Brexit Shorts – being a compilation of instant, sometimes off-the-cuff reactions to the day-to-day Brexit saga ……
Le Tunell – Brexit negotiations following a time-honoured continental European path
11/10/2019 Listening to the journos discussing Brexit in BBC’s late-night #Brexitcast is vastly entertaining. The ins & outs, the tips and tricks, the various OTR briefings and opinions on what they really mean. Probably because real negotiations on Brexit have been stalled for so long, it’s easy to forget that there are political shifts taking place out of sight in London and Brussels.
I particularly liked one journalist’s description of ‘Le Tunell’, the process that it seems British negotiators prefer to use to gain initial agreement, after which the two sides enter Le Tunell to thrash out various obstacles and make any compromises mecessary out of sight, emerging into daylight at the end ready to receive the public acclaim.
They may not be aware of it, but in the process they are following a time-honoured continental tradition of political negotiation, in which the public figureheads of both sides agree ‘la grand vision’, then leave it to the minions to work it all out somehow. This process lies at the base of much of the EU’s structures, from the single market to the euro. It is, unfortunately, also the reason why some of those structures are now creaking under the strain.
Still, as the old saw goes, needs must when the devil drives!
EU Parliament President recommends no Article 50 extension without UK referendum or election
10/10/2019 European Parliament President David Sassoli has briefed the EU Parliament that he agreed with UK House of Commons Speaker John Bercow that an Article 60 extension should not be granted unless a referendum or general election takes place in the UK. Whatever your view, whether you agree with this move or not, this is how a centralised European bureaucracy takes power away from the satellite national parliaments of EU member states. Some will applaud, some will be outraged, but there is no doubt about the facts.
Al Jazeera’s Brexit debate – short on Oxford Union standards
30/09/2019. Tonight’s Brexit ‘debate’ at the Oxford Union looked promising on paper. Eminent debating chamber, Brexit the subject, guest the Chair of the Brexit Party Richard Tice – it was set to be an interesting event.
The reality was disappointing. Host Mehdi Hasan of Al Jazeera’s Head to Head show appeared to believe that loosing off a series of rapid-fire questions without giving Tice the chance to answer somehow constituted a debate. I couldn’t judge, because half the time he was speaking so fast I couldn’t understand him.
Still, audience reaction confirmed what I expected, that any debate on Brexit now routinely descends to the tribal norms. Leavers are racists, fascists or just plain nationalists, while remainers are idealistic dreamers who believe EU membership the nearest thing to heaven on earth.
It would have been nice to hear a proper debate on the subject, rather than the usual cheap point-scoring. But it was not to be. The one item of new news I picked up was not about Brexit at all. It came from an American PhD student, who assured me that President Trump would be impeached shortly. Really? Was he sure? ‘One hundred per cent!’
Prayer for the Nation ….
…. from Newcastle Cathedral.
EU Parliament plenary approves post-Brexit visa waiver for UK nationals
04/04/2019 Update. The full European Parliament, with 502 votes to 81 and 29 abstentions, today backed the draft EU law exempting UK citizens from visa requirements when entering the EU for short visits after the country leaves the European Union.
03/04/2019 Update. EU Parliament LIBE committee passed today’s UK visa-waiver proposal by 38 to 8 (3 abst). Sergei Stanishev, rapporteur for the proposal, said: “Today’s vote is an important step for guaranteeing visa-free travel for European and British citizens after Brexit, especially in the case of no deal. It is no secret that the negotiations were blocked over Gibraltar, but in the end it was Parliament who demonstrated responsibility and put citizens’ interests first. The Council’s irresponsible approach seriously undermines the spirit of sincere cooperation between the EU institutions and I hope it will not be repeated in the future”.
02/04/2019. MEPs in the European Parliament Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE) are tomorrow expected to approve the European Council’s proposal to exempt UK nationals from visa requirements for stays in the EU of up to 90 days in any 180-day period, provided the UK offers the same conditions to EU nationals visiting the UK.
This LIBE extraordinary general meeting starts at 08.30 on Wednesday 03 April 2019 – the vote on the UK visa waiver being the sole item on the agenda. The proposal was endorsed on the Tuesday by the EU Council’s Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER).
If approved by the LIBE committee, it will be put to the vote by the full EU Parliament on Thursday 04 April. The legislation needs to be adopted and published in the Official Journal of the EU before 12 April 2019, in time for a potential No-Deal Brexit scenario on that date. Once fully approved, the legislation will take effect from the day following the UK’s withdrawal from the Union.
