This week everyone continues to gear up for a final negotiating push. All eyes are focussed on the big three issues – fish, state aid and the EU’s demand for a so-called level playing field.
It is no surprise to find that Michel Barnier’s claims about fishing rights growing fishier than ever. It was widely reported this week that the UK wants to double its fish quota. Barnier has claimed that the UK demands are completely unreasonable. But this only replicates the EU’s arrangements with Norway and would still be a voluntary limitation of the UK’s right to full sovereignty over its waters.
On state aid and the level playing field, Barnier continues to pile the pressure on the British negotiators to make clear how they would plan to use these freedoms in future. Chief negotiator Sir David Frost has hit back, criticising the EU’s efforts to assert continued control over UK politics. In a memorable phrase, he accused the EU this week of treating the UK like ‘a client state’.
Meanwhile, the Guido Fawkes website has seen the confidential Cabinet Office Briefing on the Brexit talks. HMG’s intentions could not be clearer. “The Government is committed to ending any role (other than set out in the WA) for the CJEU, or the direct application of EU law in the UK. There will also be no further dynamic alignment or non-regression commitments based on alignment to EU laws and standards between the EU and UK laws in any areas, even in a UK:EU FTA”.
It looks, therefore, like the Government plans to hold firm, proving to the EU that (unlike the bad old days of the May administration) there is no bluff to be called. We will not be signing up to anything that resembles continued political alignment.
But the EU will not be keen to take no for an answer. Both sides are going to hold firm until the very last minute, pushing negotiations to the brink. Will they leave it too late for a deal? It still seems most likely that a deal will still eventually be pulled out of the bag. The UK has made clear that it demands political independence. Ultimately, despite its dogmatic commitment to ever-closer union, the EU has little to gain from denying us this. Reports that Barnier may soon be side-lined by national leaders, in order to make progress, suggest that the EU knows this.
On the website this week
The OneWeb satellite investment is strategic value for money, by Gwythian Prins and Sir Richard Dearlove
In the fourth of their series of articles on the politics of satellites, Sir Richard Dearlove and Professor Prins explain why and how this summer’s unveiling of the Chinese leadership’s profound hostility towards the democracies makes the strategic value of a British Low Earth Orbit satellite network even greater, contrary to the persisting and mis-framed arguments of some civil servants.
“It is always cheaper to deter or to pre-empt a threat than to have to fight it.”
Why is the civil service failing? By Nick Busvine
Former diplomat Nick Busvine looks at why the civil service and state funded institutions have been found wanting in the face of the challenges posed by Brexit, Covid-19, China and identity politics – and concludes that real reform is urgently required.
“Brexit exposed damaging groupthink, lack of impartiality and, most worrying of all, a casual disregard for democracy in the heart of government.”
Novelist and commentator Ruth Dudley Edwards writes that Ireland needs a rethink on membership of the EU. She admires the new book by former Irish Ambassador Ray Bassett reviewed on this site last week.
“Suppressing debate has enabled Ireland’s Europhiliac establishment to make terrible policy decisions on Europe – including joining the Euro, frightening the electorate into reversing the democratic results of the Nice and Lisbon treaties, caving into bullying over the bailout, and undermining the Good Friday Agreement.”
Key points this week
State Aid in State of Deadlock
Several news outlets have carried stories about the increasing recriminations between the UK and Brussel over the stalled progress of negotiations. The key element in this week’s deadlock of talks is frequently identified as a division over state aid rules. Brussels claims the UK has not sufficiently clarified its position, and that this prohibits further progress from being made. Boris Johnson’s government, by contrast, wants to retain the discretionary power to help boost new industries and turbo-charge British growth. As the international profile of the Oxford vaccine and recent foreign investment decisions amply demonstrate, the UK is a world-leader in research, and a flexible, responsive system unencumbered by red tape can only help that process. This will maximise the benefits of independence in trade and economic policy, enabling us to avoid the sclerotic, opaque and bureaucratic administration characteristic of Brussels. Alarmist concerns over a return to ‘70s misery’, then, completely misunderstand what this policy is for. And as we detailed on the blog Britain’s position, again, is no more than what is normal under international free trade agreements. The EU only wants to impose these requirements in a deal because it desires to maintain significant influence in the structure of the UK economy, keeping us in a state of dependence on Brussels. First it claimed that it didn’t want to see an under-regulated Britain undercutting the single market, and now voices the opposite fear of lavish quantities of state aid, a situation more characteristic (ironically) of certain EU economies than of Britain. The only constant in this is, of course, that it doesn’t want to see a successful state out from under its thumb on its doorstep. Thanks to its past intransigence in negotiations and hardening of British resolve against the close alignment represented by Theresa May’s deal, it may well ensure just that.
E-Useless for Food Safety
A minor spat between the Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross and the leader of the Scottish National Farmers’ Union Jonnie Hall has erupted, after Hall claimed that Ross had misquoted him. The broader issue in question is whether or not the UK should require in law that the health and environmental standards of imported food and drink meet those of the UK, which if adopted would leave little wriggle-room in future negotiations. They might also constitute an unnecessary (and therefore prohibited) barrier to trade under the WTO and its Codex Alimentarius Commission. The rhetoric of ‘chlorinated chicken’ is again very much in evidence, though as has been discussed before this simply represents scaremongering. Likewise, the EU’s supposedly ‘world leading’ food standards, which often produce products with higher pathogen concentrations compared the US and which employ vastly more antibiotics, contributing to the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance. Indeed, this week the absurdity of EU regulations was amply demonstrated by the widespread disobedience of an EU law that forbids the refrigeration of eggs. Yet more reason, then, to reject protectionist calls to cripple our capacity to make trade deals with important partners on the dubious basis of concerns over food standards.
Key Points is compiled by a Cambridge PhD student.
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An Oxbridge PhD Student
Dr Graham Gudgin
Economist, Centre for Business Research, Judge Business School University of Cambridge
Professor Robert Tombs
Emeritus Professor of French History, University of Cambridge