The EU’s negotiating position is weak so the Government must avoid making unnecessary concessions

The EU’s negotiating position is weak so the Government must avoid making unnecessary concessions

In her Lancaster House Speech and frequently since, the Prime Minister and Brexit ministers have repeated the point that given the EU’s £72 billion goods trade surplus with the EU, it is in the EU’s interests to agree a free trade deal with the UK. It also demonstrates that, in trading terms, the EU has a very weak negotiating position – and the same point applies to the exit money where the EU has no real cards at all.

Unfortunately, the EU took control of the negotiating timetable, something which the Government agreed to, and so we are now faced with the waiting for the decision at the impending European Council as to whether ‘sufficient progress’ has been made on issues like the Irish border and the financial settlement before talks can move onto trade.

The UK’s trading position with the EU is very important to the Republic of Ireland because the UK, including Northern Ireland, is Ireland’s largest single export market, with 13% of total exports. By contrast, Belgium is 12% and the whole of the of the EU, excluding the UK, is only 38% of the total, whilst the USA alone is 26%.

Interestingly, Northern Ireland only represents 1.5% of Ireland’s trade, so all the recent hysteria about cross-border trade is not really about trade with Northern Ireland. The real issue for Ireland is maintaining its exports to the UK.

That is why Ireland and the EU are so desperate to avoid a hard border with the UK and their demands are clear evidence of their weak negotiating position and Ireland’s desperate attempts to keep the UK in the Customs Union by using the Irish border as a lever.

On the Irish border issue and on the exit bill, the EU actually has few cards to play, so they have sensibly adopted the ploy that they will not move onto trade negotiations until the UK irrevocably concedes ground on these issues.

The UK actually has a far stronger negotiating hand and that strength is at is maximum point right now. It merely requires courage on the part of Theresa May and the Cabinet to face the EU down.

Sooner or later the UK either will have to say “No” or submit to the EU ransom demands and accept a very bad deal. The sooner the UK says “No”, the sooner we may move on to a more balanced negotiation and get a reasonable deal.

If the EU does not then move on, then a WTO deal will save the Government and all of us a £40+ billion bill and we will collect another £8 billion in net tariff receipts each year. All that money can go to the NHS, social care and all of the rest of the much needed expenditure that would help the UK’s public services rather than subsidising the EU.

So the UK has no need to be a supplicant; we are actually in a ”win-win” situation, if only the Government focused on the facts rather than submitting to all the establishment pressure.

So Liam Fox was absolutely right to state recently that the Irish border issue will be resolved as part of any trade deal. The same position should be adopted on any payment of the money which has been offered during an implementation period to a fair trade deal.

Finally, on the question of the rights of EU citizens in the UK, the Government should never concede to any ECJ jurisdiction or influence on UK laws – Brexit means Brexit.

So now is the time to hold firm. The great EU exporters to the UK – like Germany and Ireland – desperately need a trade deal with the UK and all Theresa May needs to do is to stand firm and wait for the EU to face the facts.

The alternative is to accept a bad deal and the decision has to be taken to stand firm on that position now, not at some time in the future. The sooner the Prime Minister makes a stand, the better the deal we will get. The alternative is to continue to appease the EU and end up with a rotten deal.