Brexit ‘deal’ or ‘no-deal’ decisions risk becoming irrelevant
30/01/2019. As I look out at a snowy winter garden, last night’s weather in the UK House of Commons has at least cleared some of the darker mists swirling around Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May now has a clear choice – negotiate successfully with the EU to soften the Irish backstop, or resign because Parliament will accept nothing less. If the latter case, then a likely change of leader or UK general election would delay matters for months.
For most people and businesses, more and more it is looking as if ‘deal’ or ‘no-deal’ will be irrelevant. After Brexit, a host of instant decisions will be made by minions on the front line, either in government departments or at the border. In trade, in import/export, in travel and in transport, decisions will be be made that will be extremely arbitrary. For some that could be a benefit, for others it will mean at best delay. It behooves everyone involved, in the EU as well as the UK, to find some way now to a ‘deal’ acceptable on both sides of the Channel. No matter how imperfect, it will be a foundation on which to build. Otherwise, politicians risk their decisions, and perhaps they themselves, becoming irrelevant. And if there is one thing a politician cannot stand, it is the idea that he or she might be irrelevant.
Brexit deadline likely to slip
14/01/2019. There’s no such thing as a fixed EU deadline (as I’ve said before ….). https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jan/13/eu-preparing-to-delay-brexit-until-at-least-july
House of Commons vote on Brexit going to the wire
17/12/2018. So UK Prime Minister Theresa May plans to leave the House of Commons vote on the Brexit withdrawal bill until a week before the deadline of 21st January 2019. That gives her the chance to release a public statement, after the House has closed for Christmas holidays, urging voters to write to their MPs telling them to support the deal! And giving them the time to do so. A very high risk strategy, if that is the plan. And not one calculated to endear her to anyone, within government or without, in Parliament. Certainly playing fast and loose with democracy …
Now Brexit withdrawal could be reversed – OMG, what next? Now no-one knows
10/12/2018. The BBC’s announcement at 09:07 this morning Brussels time, that the European Court of Justice has ruled the UK is entitled to reverse its Article 50 EU withdrawal agreement, will certainly put the cat among the pigeons. Released the day before the critical vote on Theresa May’s EU withdrawal deal in the UK House of Commons, it will only add to the already febrile political atmosphere over Brexit. Sometimes, it seems, having too many choices is worse than having too few.
Realistic Brexit agreements, and deadlines
03/08/2018. I was gratified to find that cheerleader of the Remain campaign, the Guardian, rushing out a headline story on the same day as my last post, explaining why the Brexit deadline could not be extended. I didn’t think anybody important read my blog, but there you go.
The point the author made was that a delayed Brexit decision would complicate EU politics tremendously, not least the upcoming European Parliament elections. He is right of course. But adding political complexity has not limited EU decision-making in the past – political fudges can be seen in the results of everything from EU trade to growth to establishing the euro itself.
The fact is that all major EU agreements that involve difficult decisions are delayed. Brexit will be no different. And trying to tie the UK government’s hands by pinning down detail does not help anybody, either in the UK or the rest of the EU (I note that in Brussels, attempts to pin down detail on EU decision-making always seem to get lost somewhere in the interaction between the Commission, the Council and Parliament.
Probably the Brexit agreement, when it is eventually signed, will be found to have faults, and will have to be re-adjusted at a later date (probably after all the fuss has died down). That is the job of the European Commission, Council, Parliament and the government of the UK. Plus ca change.
- 06/10/2018. Juncker confirms likelihood of Brexit deal Umm, as I said, more or less ….
Brexit deadline will be like all EU major deadlines
21/07/2018. Much huff and puff in the media about the looming deadline for Brexit; in March 2019. Will there be an agreement? Will the UK crash out of the EU with no agreement? Will in the world come to an end? Endless speculation to keep the press happy.
One of my favourite quotations is from Douglas Adams, who once said, “I love the sound that deadlines make as they fly by.” And there is little reason to doubt that the Brexit deadline will be any different to other major EU deadlines in the past. It will probably go down to the minute, with an all-night sitting, great suspense from the journalists camped outside, and possibly even shouting and table-thumping inside the meeting rooms (although such behaviour is not common in EU circles since Maggie Thatcher resigned).
My prediction runs a bit like this. The deadline will be reached with no agreement, since Michel Barnier has been given no real flexibility of mandate by the EU Council, Commission or Parliament, each of whom are still re-iterating their entrenched positions. But, since everyone actually wants some kind of agreement, the deadline will be extended. Probably until after the next EU Council meeting and possibly, depending on external events, until after the subsequent one. Which means that we are looking at an extension of six months, perhaps more.
