Heading for the Brexit cliff edge?

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The argument over the ‘Brexit bill’ is likely to go on for the “full duration of the negotiation”, said David Davis in the Commons today.

If this is true it means that the UK is heading for a ‘no-deal’ scenario, and crashing out of the EU. Michel Barnier has made clear, and has been backed to the hilt by every one of the 27 countries involved, that there are 3 ‘separation issues that must be sorted before the UK can strike a post-Brexit deal with the EU.

Those three issues are: the border between Ireland and the UK (the UK’s only land border with the EU); the issue of rights for citizens, and the exit bill to be paid by the UK.

I highlighted yesterday a very interesting article by Faisal Islam about the current state of negotiations. In it the Sky News political editor discussed the issue of a ‘transition deal’. It’s becoming increasingly clear that it’ll be impossible to tie up the whole shebang of Brexit before the deadline of March 2019. So an temporary fix might be agreed where we formally leave but basically stay till we can get the details fixed. A bit like getting kicked out by your spouse, but being allowed to kip on the sofa until you can find a flat to rent.

The problem is that the EU doesn’t want to agree a transitional deal until ‘Phase 1’ – the three issues above – are sorted. Yesterday Islam wrote this:

If we need a transition deal, then rather quickly we need to come to agreement on the ongoing Phase 1 of the negotiations. On current form this will not happen in time for the October EU summit. It might happen by December. “My hunch is it won’t happen till Christmas,” one informed Cabinet minister told me.

It would have been tight to negotiate absolutely everything necessary (a VAST amount) between Jan 2018 and March 2019 in order to leave, and that timeline only works if the bill gets agreed pronto.

If David Davis – as per his Commons statement – is now saying that the argument over a phase 1 issue is going to rumble on for the “full duration” of the negotiations, that is till 2019, then it’s really hard to see the UK getting any kind of deal even a transitional one. There might be hope from Davis that the EU might buckle – which they show no signs of doing – or take pity on the UK but that, I fear, is a vain hope.

Today, Davis also claimed to be making “concrete progress” in Brexit negotiations. As those in construction know, concrete is a very caustic substance which needs to be handled with care, and needs to be very precisely mixed, else it falls apart completely.

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The illusion of control

I’ve been banging on for a while about the way in which decision making power might be repatriated by Brexit, but influence will be lost in the process along with no small measure of political power.

There’s an excellent long article by Sky News’s political editor Faisal Islam published today.  I’ve clipped a short section which I think illustrates my point better than I could.

Fislam snip

(1) If Brexit really does happen, there will be a lot of choices which will be dressed up as having been made in London but that just-so-happen to be the carbon copies of ones made in the EU, thus allowing us to trade effectively. I.e. what a waste of everyone’s time.

(2) Take Back Control? No – more like just giving it away. And that’s not even taking into account that many big companies might well just leave rather than face regulatory uncertainties.

(3) Here’s the kicker: we get LESS influence post-Brexit over those regulations drawn up oversea (with our help btw, and some of which we quite like anyway). Dumb to the power of dumber.

Political decisions will be made in Britain post-Brexit. What won’t be decided on these shores is the long term direction of travel. Eurosceptics have long complained that our Westminster parliament was reduced to a mere rubber-stamp by membership of the EU. What an incredible irony that their own vigour and cunning in putting their case will unintentionally further reduce the power of those institutions they claim to hold so dear. They might still be able to choose the colour of the ink on the stamp perhaps.

 

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UK gov wants to cut-and-run on EU budget commitments

DDB

How very un-British! In the press conference that Brexit Secretary David Davis gave with Michel Barnier on 31st August he set out a very eye-opening aspect of the UK’s negotiating stance on Brexit.

In essence Davis stated that the EU was not prepared to honour pre-existing legal commitments to make budget contributions from the date Britain officially leaves the EU in 2019. In other words, things we promised to pay for in 2016, say, but wouldn’t need to actually be paid for until 2020, we would duck out of paying. This is a really bad, stupid position, as I’ve explained previously.

Head-in-the-sand Brexiteers might think this is a great wheeze – after all haven’t the EU had enough budget contributions off us over the years? Even if you believe we’ve been fleeced all these years (which I don’t) then it still a terrible proposition.

