Editorial....12th March, 2020
Last month the Government produced a 30-page document, the snappily entitled The Future Relationship with the EU, The UK’s Approach to Negotiations.
It did get some coverage but not a huge amount, much of national media being owned by right wing billionaires who support anything that reduces their tax bill.
Half of you will jump in delight and half hold your collective heads in your hands at these next words, but the document sets out a stance that boils down to the Government negotiating the hardest possible Brexit.
That it’s not even prepared to sit through the negotiations gives you an idea of how hard.
Firstly, despite much of the talk (and written agreements) focussing on 31st December as the date for leaving, the Government has laid down a deadline of June.
A summit is due that month and the document makes it clear that if it’s not going the Government’s way, it “will need to decide whether the UK’s attention should move away from negotiations,” which means leaving with no deal.
The best normal-world example of this tactic I can think of is a bloke the Chronicle once employed. His opening negotiating gambit was: “If you don’t do X (something that was never going to happen) I’m leaving.” I said no and he left.
His mistake was to have no fall-back position; he left himself no room for compromise, so left a secure job and spent the rest of his working life scratting round for casual shifts.
The Government document covers many areas but in a nutshell is the same approach. The Government wants as many non-binding agreements as it can, and if it can’t it’s going home. Given that Boris Johnson doesn’t even want to stick to the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration he signed, the EU is possibly not going to have much faith that we will adhere to any non-binding agreement anyway.
Obviously “no-deal” and “Brexit” have been banned from the tarnishing the lips of Tories — it might be fun to try to tempt local politicians to say the words — which is why the negotiation document says that should talks fail, the trading relationship with the EU “will look similar to Australia’s”. This sounds positive but means no deal: the EU does not have a trade deal with Aussies, so an Australian deal is leaving on WTO terms.
This means tariffs where there are currently none and is despite the negotiations favouring “comprehensive” market access with “no tariffs, fees or charges” on trade in manufactured and agricultural goods.
Of our MPs, Fiona Bruce is a successful businesswoman who founded her own practice, Karen Bradley is an accountant whose parents ran a small business and regular letter-writer Ian Lawson is a businessman, yet their Conservative Party’s negotiating stance is that business is a secondary consideration — retaining sovereignty and escaping from even a whiff of EU control is the main objective. It’s remarkable that a Tory party should abandon business to such an extent.
Tellingly, there is no economic impact study being prepared for leaving the EU. You might see an analysis for say, putting parking fees up 5p on local car parks but as for leaving the EU — nothing.
While the negotiating paper talks about the importance of market access, “non-discriminatory treatment” between UK and EU service suppliers and most favoured nation treatment, this would obviously not apply under a no deal; we’d be looking at border control.
Michael Gove recently promised Parliament that the Government would recruit and train 50,000 (not a misprint) new customs officers to handle the paperwork created by non-frictionless trade should we crash out — an optimistic target if he has from June to 31st December to do it.
Also included in the negotiating document is a planned severance from European security agencies, another surprising move for the party of law and order.
The Government says it will not be part of Europol, which tackles international crime such as drugs, human cybercrime, and terrorism, despite the UK being the highest contributor of data to that organisation in 2018.
The UK is not going to take part in the European arrest warrant scheme, merely saying the UK will “fully recover … sovereign control over borders and immigration system” (which we had before Brexit anyway).
The document does talk about an agreement providing for the exchange of criminal records between the UK and EU member states, but says the UK will set up a separate system that looks like but isn’t the current European Criminal Records Information System.The Government, of course, has a fine record of installing complex computer systems, from the replacement criminal records system, branded “a masterclass in incompetency”, to the Emergency Services Network programme (“deeply unsatisfactory”) and the tagging system for offenders, which in 2018 was called a “catastrophic” waste of money. Not forgetting the army recruiting project (failed to meet its target six years on the trot), the Verify digital identification service (“not fit for purpose”) and universal credit (a shambles). Maybe ATOS, behind the fabled disability / capability assessment system, can help out.
The Government is also promising to opt out of EU rules but the negotiating document shows how schizophrenic this is, saying for example that UK hauliers would be expected to comply with international rules when operating outside the UK, while saying the agreement “should respect the UK’s autonomy … not to … follow EU standards”.
You will at least get a say in some of this: the Government said it intends to hold a consultation about the economic implications of the future relationship “from a wide range of stakeholders” this spring.
But will it listen?