Our (very slightly loosened) lockdown continues and Covid-19 is still the biggest story in town. Nonetheless, there have been some interesting Brexit developments. New Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has announced that he will not be pushing for an extension to the negotiating period, instead challenging the government to get things done within the tight December deadline it has set itself. This is a sensible move in terms of electoral politics, as Starmer looks to heal rather than stoke divisions amongst potential Labour voters over Brexit. As we think the government should indeed be able to have something agreed by December, it suits us too.
Meanwhile, chief British negotiator David Frost had made a telling statement about the slow progress of negotiations, placing the blame firmly at the EU’s door: “The major obstacle … is the EU’s insistence on including a set of novel and unbalanced proposals on the so-called level playing field”. It is worth printing Frost’s statement in full:
“We have just completed our third negotiating round with the EU, once again by videoconference. I would like to thank Michel Barnier and the negotiating teams on both sides for their determination in making the talks work in these difficult circumstances.
I regret however that we made very little progress towards agreement on the most significant outstanding issues between us.
It is very clear that a standard Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, with other key agreements on issues like law enforcement, civil nuclear, and aviation alongside, all in line with the Political Declaration, could be agreed without major difficulties in the time available. Both sides have tabled full legal texts, there are plenty of precedents, and there is clearly a good understanding between negotiators.
The major obstacle to this is the EU’s insistence on including a set of novel and unbalanced proposals on the so-called “level playing field” which would bind this country to EU law or standards, or determine our domestic legal regimes, in a way that is unprecedented in Free Trade Agreements and not envisaged in the Political Declaration. As soon as the EU recognises that we will not conclude an agreement on that basis, we will be able to make progress.
Although we have had useful discussions on fisheries on the basis of our draft legal text, the EU continues to insist on fisheries arrangements and access to UK fishing waters in a way that is incompatible with our future status as an independent coastal state. We are fully committed to agreeing fishing provisions in line with the Political Declaration, but we cannot agree arrangements that are manifestly unbalanced and against the interests of the UK fishing industry.
It is hard to understand why the EU insists on an ideological approach which makes it more difficult to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.
We very much need a change in EU approach for the next Round beginning on 1 June. In order to facilitate those discussions, we intend to make public all the UK draft legal texts during next week so that the EU’s Member States and interested observers can see our approach in detail.
The UK will continue to work hard to find an agreement, for as long as there is a constructive process in being, and continues to believe that this is possible.”
It is time for the EU to stop insisting on an unprecedented ‘level playing field’ arrangement and start negotiating properly.
On the website this week
This Thursday, the European Court of Justice delivers its verdict in the European Commission’s infraction proceedings against the United Kingdom for failing to impose VAT on transactions in the City’s multi-trillion-dollar derivatives markets. Launched during the murky days of the Brexit withdrawal negotiations in 2018, this judicial time bomb has the potential to blow up both free trade talks and the Withdrawal Treaty itself if the Court finds against the UK.
“We are not asking for any favours from the EU – no complex bespoke “relationship” but a quick off-the-peg model just a short way up from WTO rules. They don’t like it, and with reason, because this independence means our room for political manoeuvre is large.”
Satellites in a two year political orbit, by Gwythian Prins and Sir Richard Dearlove
It has been reported that senior officials are trying to put a stop to a satellite programme approved by the Prime Minister and strongly in the national interest. Gwythian Prins and Sir Richard Dearlove argue that this attempt must be squashed.
“The coronavirus crisis also brings into focus a more recently emergent trend. We notice that extravagant sinophilia and unreconciled remainia are combining – often in the same individuals, their causes fusing.”
With its death toll apparently the highest in Europe the UK’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been widely criticised. Serious mistakes have been made, but much of the criticism is premature, unbalanced and based on misleading data. The UK’s economic policy response has been sure-footed. The UK economy may suffer less and recover better than the EU and the US. The EU is now under existential threat, while the US risks high inflation.
“The UK was always a prime candidate to have one of the highest death tolls in Europe in any global pandemic.”
A Euro Prediction, by David Palfreyman
Predicting the future is usually a futile exercise, but here nevertheless is a forecast of what just might happen if common sense and logic prevailed over pride and vested interests—which means it probably won’t.
“Whether the EU could survive such a splintering of the Eurozone having for two decades tried to make work an economically irrational and reckless pet political project is unlikely.”
We are also on Twitter, posting articles and retweeting the daily events that bring Brexit to the fore in the national news.
Discussion also continues over on Facebook. Bryan Milham quoted Caroline Bell’s article, “Therefore, the EU’s smart C-276/19 paper rocket, if correctly handled by the government, could be the secret weapon which blows the whole disastrous Withdrawal Agreement sky high.” He added, “We can only hope so.”
How you can help
There is much about Brexit still to be decided. Our MPs listen to their constituents. Do continue to send them links to our articles, especially on matters relevant to your constituency – for example, in rural areas, articles on the threat to British agriculture. Alternatively, make an appointment to speak to them at their next surgery. Let them know what you want post-Brexit Britain to look like.
As Boris Johnson said in in his post-election address, it is also time for unity and reconciliation. Keep reading our posts and share links to our quality content to help others understand how leaving the EU will be good for the UK economy and for our own democratic governance. We aim to educate our critics to think differently and more positively about the long-term impact of Brexit.
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