Jul 192017
 

According to reports of the Brexit negotiations, the second round of talks this week may be stopped ‘because the UK is not ready‘. Over a year after the EU Referendum result, we may wonder how that can be.

In the table below, I have summarised the negotiating position papers published by the European Commission and by the UK Government.

Strictly speaking, the White Papers and Terms of Reference are not formally part of the negotiations. However, the UK Government website includes them under the heading ‘position papers’, so I have included them in the table. I have also included the terms of reference, which appear on both websites, although they too are not position papers. The terms of reference set out the negotiation process, including dates of meetings.

International negotiations usually take place chapter-by-chapter. The discussions on different “chapters” usually involve the relevant experts for each chapter.

So far, as you can see from the table below, the Commission has published 10 position papers (in the strict sense) while the UK Government has published only 4. Most of the Commission’s position papers were also published in draft form when they were sent to the EU27  for comments two weeks earlier. Perhaps the UK Government’s problem has been that they also published the Repeal Bill on the same day as three of its position papers.

I have included direct links to both the EU27 and UK position papers in the table, together with their dates of publication. In a previous post, I had tried to compare the EU27 and UK positions on citizens’ rights. It was not easy because the structures of the EU27 and UK position papers are very different. Still, if anyone has the time to complete the exercise of matching the paragraphs of the UK position on citizens’ rights (in the second column) with the corresponding paragraphs of the EU27 position, here is the comparison table I had started.

As Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake observed after Brexit Minister David Davis left the talks after an hour to return to London and was pictured without any papers at the negotiating table, “This is a Government with no papers, no plan and no time for the most important negotiations of a lifetime.”

TopicDate published by
European Commission
Date published by
UK Government
Repeal Bill: White Paper15 May 2017
The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union White Paper15 May 2017
Essential principles on the financial settlementDraft: 29 May 2017
Final: 12 June 2017
Essential principles on citizens' rightsDraft: 29 May 2017
Final: 12 June 2017
26 June 2017
Terms of reference for the Article 50 TEU negotiations19 June 201719 June 2017
Nuclear materials and safeguard equipment (Euratom)Draft: 23 June 2017
Final: 13 July 2017
13 July 2017
Ongoing Police and Judicial
Cooperation in Criminal matters
Draft: 29 June 2017
Final: 13 July 2017
Functioning of the Union Institutions, Agencies and BodiesDraft: 29 June 2017
Final: 13 July 2017
13 July 2017
GovernanceDraft: 29 June 2017
Final: 13 July 2017
Goods placed on the Market under Union law before the withdrawal dateDraft: 29 June 2017
Final: 13 July 2017
Ongoing Union Judicial and Administrative Procedures13 July 201713 July 2017
Judicial Cooperation in Civil and Commercial matters13 July 2017
Ongoing Police and Judicial Cooperation in Criminal matters13 July 2017
Jun 272017
 

Today, Theresa May finally revealed the UK Government’s counter-proposal regarding the rights of EU citizens in the UK to the essential principles published by the EU27 two weeks ago. According to George Osborne, she was the only Cabinet member to have prevented this commitment being made unilaterally a year ago.

So how do the two positions compare? At first sight, the UK position is more detailed (22 pages vs 4). However, the UK position contains quite a lot of waffle while the EU27 position is a series of bullet points.

For example, paragraphs 1-4 and 12 of the 12-paragraph summary in the UK position appear to be aimed more at a domestic audience than at the EU27.

It is also strange that the UK position seems to have been drafted without any awareness of the EU27 position. See, for example, the opening of paragraph 6: “The Government undertakes to treat EU citizens in the UK according to the principles below, in the expectation that the EU will offer reciprocal treatment for UK nationals resident in its member states.

In case you want to contribute to a crowd-sourced comparison of the two positions, please comment below or send me a direct message via Twitter to receive access to the Google Doc I have started.

Comparing the EU27 and UK positions on citizens' rights

Jun 082017
 

As you will have understood from this series of blog posts, I will be dismayed but not surprised if Theresa May and the Conservatives win this General Election, in spite of all the gaffes and scandals which emerged during the election campaign. The song ‘Liar, Liar’ in the video above reached Number 2 in the UK music charts on Monday, in spite of being banned from being played by radio stations.

The future based on hate that Theresa May promises is not only outside the EU Customs Union without freedom of movement but also with a clampdown on the internet, a collapsed NHS, an unworkable approach to social care and an inadequately resourced approach to dealing with extremism and terrorism. In short, it is a dystopian future which few would want to be part of.

So why would people vote for it? I was reminded today that people’s level of trust in Government, judiciary and media has fallen sharply, particularly in the past year. They need someone they can believe in who could lead them through this. Hence Theresa May’s repeated use of the phrase ‘strong and stable leadership’ and branding the opposition as the ‘coalition of chaos’, whether in interviews, speeches and in campaign literature. She has also promised to fight injustice and make the UK ‘a country that works for everyone’. Although this encouraged some to refer to her as the ‘Maybot’, these repeated soundbites were no doubt deliberate from a psychological perspective.

As with the UK Referendum last year, we all suffer from three intrinsic biases: personal bias (influenced by our own experiences as we grew up), education bias (since western education focuses on reading, writing and arithmetic instead of opening the mind to learning) and media bias (where only extraordinary activities receive the attention of journalists). Unconventional ideas are rejected without analysis. This is how those who stir up people’s anger against the establishment gain their popularity. Of course, in this case, it is ironical that Theresa May is the establishment!

