Michael St George’s take on four of the latest key Brexit-related headlines
NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall
Don’t be surprised if this virus delays Brexit – Telegraph (£)
From the moment Covid-19 appeared on the horizon as something likely to cause more than the usual winter virus disruption, its use as an excuse to delay Brexit was probably inevitable. The infection potential of both non-essential travel and face-to-face meetings are the grounds most often cited, but it’s also been suggested that the Brussels negotiators may just unilaterally decide to suspend negotiations anyway. Purely for medical reasons, obviously . . .
Both economically and politically, Brexit is the government’s number one priority after the coronavirus outbreak, and as the Prime Minister is not conducting the negotiations personally, nothing should be allowed to interrupt them. Meetings can continue via video-conferencing from sterile areas. Drafts of agreements or appendices can be exchanged by email. If the EU’s negotiators refused to continue, the PM must make it clear that no extension of the transition period will be sought, and Britain will revert to WTO terms in the event that no deal is reached.
Had the coronavirus outbreak occurred in 2022 or 2023, causing a global downturn one or two years after full-and-final Brexit, would anyone have seriously suggested reversing Brexit and rejoining the EU as a response to it? Of course not. So there’s no reason to defer it now, especially as Britain remains under EU trading and other rules including the Common Fisheries Policy, and also subject to ECJ jurisdiction, until the end of the transition period, which the EU itself defines as ‘until at least 31 December 2020‘ (my italics).
Which may be: not very much, or not very much that makes a significant difference, anyway. The EU, at least as represented in Angela Merkel by a lame-duck German politician, in Ursula von der Leyen by a failed German politician, and in Christine Lagarde by a French Eurocrat widely thought to be unsuited to her present ECB role, have by the latter’s admission yet to come together at all, never mind developed a co-ordinated response, let alone sold it to member states. The EU’s institutional sclerosis, along with its lack of a practical either fiscal or monetary policy toolkit commensurate with its supranational pretensions, will almost certainly prevent it coming to a swift or especially effective decision.
The effect of that is already being seen in individual member states reverting to unilateral decision-making at nation state level, or in Germany at even regional level. As far as the Brexit negotiations are concerned, the utility, even the concept, of pan-European supranationalism is being severely tested by coronavirus, which should strengthen Britain’s hand. This is another reason why the talks should not be allowed to be interrupted or deferred.
For the Macron who was once the Davos/Bilderberg globalist oligarchy’s poster-boy for both ‘enlightened’ government by supranational technocracy and wide-open borders, this is an embarrassing climbdown. However, in the same broadcast that he used to announce disease measures, he warned against ‘nationalist withdrawal’ as a pitfall to avoid at international level in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, so he appears to be all over the place, policy-wise.
With Macron preoccupied with trying to reconcile securing the French nation against the coronavirus outbreak with maintaining his EU-integration credentials, and both against the backdrop of difficult French municipal elections tomorrow and next Sunday, his influence as one of the intransigents on the Brexit negotiations is waning.
The EU appears to have evidently learned very little, and therefore changed very little. The draft treaty continues to insist on ‘level playing field’ rules for (all) British and EU businesses, and also in regard to state aid. It maintains its previous demand for the ability of the European Court of Justice to hand down rulings binding on British Courts, and ongoing regulatory harmonisation with EU laws as they develop in other areas, effectively binding the UK to EU legislation, but with no input into it.
On fishing, it proposes ‘long-term’ (NB duration not specified) agreements on access to British waters but with each side’s percentage allocation also unspecified. On security and intelligence matters, it requires Britain in effect to guarantee the continuing application of the European Convention on Human Rights, despite its flaws, with data and intelligence sharing to be withdrawn if it does not.
The UK is expected to reject most of this as unacceptable, and rightly so. The prospect of exiting the transition period without any satisfactory deal, therefore, goes up another notch, as does, inevitably, the futility and counter-productiveness of any extension of the transition period.
This in turn must lead to the question of whether it is worth Britain persisting in this charade at all, especially if it is to be prolonged on some spurious pretext using the coronavirus outbreak as a transparent excuse. Better to abandon it now, declare negotiations at an end, prepare for a WTO/No-Deal exit from the transition period, and focus our energies on ameliorating the coronavirus outbreak in this country.