularly restrictive interpretation of global finance regulation frameworks, there is no scope for liberalising trade in this sector with the Rest of  the World.

I think the above is the epitome of a bad deal. It will cost a huge amount of money and will leave us even more enmeshed in and under the control of, the EU. We will no longer have a voice in shaping the direction of the organisation which we would still be shackled to. EU expats in the UK will have legal rights over and above UK citizens enforced by the ECJ. The integrity of the UK is threatened by the EU's Irish border demands. Apart from tariffs there are no gains - we will have less freedom in all economic areas.

Surely the UK Government cannot sign up to anything like this, be it a Norwegian EEA deal or a Canadian FTA? Surely "No Deal" is better than this deal ? Yet that is exactly the trajectory the Article 50 talks are taking us. Why is this ? Lack of leverage. Contrary to May's rhetoric, it appears no preparations have been made for a No Deal scenario.

A report by the BBC's Christopher Cook concluded "government is not behaving like it is really preparing for No Deal - and the EU27 can surely see it.". Dominic Cummings has tweeted how failure to prepare for No Deal is a historic unforgivable blunder - it is hard to disagree. James Arnell, a partner at Charterhouse, in an article for Conservative Home, laments the lack of progress to date and calls on Brexiteer MPs to provide an ultimatum to Mrs May and her government to "demand a proper Brexit plan which is deliverable with or without the cooperation of Brussels".

The failure to prepare for "No Deal" is criminally negligent. May has been bluffing with an empty hand. A disastrous approach which has undermined Britain's negotiating position.  The Government must act urgently to revitalise the government machinery for delivering Brexit. Above all, with just 18 months to go,  a "No Deal" contingency plan should have been prepared and already in the process of implementation. Bureaucratic inertia and delay can be tolerated no longer.

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