Friday 28 March,
Such was the foul odour released by Monday’s EU withdrawal agreement that five days later, Brexiteers are still reeling. If you missed the disappointments dished out by Brussels, ensure to catch up on Tuesday’s special EU withdrawal newsletter.
And to compound the lingering misery, it was revealed on Wednesday that arch-Remainer Amber Rudd had awarded the contract for our new, non-EU, blue passports to a Franco-Dutch company. For £12m a year more the contract could have gone to a British firm. “The government was bound by EU procurement rules,” chortled Eurofanatics smugly over social media, which is exactly why we need to leave.
The main source of the stink over the withdrawal agreement was the appalling treatment once again given out to Britain’s broken fishing industry. Slathered in green highlighter to indicate the UK’s full agreement, part Four of the document, which lays out the terms of transition, confirms the fears of many: UK waters, trawlers and fishing quotas will continue to be governed by Brussels.
Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg were typically proactive in venting their disgust, and for once, they were not alone. The next day, the Tories’ Scottish MPs piled into Downing Street demanding an explanation from the prime minister.
But in spite of Nigel’s eye-catching appearance on the Thames, dumping dead haddock in front of Westminster, the momentum could not be sustained.
By the time of the European summit at the end of the week, the focus had shifted back to Russia and the EU27’s approval (in principle only) of the withdrawal/transition document, together with its own position on the forthcoming trade negotiations with Britain. By that stage, barely a whisper was to be heard out of the Tory ranks over our fisheries, an absolute scandal.
The EU continues to play Theresa May like a fiddle. The tune is sombre. It is no coincidence that on Tuesday, a day after Britain finally succumbed over fishing, the EU released to its allies in the press a copy of a mysterious annex to its negotiating guidelines opening the door to a financial services arrangement Michel Barnier had hitherto ruled out.
The terms laid out in the annex are nowhere near the UK’s negotiating position, however. The City of London has already hit back, calling for the EU to improve its offer. Needless to say, this feeble carrot offered by Brussels, has done enough to distract the Tories from the betrayal over fisheries.
The EU has also kindly given its permission for Britain to begin negotiating trade deals during transition so long as they do not come into force before January 2021 – the minimum we should expect, but even then, there are caveats.
According to Sky News, as the summit was wrapping up today UK officials were told Britain will be barred from trade negotiations with the US during the 21-month transition period. Brussels has decided to up preparations towards a trade war and intends to use the British economy as leverage, an outrage.
Further to Monday’s open borders bombshell – the transition period will now count towards the five years residency EU citizens will need to claim permanent status, an option May had ruled out – the EU’s negotiating position held yet more surprises.
The EU27 have called for “the future partnership” to “include ambitious provisions on movement of natural persons,” adding that “such cooperation would require strong safeguards to ensure full respect of fundamental rights,” Brussels is holding out for continued ECJ oversight, a massive fudge over free movement is in the offing too.
Playing out in the background to the withdrawal agreement was Spanish whining over Gibraltar. On Monday, David Davis sensibly stated the same terms would apply to the Rock during transition as the UK, sparking a flap from Madrid, which is pushing for joint-control of the airstrip marking the border with Gibraltar, along with tax harmonisation. In the end, the Spaniards settled for a pointless redeclaration of their veto.
But Gibraltar is just a minor headache compared to the government’s lousy attempts to prepare businesses, border infrastructure and IT systems for real independence in 2021. Earlier this week, a paper was circulated to the Cabinet warning ministers there won’t be enough time to adapt, even with a 21-month transition period. To add further insult to injury, sensing Theresa May will not come up with an alternative to an open border in Ireland (thereby keeping Britain in the Single Market or Northern Ireland outside the common British market), the EU has decided to call her bluff.
In time for the next EU summit in June, the prime minister must present a blueprint for a smart border in Northern Ireland without need for physical infrastructure nor any checks – a promise Mrs May has given in writing. If she fails, the EU will push ahead with the default open border option. If it comes to that, even ‘Theresa the appeaser’ will surely recognise the need to break off negotiations entirely. Brexiteers be warned, Remainer forces in the government are already using EU confirmation of the transition period to lobby for no-deal contingency planning to cease. That must not happen.