There isn’t another continent full of people we can trade with outside the EU who won’t know what untrustworthy and duplicitous our government is. If we stiff the EU, why would other trading blocs take a risk on us? And if they do, surely they’ll just price in the risk of doing business with a bunch of cowboys – it’s what we’d do.

There are three conclusions which can be drawn from this. Either (1) the Brexiteers like Davis genuinely don’t know what they’re doing, (2) it’s a badly misjudged bluff in order to force the EU negotiate [good luck with that], or more likely (3) they know that the EU can’t accept us not honouring existing commitments, the talks break down and the EU can safely be blamed which gets them off the hook because they’re just competent enough to know that the position they’ve got the UK into is abysmal.

Read in much more detail in this excellent thread from Steve Bullock @guitarmoog on Twitter.

tweet 1tweet 2tweet 3

 

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Post-Brexit laws: confusion reigns

541765-uk-supreme-court-london-afp‘Take back control’. It’s a powerful slogan that evoked a sense of the frustrated ambition, and a yearning for justice. Except given the opportunity to actually decide the legal direction of the country, the Brexiteers are clueless.

A lot of debate during the 2016 referendum campaign focused around issues of legal sovereignty and the democratic deficit that membership of the EU entailed. Although most of the people who voted leave doubtless cared little for the constitutional dilemmas or the finer legal arguments the issues were and are real, and deserved a hearing. As Lord Neuberger, the most senior judge in the country, pointed out today the government – stuffed with Leave campaigners – hasn’t given any indication of what decisions to take now the choices have to be made. It’s the most damning inditement of the Brexit debacle – and that’s saying something.

Firstly a little context on sovereignty.

The charge against the EU in the referendum campaign – and for may years previously – was that being a member of the EU undermined the UK’s political sovereignty. This was a powerful charge because essentially it was a true – at least on a particular understanding of what national political sovereignty is. Put simply a country’s sovereignty is its ability or right to control its own territory, notably in terms of controlling its own borders, money and laws. Part of joining the EEC (and latterly the EU post-Maastricht) was that some of the UK’s political sovereignty was ‘lent’ to the EU institutions in Brussels.  In theory, the UK was still a politically sovereign nation but in some legal and political areas – social policy and immigration policy most notably – EU law took precedence over UK-made law. That’s because the UK’s own parliament had passed the 1972 European Communities Act agreeing to that arrangement. In reality – as no-one seriously expected the UK to leave – there was some watering down of the UK’s absolute political sovereignty.

3 quick point on the side:

  1. Genuine political sovereignty only exists for a hegemonic imperial country (howdy USA!) and since the UK isn’t one of those anymore (see Suez Crisis) it’s a bit of a moot point
  2. It was / is actually beneficial for the UK to be party to the EU’s ‘pooled sovereignty’ arrangements because the UK gains much more than it loses (like how you could have complete control of your beloved football, but unless you share it you can’t actually play a game)
  3. It was pro-European’s inability or unwillingness to defend the reality of the EU which allowed the Europsceptic obsessives to set the narrative and poison people’s minds against ‘Brussels bureaucrats’ and the like.

Those Eurosceptics, the Brexiteers, have got their way and Article 50 has been triggered. So they should have a clear vision of what happens next, particularly in a legal sense. All that EU law – which has formed part of our legal code for decades – is about to vanish like mist in the morning. What will replace this apparently terrible, imposed continental body of law? There is a notable and shaming silence on the matter, which surely exposes the vacuity of the Leave side’s arguments.

If the motivation for exiting the EU was really to improve the country then there are several sensible options for replacing the laws and regulations that first originated in the EU. You could draw up an extensive new UK legal code and take the opportunity to move positively into the 21st century by clearing a lot of the legal deadwood from the statute books. You could convene a constitutional convention and overhaul some of the most archaic of the UK’s legal and political institutions, like the House of Lords. Instead, as the head of the UK’s Supreme Court said to the BBC:

“If [the government] doesn’t express clearly what the judges should do about decisions of the ECJ after Brexit, or indeed any other topic after Brexit, then the judges will simply have to do their best. But to blame the judges for making the law when parliament has failed to do so would be unfair.”

