The Brexit Non-negotiations

daviddavis

The above picture was taken in Brussels this morning, it shows British government minister David Davis MP (right, centre of three) and the chief negotiator for the European Union, Michel Barnier (left, centre of three).

Notice that the EU negotiating team has come prepared with stacks of paperwork (probably including the detailed briefing papers that have been published by the European Union). By contrast, the British team have brought no papers at all.

It turns out that David Davis spent just an hour or so in Brussels before returning to London. With the clock ticking on the UK’s departure from the EU you would think that the Minister would want to make full use of the negotiations to secure a good outcome for this country, but by all accounts his team have yet to produce any position papers at all, unless you count the calculatedly mean-spirited `offer’ to EU citizens resident in the UK, which falls well short of what the EU had already tabled some months ago.

So what’s going on?

All this is consistent with what I have always felt would be this government’s approach to the Brexit negotiations, which is not to negotiate at all. Their plan, as it has always been, is just to go through the motions until they able to find some pretext to storm out, blaming the EU for trying to bully them. The most likely time for the staged walkout is in the autumn, probably after the German federal elections.

This gambit will no doubt be supported by propaganda pieces in the Daily Express, Mail and Telegraph and it might just allow the Tories to cling onto power while the economy suffers as we crash out of the EU in the most disorderly fashion possible. Not to mention the chaos it will cause for EU residents in the UK and UK residents in the EU.

That is, I believe, the Government’s plan. It is why Theresa May called a snap election, hoping to build up a larger majority and a full parliamentary term to withstand the inevitable backlash. That gamble backfired, but the Conservatives are still in power and the plan remains in place.

So why has the Government decided to adopt this position? Simple. It does not have the wherewithal even to formulate a negotiating position, let alone deliver a successful outcome. No possible end result can deliver the economic and political benefits of remaining in the European Union. If we’re going to make people suffer, the reasoning goes, we might as well find a scapegoat to deflect criticism away from our poor choices.

And what about the EU position? Well, they hold all the cards so they won’t be worried. Their priority will be to take over all the business opportunities that we have decided we no longer want. Whatever happens with the negotiations, the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. That’s plenty of time for EU companies to relocate their operations to mainland Europe, to write British producers out of their supply chains, and to expand its portfolio of trade agreements to the further disadvantage of the UK economy.

I may of course be completely wrong about this view of how Brexit will pan out, but so far nobody has been able to convince me that I am. You could try, if you like, through the comments box,.

 

 

 

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19 Responses to “The Brexit Non-negotiations”

  1. Bryn Jones Says:

    That the UK government has no intention of reaching a negotiated agreement with the European Union is one possible explanation of the government’s behaviour.

    Another explanation, the one that I personally favour, is that the UK government is deluded about the ease of obtaining an agreement that is beneficial to the United Kingdom. It is based on the idea that many UK politicians have spent years talking to like-minded people, and reading the commentaries of journalists from right-of-centre Eurosceptic newspapers. They are trapped in a bubble of self-delusion.

    Whatever the reason behind the UK government’s current negotiating strategy, I expect the negotiations to end in either poor terms for the United Kingdom or with no agreement.

    It is entirely possible that the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union will prove to be so negative that it destroy the reputations of any politicians who supported it. We shall have to wait to see how things turns out.

  2. Bryn Jones Says:

    It might be worth adding that I’m astonished the United Kingdom government is trying to quit the European Union using Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. My suspicion is that Article 50 was designed to allow small countries to leave, for example if they turned their backs on democratic principles. I believe it was designed for countries that do not have economies that operate significantly on international trade, just ones that trading primarily with near neighbours and only on a modest scale.

    Had I been UK prime minister (which I shall never be) and had wanted the UK to leave the European Union (which I do not), I might have proposed a referendum to approve a ten- or fifteen-year process of leaving. This process would have required, following approval in a referendum, setting up a new mechanism in EU law for a major country to leave that did not damage its ability to trade with the European Union and globally. That would have required waiting until the next major EU treaty. It would have written a new procedure into EU treaties. I would not have thought of trying to leave using Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty: it would be, and is, madness.

    • Why should the rest of Europe agree to a treaty whereby a country can leave, retaining some rights but giving up most responsibilities?

      I don’t know the historical origins of Article 50, but somehow I doubt it. When was it written? What was the membership of the EU then? What countries were thought to join soon?

      • Of course, leaving the EU based on a 50-per-cent majority in a referendum which isn’t legally binding is not a good idea, whatever one thinks of Brexit.

        (Of course, since there wasn’t 100 per cent participation, even a smaller percentage voted leave, but this is a stupid argument because it also applies to those who voted remain. Someone who doesn’t vote says “I don’t care” so it makes sense to compare only the relative fraction of votes cast. In this case, more for leave for remain, but, again, things like this should need more than 50 per cent and should be legally binding, as should all referenda.)

