We are now in the lengthy Parliamentary Summer Recess and Ministers and MPs are slinking away for their holidays, while the emphasis on the Brexit Transition Period seems to have slipped their minds. Boris Johnson doesn’t even want to hear the word ‘Brexit’ – however, the conclusion of last week’s formal round of negotiations and the informal talks this week, seem to have brought some progress. While comments to the press have been as bullish as ever on both sides of The Channel, if you look past the rhetoric, the cracks in the European Union’s armour are beginning to show. Success for the United Kingdom is possible in these negotiations, but we must stay focussed.
One area in particular where the EU’s argument has begun to fall apart is over the treatment of the non-legally binding Political Declaration as a concrete text to simply be replicated into a Free Trade Agreement, largely in the EU’s favour. For the last few months, Michel Barnier (the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator) has held up the Political Declaration and declared Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to this framework back in October last year and therefore it must be applied as it is and with no changes. This seems to be the reason Barnier has demanded a ‘Level Playing Field’ on State Aid forms a pivotal part of any trade deal – something which simply will not be accepted by those who backed Brexit and Boris Johnson at the last election – as it would mean we would still be shackled to the EU – clearly not ‘Taking Back Control’!
Barnier doesn’t have a leg to stand on when he demands the Political Declaration be adhered to, particularly if he is not consistent on this matter.
Also included in the Political Declaration is a commitment to establishing a deal on foreign policy and security cooperation as part of the trade negotiations. This is something the UK has rightly fully rejected now and refuses to include in any talks. Last week, Barnier admitted this means no deal on foreign policy and security cooperation will be agreed in these talks and will have to be discussed at a later date. So I ask, why can the Political Declaration be ignored on this issue, but not others? Barnier doesn’t have a leg to stand on when he demands the Political Declaration be adhered to, particularly if he is not consistent on this matter. Clearly his negotiating mandate should be flexible, but the EU’s current intransigence is entirely brought about by choice – and stubbornness – and not by ideological commitment to implement the deeply flawed Political Declaration.
What’s more, foreign policy and security are not the only areas where Barnier has dropped his objections. There is the other important issue of the key role the European Court of Justice (ECJ) would play in any future relationship between the UK and the EU which we cannot accept. In the past the EU has declared there were 4 or 5 key divisions between the two partners which must be resolved. These were fishing; the ‘Level Playing Field’; foreign policy cooperation as well as Governance and the role of the ECJ. After the most recent round of talks there remains only 2 key divisions – according to Barnier – fishing and the so-called ‘Level Playing Field’.
This reduction does not appear to be as a result of any actual progress on the issues as far as we know, as this is something which has explicitly been ruled out. Is this simply a realisation by the EU that the UK will not accept the continued jurisdiction of the ECJ over our internal affairs. Has the penny finally dropped with Barnier seeming to have abandoned his rock-hard commitment to the Political Declaration?
Perhaps Angela Merkel has intervened, now Germany holds the Presidency of the Council of the EU? It is feasible the EU is leaning towards accepting the UK’s argument of disputes over any new trade deal being handled by the World Trade Organisation’s dispute mechanism or a new hybrid panel system with representatives from both sides.
David Frost – Barnier’s opposite number here in the UK – and his negotiating team must take note of the cracks which have begun to appear. The EU’s intransigence simply cannot hold up to greater scrutiny clearly showing the EU need a Deal more than us, or many Member States stand to lose out. This Summer Recess, when MPs and most of the media will undoubtedly be paying less attention to negotiations, is a prime opportunity for Frost and his team to take stock of the current situation and go on the offensive. The Prime Minister wanted a deal done by the end of July, but evidently this has not happened.
It has been reported that although there will be a semi-break of 2.5 weeks for the negotiations, the negotiators and both Frost and Barnier will continue to work from their relevant holiday homes. There is another formal meeting pencilled in for August 10th, but the final deadline now looks like October (as both our Parliament and all EU Member States all have to agree any final Deal). If the Government wants to get a good Trade Deal by this deadline to fully Get Britain Out of the EU, then we must highlight the EU’s inconsistencies in these negotiations and take advantage of any weaknesses we can identify. The Political Declaration is not a legally-binding document – nor is it set in stone. Barnier clearly now realises this – if he didn’t before – despite his bluster.
It’s about time we ended the political games and abandoned the Political Declaration entirely, or perhaps the EU should get rid of Michel Barnier and sort out a proper Trade Deal before the final deadline at the end of this year.
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