Brexit Progress

Each time there is a round of talks between David Davis, the chief British negotiator, and Michel Barnier, the chief EU negotiator, many British people dread to hear reports of “progress”. In fact the “progress” so-called usually represents another concession from Britain – another so-called British red line bent or breached.

The latest concession offered by the British side (in Mrs May’s Florence speech) is giving EU nationals living in Britain a special status in law requiring British courts “to take note of decisions of the European Court of Justice in the past” and presumably into the indefinite future. Well of course we can “take note” of the phases of the moon, but that is not what is meant.

It is in fact a monstrous infringement of British independence which is without precedent among independent nations – in fact it breaches the basic qualification for membership of the United Nations referred to in our post of August 2nd.   As remarked then, the EU makes no such stipulation in respect of its nationals living in Australia and Canada, which together amount to about 3.6 million people, actually more than those living in Britain.

In essence, the EU negotiators see the process of negotiation as one in which Britain tracks towards a position of the EU’s choosing. Every report of progress is one where we are dragged, protesting to be sure, towards their wishes – superior rights for 3.2 million nationals in Britain (numbers increasing every month), splitting agricultural quotas, and to come, continuing existing EU fishing quotas in what are British seas.

In fact Michel Barnier actually described recently the negotiation process as one where Britain “must be educated to accept the realities of life in Europe” as laid down by the EU. This insulting remark about a great country which twice in a generation was the chief rescuer of Continental Europe from its own mess, was allowed to pass , unrebutted by Mrs May and Mr Davis.

What is fundamentally wrong with the British approach to Brexit negotiations?

The answer is in two parts:

Firstly, the British assume that the EU officials actually want an agreement which reflects the British move from being part of and subordinate to the EU to being a fully independent country once again.

The EU does not accept this position and will fight against any treaty which embodies this position.

The EU wants to see Britain continuing as subordinate to the EU in most of the key areas which it presently is – trade with the EU and the rights of EU nationals in Britain.

Secondly, the approach of the British officials – the Civil Service and its legal advisors – is overwhelmingly conciliatory. While Mrs May, the British Prime Minister, declared firmly in her Lancaster House speech of January 2017 that “no deal was better than a bad deal”, the Remainers around her were aghast at this declaration of the obvious – it was “upsetting to our EU partners”, etc., etc. Mr Barnier declared it “unhelpful” – the usual EU phrase for something they don’t like.

The British approach is a repeat of Munich in 1938. The British side said in effect that rather than no deal, they would have “any deal” apart from the odd fig leaf of total surrender, such as Czechoslovakia being allowed to exist for another six months until it was sliced up and brought under full German rule.

Munich again?

This is just what Mrs May’s predecessor, Chamberlain did 80 years ago at Munich: they conceded all of Hitler’s demands in return for Chamberlain’s famous “piece of paper”, because Hitler was well aware that Chamberlain needed a worthless piece of paper to convince the British people he had striven for peace[1]. In the same way the EU plan is to dangle the idea of a trade treaty eventually, involving some form of access to the mystical “Single Market”, which neither the USA or Switzerland have needed while they have exported more successfully to the EU than the UK has done since 1992[2].

What makes the present negotiation position potentially far worse than Munich is that May and Davis are, fantastically, offering to embed the EU rights of over 3.2 million EU nationals in British Law for ever – in effect a Bill of Rights for EU nationals actually superior to the rights of British citizens as well as those of our fellow Crown subjects, Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders, peacefully settled here, and also the hundreds of thousands who have gone through the rightly searching legal process of becoming British citizens, or, somewhat less demanding, long-term residents.

Preparing for No Deal

The biggest single persuader in any negotiation is the recognition by one side that the other side has an alternative.

The British side, aided and abetted by numerous prominent “Remainers” – Tony Blair, the CBI, Philip Hammond and the Treasury, etc. has given the EU the strong impression that we have no alternative, but to concede all their demands in the hope (and it is only a hope) that the EU will sign a zero tariff agreement for industrial goods trade, plus vague rights for banks to “passport” themselves into EU financial markets – a trivial concession.

Nothing would change the negotiations to Britain’s advantage more than the spectacle of preparations for leaving the EU on March 29th 2019:

  1. New customs sheds being built in Dover, Folkestone, London Gateway and Felixstowe.
  2. Electronic counting systems being designed to finally enable the actual number of persons entering and leaving the EU to be established.
  3. Electronic surveillance systems being designed to scan and pass, or retain for further examination, container lorries at UK ports and airfreight terminals.
  4. The Government setting up factories to replace imported components in the supply chains for cars and machinery;
  5. A clear-cut decision to cease paying anything to the EU from April 1st 2019;
  6. Enlarging the Home Office immigration department to cope with a surge in applications for permanent residence as presently applied to non-EU nationals;
  7. Preparations for appeals to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) should the EU attempt to apply unfair tariffs and quotas against WTO rules (as Norway successfully did in 2006-8 in the case of salmon quotas);
  8. Contracts placed for the issue of new blue British passports with the words “European Community” deleted.

EU Treaty would be for ever

Every British person should remember that what the British government is tempted to do is to sign a Treaty of indefinite duration. Under their current offer to the EU, Britain would be landed with 3.2 million foreigners with special rights in their country for ever. There will be no article 50 exit clause.

Every available alliance of interests: political, academic, industrial, overseas, must be mustered to prevent this happening. In particular, the Tory Party leaders and ordinary members must remember that the taint of Munich hung over it for 50 years; the current Brussels deal being offered by the British government will cause far more than a “taint”, it will break the Tory party and handicap our country for many years to come.

End Notes

[1] It needs to be recalled that Chamberlain’s piece of paper, with Hitler’s signature on it, was greeted with almost hysterical approval in Parliament and the Press.
[2] See “Britain’s Referendum Decision and its Effects (2016) Ch. 3.7 page 70, available in print from Amazon or to download from this website.

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