Assuming Theresa's May's recent overtures and concessions, combined with further capitulation requested by the EU, eventually results in meaningful discussions on the "framework of the future relationship" - what kind of deal is the UK Government seeking ?
It has been reported that May will not permit a cabinet discussion on this topic until the New Year, such are her fears over cabinet rifts. Meanwhile there continues to be speculation about whether it will be a Norway, CETA or swiss model or some variant of these. But could it be that the model has already been decided upon, and that actually the Government seeks to base its model on another country - namely Ukraine ?
Arch-federalist Andrew Duff has been pushing the idea of Ukraine's association agreement as a model for Brexit for some time. Note some of the phrases he uses:
"At the heart of the association agreement is a deep and comprehensive free trade area (DCFTA) .... requires ... approximation with the EU acquis ... The UK will only have to keep that technical and regulatory equivalence"
"very important provisions for future political cooperation in the field of justice and home affairs as well as foreign, security and defence policies."Now note language used by May in her Article 50 notification letter:
"deep and special partnership that takes in both economic and security cooperation ....cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism"
"a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. This should be of greater scope and ambition than any such agreement before .... both sides have regulatory frameworks and standards that already match."Both Duff and May talk of a deep free trade agreement and refer to maintaining regulatory equivalence. Ukraine's DCFTA includes an Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA) which requires "relevant Ukrainian sectoral and horizontal legislation, institutions and standards have been fully aligned with those of the EU". This is not "mutual recognition" - this is one-way traffic, an export of EU law to Ukraine. Rumours abound of the UK government seeking a Swiss option, which Brexiteers see as a trap. A UK Treasury spokesman is reported to have said "a Swiss-style arrangement would give legal sovereignty but in reality would ensure Britain never really diverges from European regulation". This doesn't sound like taking back control.
The areas of justice and home affairs were under Theresa May's remit in her time at the Home Office. Britain had secured a full opt-out from around 130 Justice and Home affairs measures in the Lisbon treaty of 2009. In 2013, May opted back in to 35 of these measures, including the infamous European Arrest Warrant. It seems likely May will again choose to opt-in to EU Justice and Home affairs measures - even as we leave the EU.
But most worrying are the references to security and defence co-operation. Ukraine's agreement states "The Parties shall intensify their dialogue and cooperation and promote gradual convergence in the area of foreign and security policy, including the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)". VeteransForBritain have tweeted that the UK Government has now signed on to six EU Defence Union measures since November 2016, all of which pave the way for a Single European military capability, including a post-Brexit UK.
The UK Governments stealthy commitment to EU military union throws light upon a statement made by Theresa May in her Article 50 notification letter:
"We want to play our part in making sure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and able to lead in the world, projecting its values and defending itself from security threats. And we want the United Kingdom to play its full part in realising that vision for our continent"This appears to be an unambiguous statement from a UK prime minister promising that UK defence and security capabilities will be seconded to the political and security goals of Europe - and it is obvious that in this context, Europe means the EU. Even as we are supposed to be leaving the EU, May's government is actively delivering UK defence autonomy into the hands of the EU - even though concern over an EU military union was a major factor in the Leave Referendum victory.
The leak of a draft paper prepared by the Foreign Ministry in Berlin seems to confirm the nature of this proposed relationship:
"a broad partnership that includes “at a minimum” the fields of foreign and security policy; fighting terrorism; cooperation on criminal justice; agriculture and fisheries; energy; transport, and especially air transport; research and digital issues."
"the degree of access to the EU’s single market conditional on the extent to which the U.K. is prepared to adhere to regulatory norms. Even where the U.K. agrees to common rules, there can be no “cherry-picking” that gives the U.K. a competitive advantage"Duff has described an association agreement like Ukraine's as the best the UK can hope for. Duff has also suggested that "the difficult part of an association agreement will be trade policy, especially in services" and "any half-decent new relationship with the EU will come at a price to HM Treasury that might not be much lower than the UK’s existing net contribution to the EU budget". He's hardly selling it to us is he?
Combined with the EU's demands regarding the "divorce bill", citizen rights & ECJ oversight, customs border in the Irish Sea, "safeguards against unfair competitive advantages through, inter alia, tax, social, environmental and regulatory measures and practices" - this all adds up to very bad deal, as discussed in my previous post on this blog.
So why are we on this trajectory ? It may be tempting to think that this is due to the General Election result which weakened Theresa May. But May's Government has been signing up to the EU Defence Union since November of 2016. The "deep and special partnership" rhetoric pre-dates the disastrous General Election.
I suspect the problem is that a Remain-supporting Prime Minister who does not really believe in Brexit, along with a Remain-dominated Cabinet and Parliament have been charged with delivering Brexit. The vacuum of ideas left by May's vision-less leadership is filled by a group-think civil service geared towards the Brussels status quo - they are more than happy to draw on whatever Brussels proposes. The end result is an "establishment Brexit" - Brexit in name only which leaves us even more enmeshed in "the EU project", with less freedom of manouevre and no influence.
This is of course political ineptitude of the highest order. The Tories got to their highest vote share in a generation on the back of being trusted with Brexit. They will never be forgiven by Leave voters for the betrayal of an "establishment" Brexit. Nor will they pick up support from Remain voters who will ask (rightly) why did we reject membership with some influence if we are to still so tightly bound to the EU ?
The Government and the country are in need of bold leadership to make a success of Brexit. Instead Brexit is entrusted to the Remain establishment who will deliver a dire "establishment Brexit". Change is needed - and quickly.