Our ‘friends’ in the EU are staking out the playing field on which they hope to start the negotiations in the wake of us leaving with Johnson’s WAIB on the 31st of January 2020. Their ever so generous proposals were told by “sources” to Peter Foster, DT’s ‘Europe Editor’. He used to be the DT’s Brussels correspondent and his ‘sources’ from that time know that he’ll be more than happy to provide them with publicity. After all, it’s always best to show that velvet glove first before the iron fist will be deployed.

The title of the article is: “EU dangles hope of broad trade deal in exchange for softer Brexit” (paywalled link), the article itself was published Saturday the 14th of December 2019, at 8.08pm. It is quite revealing:

“European Union member states are leaving the door open to Boris Johnson signing a broad-based trade deal by December 2020 in the hope that he will embrace a softer Brexit, EU diplomatic sources have told The Telegraph.

EU leaders last week ordered the European Commission to draw up a “comprehensive mandate” for the future relationship talks after pushing back against Commission plans to confront Mr Johnson with a narrower menu of options.

Three EU diplomatic sources said the shift in position creates the potential for a broader future partnership deal, including some elements of services trade, if Mr Johnson chose to extend the transition period which currently expires on December 31 2020.

“The member states didn’t want to limit mandate discussion to a very narrow range of issues,” said an EU diplomat familiar with internal discussions.

“There was no desire to pre-determine the shape of the negotiation.” (paywalled link)

Wasn’t that nice of those EU diplomats! But how could there be a desire not to ‘pre-determine the shape of the negotiations’ ? Everybody surely knows already what M Barnier is going to do: prolong this transition period for years – all those extra billions coming from our Treasury …! But it’s important to these ‘diplomats’ to look lenient at the start, the better to insist on hardcore demands should Johnson and his putative Brexit negotiator show themselves to be intransigent. Next, here’s the reason for this apparent leniency:

“A second EU diplomat said there might still be space to include elements of services trade which are key to the UK economy.

“Maybe we will be able to get services into the overall package, the UK will now doubt want something on that,” the source said.

The orders issued by EU leaders at their quarterly summit in Brussels on Friday also removed an earlier reference to there being “limited time” for the coming negotiations, since it appeared to implicitly accept that talks would not run beyond the end of next year. […] 

EU analysts said that the less prescriptive approach by EU leaders had revealed that Commission negotiating team, led by Michel Barnier, and EU member states were “deeply divided on the best way to proceed” to avoid a hard crash out in 2020.

Mujaba Rahman, the chief Europe specialist at the Eurasia Group, wrote in a note to clients that the internal differences “could also presage a less united front; something the Commission worked painstakingly to maintain throughout the entirety of the Article 50 negotiations”.” (paywalled link)

That ‘division’ appears to worry the EU somewhat, as this next quote shows, but they are trying to manage it:

“The EU maintained iron discipline in the first phase of ‘divorce’ negotiations by refusing to even discuss the future relationship until the UK had agreed a £39bn financial settlement, guaranteed EU citizens’ rights and avoided a hard border in Ireland.

It is understood the Commission wanted to repeat this “sequencing” strategy, which provided the EU with mounting leverage as the talks deadlines approached, by ruthlessly prioritising what it would discuss with the UK, depending on the time available.

However a senior EU official warned that “prioritisation will become the new sequencing” if the UK did not extend transition and options for what could be addressed in the short time available would narrow sharply, leaving much of the UK services and manufacturing vulnerable to a hard Brexit.” (paywalled link)

Next, see how the old arguments are again trundled out, veiled by the softly-softly words of the EU diplomats:

“In this scenario the EU could agree to a “stage one” Brexit deal based around a ‘zero-tariff’ Canada-style Free Trade Agreement if the UK agreed to follow EU rules on environment, social issues and state aid to avoid unfair competition.

An agreement covering internal and external security could also be added, alongside harder-to-negotiate areas such as aviation, transport and social security which under EU law require ratification by the EU’s 36 local and national parliaments.

The EU side has already made clear that any EU-UK trade agreement must be accompanied by a deal on fishing quotas and access, ideally completed by July 2020, but diplomats conceded that the broader approach also concealed unease about EU splits developing in the coming talks.

The demand for a fishing deal as a precondition for a UK-EU trade deal has already unsettled eastern EU members states, like Poland or Hungary, who have no fishing interests and are much more concerned about issues like labour market mobility and trucking permits.” (paywalled link)

A ‘split’ in the EU? Well I never! We surely can’t have that. Here’s what those ‘sources’ believe M Barnier will propose, with the interesting nugget of why the EU can’t see it’s way to ‘prioritise’ some points, and with their ‘red line’ turning into a ‘’red wall’:

“Mr Barnier’s team will submit a “draft comprehensive mandate” to EU leaders soon after the UK leaves the EU on January 31, with expectations that it should be a broad document based around the Political Declaration agreed last year.

“The truth is if you tried to really prioritise the mandate up front you would never get agreement among the 27 member states,” added one candid EU diplomat.

For all the openness, however, EU leaders were clear last week that the UK’s options could narrow very quickly if negotiators shut the door on agreeing to so-called ‘level-playing field’ guarantees that will be the price of zero-tariff access to EU markets.” (paywalled link)

The concluding paragraphs show that the soft-soaping by those ‘diplomatic sources’ at the start of this article are nothing but a smokescreen to make the EU’s forthcoming demands look more palatable to the UK negotiators. This last quote comes with a warning: your blood pressure will rise:

“The UK will also need to accept a cross-cutting governance mechanism that will allow the EU to take punitive actions against the UK in one area of the trade and security agreement if it resiled in its commitments in another. […]

“The outcome will be determined by the UK’s choices,” a third EU diplomat concluded, “the ball is now firmly in Mr Johnson’s court.” (paywalled link)

Aaand …. We’re back to ‘The UK must’ before we’re even Out, before this Johnson BRINO has even gone through Parliament! This is how the EU is going to keep us In: sounding ‘reasonable’, but showing us, showing Johnson the torture instruments, just like the medieval justiciars did, to entice their victims to confess.

I’m as yet not sure if the EU hopes to get Johnson to cave in, his GE landslide win notwithstanding, or if they truly believe that they can ride roughshod over us as they’ve done so successfully in the last three years.

At the moment it seems as if we have learned from the last three years while the EU hasn’t. They seem to think that they’re going to negotiate with the May Remain civil servant personnel so that caving in from our side is inevitable. We’ll have to wait and see – but we’ll be watching carefully nevertheless: no rest for the wicked!

 

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