Two years ago a senior Australian trade negotiator told us not to listen to a word said by the EU until the last three weeks of any trade negotiation. This week we (hopefully) reach the last three weeks. Without an effective ‘no deal’ bottom line the UK however lacks the clout which Australians would advocate. Instead Parliament looks intent on playing for yet more time with a three-month extension, a prospect that has the Financial Times salivating as a chance to overthrow Brexit completely.
Geoffrey Cox is due to present a codicil on the Irish backstop this week, but Barnier’s Die Welt interview suggests that it will be based only on an EU promise to use “best endeavours“ to avoid using the backstop. This would be close to meaningless since the EU’s replacement to the backstop, outlined in the Political Declaration accompanying the Draft Withdrawal Agreement, will look remarkably similar to the Backstop itself – something the Irish Government will always insist upon.
Having allowed Amber Rudd and other cabinet ministers to block no deal and endorse a delay to Brexit if the WA does not go through. May is doubling down on her strategy of ‘my way or no Brexit’, in a move designed to scare Brexiteer Tories into voting for her deal.
The ERG are clearly looking for a ‘ladder to climb down’ so they can support the WA, rather than risking no Brexit, but the risk is that this ladder will prove more of a snake. As the French press reports this week (see below) May and Brussels are carefully choreographing a meaningless last-minute ‘concession’ on the backstop to fool MPs into passing the deal. Brexiteer MPs’ eight-strong legal team including Nigel Dodds and Martin Howe are unlikely to accept an empty guarantee.
This means that Parliamentary acceptance of the WA will depend on Labour support. True to form, Corbyn’s offer to support May’s deal, if its implementation is made subject to a people’s vote, is calculated to be unacceptable. Unless Brussels decides to short-circuit the process with an Backstop offer the ERG can accept it looks as though the WA will yet again be voted down and Article 50 will be extended. Unfortunately, the show looks likely to go on.
On the website this week
The Mandarins Speak, by Sir Peter Marshall
Former Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Sir Peter Marshall takes a look at the truth behind a recent news story that ‘more than 40’ British diplomats have urged Theresa May to abort Brexit. Having dealt systematically with each point – and noting glaring omissions – he concludes that these are the ‘attitudes that have caused us such trouble since 2016’.
“Goethe said that we had the courage to be what Nature made us: that does not mean perpetual subservience to a moribund Anglo-Brussels orthodoxy.”
Who is calling the tune? The ‘final choreography’ for Brexit, by Briefings for Brexit
French newspaper Les Echos has speculated that politicians both sides of the Channel are conspiring to force Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement through the Commons with only minor changes. This plot will involve talking up the EU’s preparation for no-deal and talking down any chances of solving the backstop in an attempt to frighten the Commons into running away from no deal.
“MPs must not be duped by these cynical tactics. They should respect their constituents and their mandate and stand firm by rejecting any ‘deal’ that fails to address in full the many unacceptable elements of the Withdrawal Agreement.”
The Mystery Surrounding GATT Article XXIV: The Crash-Proof Exit Option, by Michael Burrage
Why the obvious and mutually advantageous route to free trade with the EU has been given so little attention? Economist Michael Burrage describes the use of the GATT XXIV rule, which is specifically designed for trade relations between countries involved in ongoing negotiation. Use of the rule would allow the UK and EU to continue with tariff-free trade arrangements until they can agree a formal free-trade agreement. This is a realistic prospect, which has been used by numerous other countries during negotiations, including India and Pakistan.
“If Mrs May tried and failed to negotiate an exit with the help of Article XXIV, she has much to gain, and nothing to lose, by telling the British people why it failed. Was she discouraged by legal advice or soundings at the WTO? Did the EU expect too much in return? If she did not try because she was not aware of this option… she might anyway consider trying an Article XXIV exit now.”
Worth another look
Legal Advice on the Irish Backstop, by Martin Howe
This article is an edited version of the advice which Martin Howe QC offered to the UK Government last November. The advice remains as relevant today as it did last year and is worth repeating. Howe explains how agreeing to a backstop which the UK can only leave if we satisfy a review mechanism risks dropping the UK into a legal black hole for a number of years and quite possibly longer.
“Signing up to this backstop with this review mechanism would be mad, simply mad.”
The Subscribers’ Views page on the website allows subscribers to submit their own articles. Submissions welcome. This week we publish Dr Ian Moody’s ‘Political Ideology Trumps Free Trade’, which discusses the EU’s willingness to let ideology trump pragmatic concerns for trade and business across the continent, by refusing to offer the UK a mutually-beneficial trade deal.
“The over-riding concern of the EU is not protecting trade and jobs: it is protecting its political ideology and its dream of a centralised European super-state.”
We are also on Twitter at https://twitter.com/briefing4brexit, posting articles and retweeting the daily events that bring Brexit to the fore in the national news.
On Facebook this week, Roger Wilson urges us all to “keep pushing for March 29th; no delay, no second referendum, no general election”.
How you can help
We urge our supporters to ‘take back control’ in our present confusion. There are thousands of you. Our MPs listen to their constituents. Write to your MPs. Perhaps send them copies of some of our articles (or links to them), especially when they are relevant to your local conditions – for example, in rural areas, on the threat to British agriculture. Better still, make an appointment to see them at their next surgery: they will take notice when people are lining up at their doors. Make you views known where MPs might be wavering, or where they are working to sabotage Brexit, especially in Leave-voting and marginal constituencies, which Richard Johnson listed in his recent article.
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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