Various compromises, variations or fudges will be introduced, and eventually the EU and the UK will have some sort of agreement signed, enabling all those involved in the process to shake hands, kiss cheeks, show their salaries are justified and go off to dinner together in a mood of bonhomie.
Businesses will breathe a sigh of relief, since any agreement is better than the limbo of none. The lawyers will groan, because they had the most to gain from negotiating endless numbers of bilateral agreements. But after all, who cares about them anyway. It is a fair wind that blows everybody some good.
UK’s chief Brexit negotiator resigns!
09/07/2018. So the UK’s Brexit Secretary David Davis has resigned. I cannot say I’m surprised. As he said on the BBC this morning, negotiations inside the EU always go down to the wire, sometimes to the last minute. Now that we are approaching that wire, the competing pressures on British government ministers are starting to show.
Having interviewed Mr Davis, I have a lot of respect for him; he has a history of being a principled politician. So I’m concerned that he’s stepping down at such a delicate moment. Yet at the same time I’m aware that this could all be a scenario manufactured by the ‘Leavers’ to bring greater pressure to bear on the Prime Minister, perhaps on those negotiating for the EU also. Conspiracy theories abound, but probably, on balance, I think Mr Davis simply decided that he could no longer champion a UK government negotiating stance with which he could not agree.
So what now? We’ll all be waiting for what the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has to say this afternoon! His speech may confirm the conspiracy theorists’ suspicions, but for once Jeremy Hunt said something I agree with – that this is a very delicate time for UKgov at a critical point in the Brexit negotiations, and we should all therefore be very careful what we say and do.
EU vision over Brexit? Not …
04/12/2017. Clearly the various EU establishments are determined to make life as difficult as possible for the UK during the Brexit negotiations. The image of Donald Tusk, that pre-eminent issuer of non-news press releases, on the side of Ireland as “one of our members” grates to those familiar with the Brussels newsround. Yet such attitudes demonstrate all too clearly the lack of vision embedded in the Brussels eurocracy; in consequence fostering an “us against them” spirit and hardening of attitudes within the UK. Brussels may think that it is helping the remainers in a rearguard action – what it is actually doing is ensuring future strife within Britain for a generation. Some see it as European vision in practice – short-termist, vindictive and essentially blind.
A deadline for Brexit? Great idea!
14/11/2017. Amazing to hear the British government wishes to fix a deadline for Brexit, while the rebels (generally against the whole Brexit concept) argue against. Meantime the EU establishments watch in amazement; they want a fixed deadline! Why? There are European Parliament elections coming up, not to mention the appointment of a new Commission. Who wants the complications of Brexit added to that mix? Um ….
Opinion is not the same as fact – a distinction worth remembering
21/10/2017. Time and again I hear some ‘news’ report on Brexit, with a failure to distinguish between fact and the reporter’s own interpretation. I’m not surprised that politicians are picking up on Donald Trump’s lead, and starting to label every inconvenient truth as ‘fake news’. In my younger years the distinction between fact and opinion was a clear one, and able to be heard in every BBC news report – in fact it was one of the characteristics that made the BBC so respected around the world for its accuracy in news reporting. Nowaways when I hear some young reporter ask a leading question (and the BBC is not immune), I begin to doubt their abilities as well as those of their news organisation. It is a very fine line between fact and propaganda, and we cross it at our peril. Blurring the distinction between fact and opinion, even by as little as leading the speaker in order to get the headline you want, plays into the hands of those who would discredit all news groups that they do not control. So please, remember the distinction between fact and opinion; it is a boundary that you blur at your peril.
Brexit could be delayed? Next Euro elections are 2019
24/07/2017. Unfortunately, Andrew, we may have to make a start before knowing the destination: We can’t prepare to leave Europe until we know where we’re going. Or, come 2019, prepare for the election of a whole new batch of MEPs (who would face being in place for a short time only – seldom an attractive career proposition for politicians).
What about all those Brits in Brussels?
24/07/2017. Recent conversations have elicited some of the concerns about Brexit felt by the many (thousands of) British citizens working for the European institutions, particularly those in the Commiission (Parliamentarians know their careers would end at some point anyway – such is the fate of politicians).
Many Brits in the Commission are worried about their likely fate. You might be tempted to say that, with their comfortable salaries and discounted tax, ‘my heart bleeds for them.’ But here are people who have worked hard for the benefit of the EU for many years. And they would find it very hard to return to a Britain that has suffered more than a decade of austerity, even if the Civil Service was able (or wished) to find jobs for all of them.
