This week has been a little quieter than last as the politicians and civil servants in Brussels begin to get ready for the next few months. Channel 4 released a draft of the EU’s negotiating guidelines for the Brexit transition:
There are no surprises here for anyone who has been paying attention. As I have said before, the fantasies of Leave supporters are going to have a hard collision with reality, this document proves that in black and white for all to see. The EU position has always been - and continues to be - clear, pragmatic and consistent. Brexit is a British problem, not a European one, and the priority of all the other member states is the coherence of the bloc as a whole.Read more
“The European ideal has always been inspired by a spirit of optimism and a belief in a better future. While that ideal has been tested, it has not been broken. And based on the achievements of the past, we have a renewed appetite to face the challenges of the future.”
These are the words with which the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, began his speech on the future of the EU in the European Parliament this week.
In an impressive speech he laid out his vision for the future, urging us all to “put fire back in the engine of our Social Europe”. I just wish that an independent Scotland was there alongside Ireland at the heart of the EU, and could play a part in that conversation, rather than being dragged to the door by the UK Government.Read more
I hope you all had a good Christmas and Hogmanay and are now rested for what promises to be a busy 2018. If we are to have a deal it must be concluded within the next ten months or there will not be sufficient time for the European Council and Parliament to ratify the deal before the March 2019 exit date. There is an awful lot to be done in that time and it is going to be a big ask to get the deal done.
These negotiations mean that Brexit is going to become far more real to people as the lies and wishful thinking of the Leave campaign collide with reality. Things are going to be unpredictable and fast moving. Even this week Nigel Farage and the Leave.eu campaign headed by Aaron Banks have called for a second EU referendum! Who would have bet on that last week?Read more
It has been a long year, and the ongoing failures of the Brexiters gives no joy to the rest of us tied to the train crash they have set in motion. This week we finally saw some of the UK’s fabled impact assessments. There were no revelations since much of what they contained was simply an assessment of the status quo. The report on fisheries noted without irony that “there is a concentration of activity in coastal towns.” Who knew?!
We need to see serious work that actually lays out the future choices we must make. As Phase 2 progresses it will become harder and harder for the Brexiters to maintain their fantasies as they collide with reality.Read more
As of this afternoon, we are onto phase 2 of the Brexit negotiations. The European Parliament and Council of the European Union have agreed with the Commission’s position. That does not mean a deal is completed on citizens’ rights, the UK’s financial obligations, and the Northern Ireland Border. A number of important issues remain outstanding but enough has been agreed for the dialogue to expand to cover other areas.
I say this through gritted teeth but for good reason. For too many people in the UK, Brexit remains white noise, a false equivalence aided by an industrial-scale spin machine telling us that somehow, we’ll have our cake and eat it; it will be alright on the night because we’re special; we’re British.Read more
This week has been a blizzard of events in Brussels and London. On Monday Theresa May went to the Commission expecting to sign a deal and move on to the next phase of the negotiations for the UK to leave the EU. Whilst enjoying a lunch with Jean Claude Juncker the DUP held a press conference and then, following a subsequent phone call to May, it was all over for the day.
As I wrote in the New Statesmen, the “have your cake and eat it” sloganeering is now crashing into hard reality and this was a great illustration. Nowhere has this been more apparent than Ireland. At the stroke of 23:00 on Brexit Day (note that Brexit happens at midnight, Brussels time) the border crashes into existence, unless a fix is found now. The Good Friday Agreement cannot be respected and there cannot be an open border in Ireland unless Northern Ireland is in the single market and customs union. (You can read the rest of my piece here: newstatesman.com/... )
The problem is real, and will not go away but after days of chasing, a suitably ambiguous form of words has been found:
In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom committed to maintaining full alignment with those rules of the internal market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North - South cooperation, the all - island economy, and the protection of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement. In this context, implementation and oversight mechanisms for the specific arrangements to be found will be established to safeguard the integrity of the internal market.
This means that unless the UK finds a miraculous solution to leaving the single market and the customs union then Northern Ireland will remain part of both in some way, either alongside the whole of the UK or not. Although my article was written before this was decided I stand by my comments: rhetoric is not enough and the realities of international trade law mean we need solutions now. The UK must start by showing real flexibility within itself and with the EU to allow the various democratic mandates and legal realities that exist within these isles to be respected. Though the obvious solution is for the entirety of the UK to stay in the single market and the customs union, differentiated solutions can work and may prove essential before we get to the end of this process.
Well, it has been another busy week in Brussels and Edinburgh but things do seem to be moving in a more positive direction. The UK has finally decided to honour its international obligations:
This means that there is a much better chance of moving forwards with the talks after Christmas. There is still work to be done and frankly it is remarkable that it has taken this long but at least we are seeing some progress. So far, the European Parliament response has been cautious as this release from the Brexit Steering Group shows:
Let’s wait and see what the details are.Read more
This week there has been some brilliant news amongst the ongoing chaos of the Brexit Saga.
Minimum Unit Pricing has passed its final legal hurdle and can now become law in Scotland. This will have a real impact: in the first year alone, minimum pricing could prevent 1,600 hospital admissions. You can read more from here:
I would also like to thank all those who have been involved in this case. It has been a long road to get here. I have always disagreed with the Scottish Whisky Association’s case and I am pleased that European law is on our side.Read more
This week we have started to see indications of the trade choices we will face in the future. Wilbur Russ, Donald Trump’s commerce secretary, has warned that the UK must follow US regulations if it wants a US trade deal.
In response Michel Barnier has made clear that a trade deal with the EU will involve following their standards.
This means that we now face a choice of whether we follow the European model or the American model. This decision will set for generations to come what we will eat and how we will live. If we choose to head down the American route our food quality will be lowered. We need to stand up for the high standards we currently enjoy, and support the Scottish farmers who grow that food.Read more