Perhaps the only unknown factor is whether young people will actually go and vote. If they do, they might save themselves (and the rest of us) from the authoritarian rule without human rights that Theresa May would like to have a mandate for.

In addition, with so many other problems facing people in the UK, it could have done without diverting scarce resources to negotiating Brexit – an expensive activity which I am sure will be regarded in years to come as an act of self harm by the UK. All to settle a catfight within the Conservative party that got out of hand, as the European Parliament’s Chief Negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, put it.

Maybe the UK will recover from the experience, one day sooner or later. Here is a poem from Tagore, as I near the end of this (almost daily) series of pre-election blog posts.

Through the troubled history of man
comes sweeping a blind fury of destruction
and the towers of civilisation topple down to dust.
In the chaos of moral nihilism
are trampled underfoot by marauders
the best treasures of Man heroically won by the martyrs for ages.
Come, young nations,
proclaim the fight for freedom,
raise up the banner of invincible faith.
Build bridges with your life across the
gaping earth blasted by hatred,
and march forward.
Do not submit yourself to carry the burden of insult upon your head,
kicked by terror,
and dig not a trench with falsehood and cunning
to build a shelter for your dishonoured manhood;
offer not the weak as sacrifice to the strong
to save yourself.

May 302017
 

I was born and grew up in London. I used to love it. I still love London’s theatres but many other aspects are no longer what they used to be – at least for me.

The beginning of the end

I think the decline started long ago, when both schools and parents stopped teaching children any values and focused instead on mechanical learning and testing. It accelerated when David Cameron decided to call a referendum on EU membership purely to try to settle a split within the Conservative party. More recently, Theresa May’s strong and stable promise to leave both the Single Market and the Custom’s Union with the sole objective of reducing immigration seems set to make the UK an even less pleasant place to live or even visit, let alone do business with.

UK Government – consistently clueless

All we know about the UK position comes from:

  • Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech (17 January 2017), setting out the UK’s negotiating objectives;
  • The UK Government’s White Paper (2 February 2017) on its “vision” for a new partnership with the EU; and
  • Theresa May’s letter to European Council President Donald Tusk (29 March 2017) triggering the start of negotiations under Article 50 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

The two-line European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 does not say much, supposedly to avoid tying Theresa May’s hands in the Brexit negotiations. Apart from this, we had heard for six months that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and lately that she wants to “make a success of Brexit”. The wishful thinking of the Leave campaign that a UK outside the EU would be able to have its cake and eat it was continued by David Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox as Ministers. Personally, I found this extremely amateurish and clueless.

All this waffle has already caused a lot of uncertainty for anyone or any business based in the UK and for UK citizens based elsewhere in the EU. The pound is still worth 10% less against the euro than it was on the day of the Referendum. That is before any Brexit negotiations have even started.

The EU27 negotiating position

Unlike Theresa May, the EU27 (ie, the group of European Union Member States other than the UK) and the European Commission have decided to be completely transparent about the Brexit negotiations. Perhaps ironically, the UK Referendum result and the election of Donald Trump in the US have led to greater unity between the other EU Member States (as German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted yesterday).

Apart from the timeline, here is what we know so far about the EU27 negotiating position:

The clear line is that “sufficient progress” needs to have been made on agreeing these principles with the UK before discussions on other areas would begin.

The future of the UK?

The Leave campaigners claimed that the UK would be better off trading with countries other than the EU. In case you had forgotten what they told us, here is the leaflet put out by our local Conservative MP at the time of the UK Referendum last year.

The Leave campaigners conveniently failed to mention how long it might take or that the UK could not negotiate trade agreements with countries outside the EU until after the UK has left the EU. They also forgot to say that the UK would not be the 5th largest economy in the world without its EU trade. The UK already fell behind India soon after the Referendum because of the 10% drop in the value of the pound.

Another thing the Leave campaigners didn’t mention is that the UK would need to recruit a lot more civil servants to carry out the tasks currently carried out by the “unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels”.

Could the General Election on 8 June change this?

From these UK and EU27 negotiating positions, you can already see where the areas of disagreement are likely to be if Theresa May wins the predicted landslide majority on 8 June. Given Labour’s plan to control immigration, the destiny of the UK probably would not be very different if they win either.

The Government had already predicted the economic consequences of a Leave vote in its pre-Referendum leaflet. It had not predicted the dramatic rise in hate crime fuelled by the anti-immigration rhetoric of populist politicians or the collapse of the NHS when its tens of thousands of non-British staff decide to leave the UK to work somewhere they feel welcome. If most people really vote for either Conservatives or Labour, as the opinion polls are predicting, all this seems likely to become the reality.

With this perspective, I don’t really see that the UK will have much of a future – or at least one that I would still want to be part of.

Of course, there are the consistently anti-Brexit political parties like the Lib Dems, Greens and SNP. For them to do well, a lot of people in the UK would need to vote as recommended by the ‘Best for Britain’ tactical voting campaign led by Gina Miller. I really hope they do. Otherwise, the UK will become a country where, as Tagore observed in his Nationalism in the West speech in 1917:

“… the people are hospitable but the nation has proved itself to be otherwise, making an Eastern guest feel humiliated to stand before you as a member of the humanity of his own motherland.”

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