Despite the united front that the staff unions try to present in discussions with Commissioner Oettinger, the concerns of British staff are not helped by the attitude of certain of their (French and Italian) colleagues, who seem to feel that since the European budget will shrink with the loss of Britain’s contribution, then losing the Commission’s British staff will help towards balancing the books (or, less charitably, your countrymen caused this problem, now you can suffer).
Also, because Commission officials do not pay the full rate of Belgian tax or social security, they are not entitled to claim Belgian citizenship (or that of Luxembourg, Italy, or other EU countries hosting Commission institutions) after working in the country for over five years. They have to rely on their British citizenship only.
Yet clearly the Commission cannot sack thousands of officials in one go. Apart from the large-scale disruption that such an act would cause, it would very likely end up, eventually, in the European Court of Human Rights. So, what to do?
A decision from the European Commission does not depend on any commitment from the UK government. This is a matter solely for the EU, and fundamentally for the Commission itself. Therefore, it must be down to the Commission to make a decision and commit to the future of its staff, many of whom do actually remain loyal to the European ideal (or experiment, or whatever you want to call it).
Delaying a decision, merely as a bargaining counter in the Brexit negotiations, does not reflect well on the Commission’s posture as a promoter of human rights and responsible employment practices. So come on Commissioner Oettinger, how about a commitment to looking after your staff?
Brexit – options and consequences from a financial perspective (Robeco)
10/07/2017. Financial advisers Robeco have published an analysis of the options and consequences of Brexit. Written mainly from a financial point of view and with a marked bias toward the ‘Remain’ camp, it has little analysis of the real political or social drivers of Brexit. It is however an interesting assessment of likely initial financial consequences (despite the annoyingly selective use of Winston Churchill quotes).
EU ‘Associate Citizenship’ a possibility?
08/07/2017. Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans has released a new report that explores how UK citizens could retain EU citizenship after Brexit. The report on the potential for ‘Associate Citizenship’ was produced by a team at Swansea University led by Professor Volker Roeben. Since EU citizenship includes the right to travel, live and work anywhere in the EU and covers a range of standard EU benefits, the prospect of losing them is exercising minds.
Jill Evans comments, “On the EU side, there is a lot of support in principle for the idea of ‘associate citizenship’ ….. The European Parliament’s resolution proposes to “examine how to mitigate [the loss of citizens’ rights] within the limits of Union primary law”.
Consider the freelancers – keep regulations simple
29/06/2017. As Brexit begins, European Parliament MEPs appear to be following the European Commission line, that the initial UK Brexit offer on the residence status of EU citizens and UK expats is inadequate. Apparently however, few of the negotatiors have yet considered tbe position of ‘atypical workers’, aka the precariat or freelance sector.
As usual, the politicos have put their focus on full-time staff like themselves in clearly structured employment, albeit over staff from other EU countries. Hopefully (and I live in hope), they are also considering the position of the many UK and EU pensioners.
But for the ever-growing army of freelancers with a vested interest in residence status, such as journalists, IT specialists, building contractors or just plain employment hopefuls, we have not yet even entered the equation!
In a sector where people already struggle to earn enough to cover their accommodation costs, let alone cope with additional regulations, perhaps the bureaucrats, once they remember we exist, should try to remember to keep new laws as simple as possible.
Investing in smuggling could be a good thing post-Brexit
15/06/2017. Many (of us) are as concerned about the post-Brexit status of British citizens in the EU as that of EU citizens in the UK. You’d think that UK gov could show generosity and say all existing EU residents can stay, thus embarassing the EU institutions into making a corresponding gesture (the European Parliament now has four committees looking at just this issue).
Sadly there’s little sign of today’s politicians showing any vision amongst all the backbiting; it feels like we’re just pawns in a real-life Game of Thrones.
It would be interesting to know, for example, the stated view of Spain’s government on granting EU residency status to its (many) existing British residents. However that country is likely to use such concerns as part of its power play over Gibraltar.
As things are at the outset of Brexit, we can look forward to seeing hard EU borders appear both in Northern Ireland and Gibraltar, despite the differing attitudes of Eire (cooperative) and Spain (intransigence) to Brexit border negotiations.
I predict a growth in smuggling at both places, which means that local border authorities need to start improving their capabilities. But if it was possible to invest in an organisation such as ‘Smuggling Inc.’, I would probably go for it.
© Philip Hunt, 2019.