LEADING THE WAY OUT OF THE EU

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Wednesday 8 March

Exactly three months after Thresa May’s disastrous ‘joint report’ with the EU over withdrawal, which signalled the end of phase I, European Council President Donald Tusk will today lay out guidelines for phase II. That’s EU bureaucracy for you.

At around midday, we will have an idea of what Brussels officially thinks of the prime minister’s Mansion House speech. In the meantime, we have a leaked EU report acquired by the Guardian that yet again tears into the British position, labelling it “a change in tone, but not in substance”.

A key component of May’s speech was her effort to head off further accusations from Brussels of “cherry-picking”. She rightly pointed out that the EU’s existing trade agreements contain an array of opt-outs and ins, and besides, Britain will be a former member of the EU, the nature of the future relationship will automatically be unprecedented. If a trade deal is to be secured, it should inevitably encompass hitherto unexplored measures.

Make no mistake, this was a document made to be leaked, drafted not by Michel Barnier’s team, but the EU version of the Cabinet Office, now headed by non-other than Martin Selmayr, the man who masterminded the failure of David Cameron’s renegotiation in his former capacity as chief of staff to Jean-Claude Juncker – read Leave.EU’s profile of him here.

The leaked report also decries “zero progress” on customs, a bold-faced lie. Customs was one of the few areas where the prime minister listed a specific range of options open to negotiation with Brussels:

Option one is a customs partnership between the UK and the EU. At the border, the UK would mirror the EU’s requirements for imports from the rest of the world, applying the same tariffs and the same rules of origin as the EU for those goods arriving in the UK and intended for the EU. By following this approach, we would know that all goods entering the EU via the UK pay the right EU duties, removing the need for customs processes at the UK-EU border.

Brussels is determined to exploit Leave-Remain divisions in the Conservative leadership, this document was no exception:

“Like with May’s previous speeches, she addressed more her domestic audience, trying to bridge the gaps between the two poles of the debate on Brexit in the UK,” the paper concluded.

“While the speech was long on aspirations, it was short on workable solutions that would respect the EU27 principles.”

Case in point, one Leave.EU has been complaining about for months, is the “no solution” over the Irish border. May is lambasted for her “mutually contradictory UK objectives”. Here, the European Commission is correct.

The document does, however, say that a no-deal scenario, with Britain falling back to WTO membership would be undesirable, which is exactly why Mrs May should take it.

May’s speech skirted over the niggling issue of financial services. To the relief of many a Brexiteer, she said on Friday that her government would not seek to retain access to EU financial passports, which would have almost certainly meant concessions on free movement and remaining in the job-killing Single Market – read Leave.EU’s takes on the speech here. She did, however, kick the can, informing her audience Philip Hammond would clarify the government’s EU plans for the City of London during the following week.

She would have been better off doing the job herself. The government is headed for a calamity. While Hammond will be in London making his pitch for continued access to EU financial markets, Tusk is set to pre-emptively knock him down in Luxembourg.

Brussels is sticking to its stance of a goods-only off the shelf trade deal. “Financial services aren’t goods,” Tusk will say, a point to be reinforced moments later by France’s finance minister Bruno Le Maire.

A goods-only deal would be exactly the kind of bad arrangement May warned against at Lancaster House a year ago. Britain’s goods deficit with the EU is a staggering £96bn. By contrast, we have a services surplus amounting to £14bn.

Not to be outdone, the pointless European Parliament has released a 13-page document knocking down virtually all of May’s proposals, particularly her daft idea that Westminster tacitly adopt all EU regulations.

“A third country [cannot] have the same benefits as a Member State of the European Union, or an EFTA/EEA Member,” the draft document states.

A “deep and comprehensive” trade deal must entail “a binding interpretation role” for the European Court of Justice and “does not allow cherry-picking of sectors of the internal market.”

European Parliament president, Antonio Tajani – who would be preparing for the Italian premiership had Berlusconi’s Forza Italia not won fewer seats than Lega Nord at Sunday’s election – will convene a meeting of the heads of the institution’s political groups today before Brexit negotiator, MEP Guy Verhofstadt delivers a press conference at 4.30 pm.

Finally, Lega Nord’s leader, Matteo Salvini has given Britain his blessing. “Great Britain is a friendly country with a long tradition of trading with Italy,” he told the Telegraph. Non-telegraph subscribers can read Westmonster’s take, here.