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Wednesday 29 January 2020

The European Parliament is a joke of an institution. At the time Article 50 was triggered the Remain media continually warned getting a deal would be impossible, “not only do you need the approval of most EU member states, but the European Parliament too” went the logic, but almost three years on when Britain is finally on the verge of leaving the failing bloc there’s barely a whimper from MEPs.

Any EU scholar will tell you the Parliament and the Commission together are peerless in their dedication to European federalism. The Commission is known to exploit “legislative space” between the Parliament and the other legislature, the European Council made up of members states, in order to ram through bigger and badder rules.

It was no surprise that Eurofanatic Guy Verhofstadt was nominated as the EP’s Brexit spokesperson, it sat nicely with the narrative that Britain’s prime minister would have a tough job in navigating themselves through the two institutions, the European Parliament stretching the UK towards a tougher and more humiliating compromise, much in the same way it helps the Commission crank out more punishing regulations. That turned out to be complete guff. The British prime minister did humiliate herself of course, but it was entirely of her own doing.

Ever since Boris secured a deal in October Verhofstadt has muted his hysterical rantings. The only inflammatory thing said in recent weeks was his prediction, hopeful and hopeless in equal measure, Britain will one day re-join the EU. Similarly, the expected resistance from Verhofstadt’s colleagues has failed to materialize. Brexit has only ever been about the Council and the Commission on the EU side. 

Today MEPs will vote through the withdrawal agreement, the last hurdle will have been passed after Dominic Raab formally signed the withdrawal treaty yesterdat. Debating begins at 3.15 PM today, the vote will take place at 5.00 PM.

Meanwhile, the government’s publication of the fisheries bill today has provoked speculation about how this precious issue of national sovereignty is likely to play out. Sky news has consulted an expert from the New Economics Foundation who worryingly anticipates the EU will get its way in sticking fisheries at the top of a sequential negotiating order rather than everything being addressed at once, Downing Street’s known preference.

“One of the first issues to be negotiated and kind of set the tone for the debate and in terms of presenting to the public, what’s been achieved,” said Griffin Carpenter.

“There could be room for compromise, but just not in the time that’s available. It takes a lot of time to work out, even if you accept the scientific principle let’s say that everybody gets a share based on where the fish are swimming.”

The sense is that the British government will seek to copy the Norway model. An off the shelf option it may be, but it would still involve lengthy technical discussions which will play into the EU’s favour. Brussels wants Boris to suffer a humiliating step down over his pledge to get the overall deal done by the end of the year, fisheries is a powerful means to bring him down using the EU’s favourite weapon, red tape. 

Of course, British negotiators are in a position to cut out the blabber and hammer home a simpler arrangement in line with Boris’s promise to “take back control” reported in yesterday’s Express, but it’s impossible to escape the suspicion London will want to trade in fisheries for greater single market access. If that’s the case, both sides will want to get fishing talks underway from the off.

This all sounds too familiar. David Davis climbed down at the first hurdle of the Article 50 talks after insisting Britain would have its way on how the negotiations were ordered. We should hope for better this time around, much better.