This is – in the formal, restrained and careful language of a senior judge – a full throated roar in the direction of the government to “PULL YOUR FINGER OUT!”. Lord Neuberger is raising the prospect of there being nothing to replace the EU laws when Brexit happens and no guidance has been issued to say what judges should do. For the legal profession not having a clear set of guidelines is tantamount to not having oxygen to breathe. If the present situation – the government not working out what the hell will happen once we leave – parts of the legal system will grind to a halt. Worryingly, Neuberger – who constitutionally has to stay strictly politically neutral – has already anticipated that politicians will try and shift the blame to the judges for this political problem. Little wonder when members of his profession have recently been branded ‘enemies of the people’.

So why have David Davis, Boris Johnson et al not come up with a plan? In truth because they don’t know what they’re doing. The true Brexit believers only ever wanted to burn it all down, without having given any thought to what might come after. It’s no coincidence that the vast majority of Brexit enthusiast politicians are privileged and entitled older men, who view the pooled sovereignty of the EU as they would any attempt to curb their own freedom to do however they please, without a passing thought for the benefits of collaboration, or even a little humility. They are right-wing neo-liberal anarchists, hell bent on destruction. They said they wanted to take back control, but given then opportunity they’ve just not up to the job.

When it all goes down, someone else (that’s us) is going to be carrying the can for these guys, and I suspect not for the first time.

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The Billion Pound Brexit divorce bill

 

Newspapers report today that the UK government is willing to stump up something in the region of £36bn to leave the EU.

The figure comes as a potential surprise because of the bullish stance taken by the Brexit secretary David Davis, as well as Boris Johnson and others in the government who had claimed the UK would pay little or nothing to leave the EU. The Union’s negotiator had claimed a figure nearer to £50bn was necessary in order to secure a smooth exit, so the apparent willingness to hike the UK’s figure closer to the EU one could be seen as yet another climb down.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that if the UK does leave the EU, it will be left with a big bill to settle, despite Johnson’s assertion some time ago that the EU could “go whistle” for the money. The UK’s negotiating hand having triggered Article 50 and in attempting to depart the Euro-club is almost comically weak, and the need to settle up before going is a fairly legitimate part of the process.

Although the sum is routinely referred to as a ‘divorce bill’ this is a rather misleading name. It implies something along the lines of having to pay legal fees to disentangle a marriage, which might keep solicitors in the money, isn’t a fee anyone would be keen to pay.

A better analogy might be that of settling a restaurant bill. A big meal is in full swing with lots of diners sharing food and drink. The UK announces that it needs to up and go – an early morning net day perhaps? In that situation not settling for the proportion of nosh and booze consumed would be pretty unforgivable, but that is essentially what the hard Brexiteers are saying should happen. In real terms the UK, as part of the EU, was party to many commitments as part of the EU’s 7-year budgetary cycle, many of which have been started but not finished. If the UK wants to go it’s only fair that the commitments jointly made whilst still a full and willing member are honoured. Hence the bill.

That said, it’s a matter of political negotiation how big the bill will be. It was never written in advance what the liabilities of future commitments would be if a country were to head for the exit because it wasn’t seriously considered. In the restaurant analogy, there was a menu but not really any clear prices. The EU – as seasoned negotiators will quite predictably highball the UK with a figure above what they might accept, safe in the knowledge that the clock is ticking and the UK is set to lose out disproportionately if the bill is not sorted, because post-Brexit trade negotiations will only commence once that issue has been put to bed.

The issue of the so-called divorce bill is a really good example of all that is wrong with Brexit. The UK public – via the right wing press – are being presented with the propaganda that it is blood money. The Tory government are cynically exploiting people’s ignorance of how the EU actually functions. The cabinet is at first unclear, then divided on the issue, before basically capitulating because there is no negotiating position to speak of and a lack of people to carry one out anyway.

Expect much more of this. A fairly good indicator of what’s going to happen in about 4 to 6 week’s time with Brexit is to watch what Davis-Johnson-Gove cite as absolutely-never-over-my-dead-body red lines today.

 

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