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        The Lisbon Treaty was signed in 2007. It provides the mechanism for a member state to leave the European Union via its Article 50, the route the United Kingdom government is trying to take with a two-year period of negotiation.

        There is no reason why member states would agree to a new, clearer departure route in any future treaties, but future treaties require consent from all states, which gives any one state some influence in negotiations.

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        The 52:48 vote in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union is perhaps the worst possible result the referendum could have produced. The referendum gave weak approval to highly-radical constitutional and economic change.

        My comment on leaving my local referendum count last year was that the result would lead to a compromise that would mean the UK remaining in the single market (on some definition) and in the customs union, but outside EU political structures. That compromise was rejected by the new prime minister after she came to office last July.

        The electorate for the referendum was the same as that for elections to the House of Commons. That means that UK citizens living outside the UK for more than 15 years were excluded. It meant that citizens of other EU states (other than the Republic of Ireland and Cyprus) were excluded, however long they had been resident in the UK. Allowing those groups to vote would probably have produced a majority for the UK to remain in the EU.

      • “My comment on leaving my local referendum count last year was that the result would lead to a compromise that would mean the UK remaining in the single market (on some definition) and in the customs union, but outside EU political structures. That compromise was rejected by the new prime minister after she came to office last July.”

        I interpret this to mean that a close vote should have led to some sort of compromise. But there was never any chance of the EU agreeing to that, for it would open the door to countries leaving in some form, retaining privileges they want and shedding responsibilities they don’t. In this case, maybe not “love it or leave it”, but rather “members of the club have to play by the rules; there are no half-members”.

        “Allowing those groups to vote would probably have produced a majority for the UK to remain in the EU.”

        Sure, but changing the rules would change the results of many elections. Presumably you are arguing that the rules should have been so changed. The way I see it, people living more than 15 years outside the UK should know that they can’t vote in UK elections, and it is their decision to live with it. They presumably can’t vote where they are, either. If they live more or less permanently somewhere else, it would make sense to become naturalized there.

        In general, citizenship implies the right to vote. I think that this is good. If you want to grant “residents” the right to vote, you have to define it, defend your definition, worry about people being able to vote in national elections in several countries, and so on.

      • Whatever one thinks of Brexit, the response by Parliament and/or the government should have been “OK, we have a rough idea about what some people think. There isn’t a huge majority either way. We should have a new referendum, legally binding, after a sensible debate on the pros and cons and allowing people to inform themselves of the issues. Perhaps we should require more than a 50-per-cent majority and/or confirmation by another referendum after the next general election. We should also determine in advance what new constellations are in principle possible, based on what the EU will accept and what not.”

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        Citizens of other EU states resident in the UK, even for the long term, were not allowed to vote in the referendum, despite the issue potentially affecting their rights to remain in the UK. UK citizens living elsewhere for more than 15 years were not allowed to vote, and that included people resident in other EU states whose ability to remain where they are is likely to be affected.

        The EU has provided a compromise status for some countries that opted not to join, such as Norway and Switzerland. It might have been prepared to offer something similar to the United Kingdom, but the UK government appears not to have bothered asking.

        Had I been prime minister after the referendum, I would have tried to draw up some practical policy for leaving the EU and would have put that specific option to the people in a new referendum.

  3. “Citizens of other EU states resident in the UK, even for the long term, were not allowed to vote in the referendum, despite the issue potentially affecting their rights to remain in the UK. UK citizens living elsewhere for more than 15 years were not allowed to vote, and that included people resident in other EU states whose ability to remain where they are is likely to be affected.”

    If I live in a country for a week, say, shouldn’t I be allowed to vote, since the outcome could affect me? Where do you draw the line? A week, a month, a year? How do you make sure the person actually lives there? Is it OK to be “resident” in more than one country? This is just too complicated. Citizens can vote, non-citizens can’t. Anything else is just not practical. Are UK citizens living elsewhere for more than 15 years liable for UK tax? If so, then I think that they definitely should be allowed to vote. Many countries always allow their citizens to vote, regardless of where they have lived for how long. If someone really lives in another country for the long term, I see no reason that they should not be naturalized. If they don’t want to, fine, but then they have to bear the consequences.

    “The EU has provided a compromise status for some countries that opted not to join, such as Norway and Switzerland. It might have been prepared to offer something similar to the United Kingdom, but the UK government appears not to have bothered asking.”

    Norway and Switzerland are two of the richest countries in the world. Other non-EU countries: Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Vatican. Rather different from Blighty old chap! 🙂 It is completely absurd for the UK to see itself in a comparable situation to these. All other countries in Europe not in the EU are not in because they haven’t yet met the criteria; most if not all want to join.

    It is also a different situation if one has never joined (and, as in Norway, this has been decided several times via referenda) and if one is leaving.

    “Had I been prime minister after the referendum, I would have tried to draw up some practical policy for leaving the EU and would have put that specific option to the people in a new referendum.”

    The problem with that is that it would have to be negotiated with the EU first, rather difficult if it is not even sure that it would take effect.

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