The phoney negotiations have ended – now the EU has to negotiate

The phoney negotiations have ended – now the EU has to negotiate

The agreement reached with the EU has brought the phoney phase of the negotiations with the EU, phase one, to an end. We could have reached this place months ago had it not been for the EU’s intransigence and their idiosyncratic phasing arrangement, designed to pre-empt and intimidate by creating a hot house atmosphere to force binding agreements on matters that are the outcomes of negotiations, before negotiations actually start.

The outcomes for all three issues – the status of EU nationals living in the UK, the divorce bill and the Irish border – that the EU plugged out of thin air and made matters of principle, were substantially the same as what the UK government offered back in January and later in September.

On the EU nationals who reside in the UK, the government made it clear that they would have full rights provided the EU reciprocate with regard to UK nationals resident in the EU and the EU did. As for the jurisdiction of the ECJ which the EU wanted to be the supreme arbiter, it has been restricted to a few cases and limited to eight short years, short with respect to the life of an independent country.

On the ‘divorce Bill’, the government always said that the UK would honour its moral obligations and that has been the outcome, and finally the Irish border. This was never a problem until the Taoiseach, aware of his eroding popularity and his tottering coalition government decided to ape Sinn Fein’s stance on Brexit. Sinn Fein were opposed to the EU only a few years ago and only recently morphed into strident fans of the organisation, abandoning the historic republican demand for home rule in the island of Ireland in favour of swapping one master for another, Brussels for Westminster.

The Taoiseach demanded that Northern Ireland should remain in the single market and the customs union as the only way to prevent a hard border and a return to the troubles of the past. Assurances that the UK government is committed to keeping the border open did nothing to dissuade him from demanding more. In that, he was urged on by the EU who were happy to put pressure on the UK hoping for more concessions, but when it became clear that the UK was not budging, his fifteen minutes of fame came to an end and the Taoiseach was told to tone it down and accept what was originally offered.

As for the much-quoted paragraph 49 on ‘maintaining full alignment’, it is conditional upon ‘the absence of agreed solutions’ which renders it hollow: if there is no deal, the whole agreement, prefaced as it is by ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’, falls by the wayside including that part which refers to ‘full alignment’, and if there is a deal, this part will not come into effect because it is conditional on the ‘absence of agreed solutions’ which would not be the case if there was an agreement.

It was not long ago that the EU threatened to ‘punish’ the UK for daring to vote to leave the EU. On Sept 4, Barnier said ‘We intend to teach peopleā€¦ what leaving the single market means’ (Daily Mirror). Earlier, in July 19, senior German MEP Hans-Olaf Henkel accused the EU negotiators of attempting to ‘punish’ Britain as a warning to other countries who may be tempted to leave the EU (The Independent). A ‘no deal’ outcome that isolates the UK would be the ultimate warning for countries like Greece who fear isolation more than the suffocating austerity imposed on them by the EU; they are not economically strong to inflict enough damage to the EU economy by leaving to force the EU to negotiate, but the UK is; it is after all the fifth largest economy in the world and the EU trade with the UK is very significant.

That’s why those who counsel walking away at the first opportunity are playing in the hands of the EU. Walking away is by definition a last resort otherwise it would be churlish to enter into negotiations in the first place; it must be prepared for as a contingency but not worked towards as a desirable option. If there is to be a breakdown of negotiations, let it be at the instigation of the EU, who would then have to explain to the thousands of German, French and Italian workers why they lost their jobs.

It will not go unnoticed by the electorate how the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, had handled his weekly confrontation with the prime minster and how he whipped his MPs on such matters as Article 50, and amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill. Unlike some of his EU-loving backbenchers, Corbyn did not attempt to gain party political advantage at the expense of weakening the hand of the Government in its negotiations with the EU; a principled approach that will pay dividends in the future.

The outcome of negotiations with the EU and the future direction of the UK remain in our hands and the government remains on notice to deliver what the people voted for: a clear and clean Brexit.