We are now at the “eyeballing” stage of this charade.
The EU has described the detailed and eminently sensible papers produced by the UK as “unsatisfactory”.
The UK has called for the EU to be more “flexible”.
This is all to be expected. The EU has taken the illegal view that is has a right to dictate the framework of the negotiations, and that is its basic problem.
The EU says that three elements of the Agreement must be dealt with before anything else can be discussed. This is entirely typical of the way the EU arrogantly does things. The three elements are the “divorce bill”, the issue of EU residents in the UK, and the Irish border. It is the last of these which demonstrates the illogical stupidity of this stance. An essential aspect of the Irish border concerns the transmission of goods between north and south. As long as Eire stays a member of the EU (a point I shall return to below), this is an issue of trading terms between the UK and the EU. In order to deal with that element, therefore, it is necessary to agree those trading terms; something which the EU flatly refuses to do. Typical obstinate illogical EU stupidity. Everyone knows that those trading terms must simply stay exactly as they are, or else Mercedes will kill the German government. In any event, however, this aspect of the matter shows just how wrong-headed the EU are, and how the UK is right to complain.
Turning now to the “divorce bill”, this is of course why the EU side is so agitated. They know what Article 50 does, and that is why they keep on talking about the clock ticking; they are terrified out of their skulls about the possibility that the two years expires without Agreement. This is because Article 50 does not provide for any payment, and so the UK would be released from the Treaties without having to pay anything at all to the EU. More to the point, the Article 50 process has absolutely nothing in common with a divorce anyway; it is, however, very much like being released from prison. Furthermore, there is now some truly delicious icing on this particular cake: a bright UK civil servant [yes, there are some], at the last round of the negotiations, spent 3 hours systematically destroying the legal basis of the EU’s claim for a payment, employing 34 slides and 47 pages of text for the purpose
Let us now consider briefly the idiocy on the part of all who waffle about this in the UK. Every day we hear garbage about transition periods, hard or soft Brexit, and cliff edges, and so on. In particular there is the creedal mantra that the UK leaves the EU in March 2019; this of course only happens if there is NO PRIOR AGREEMENT!
There is a cold binary logic to Article 50, which lays down a certain and definite result, viz. the Release of the UK from the Treaties of the EU, but specifies two mutually exclusive ways in which this can happen. The first of these is that Agreement is finalised AT ANY TIME before midnight strikes in Brussels on 28 March 2019. If that happens, then immediately and automatically on that finalisation, the UK is released from the Treaties, and in which case means the deadline is irrelevant. The second way is that there is no such Agreement before the deadline, in which case as that midnight strikes, immediately and automatically the UK is released from the Treaties. So, the result in either case is exactly the same; but “the clock is ticking”.
Article 50 provides only for an Agreement, not several of them; this means that every term of an Agreement must be agreed for there to be any agreement at all. This is why Michel Barnier will be secretly laughing his head off at UK polticians, journalists, and hacks of all sorts arguing interminably about transition periods, staying in the customs union or the single market, divorce bills, etc. He knows that the only way ANY of that stuff can happen is if it is contained in an Article 50 Agreement – for which see the immediately preceding paragraph!
There is of course no minimum length of the Agreement prescribed by Article 50.
In the circumstances, the best way out of the current impasse is for the UK to deliver an ultimatum to the EU, making it clear the UK KNOWS that the EU gets nothing without Agreement:
“ARTICLE 50 NEGOTIATIONS – UK POSITION
This is a variation on the “Straight” plan whereby the UK refuses to pay anything for the privilege of leaving the EU. Instead, the UK offers to make an immediate payment of 5 billion Euros ON CONDITION that the EU contemporaneously formally agrees to all of the following terms as an official concluded Article 50 Agreement, with the proviso that the payment is only made when the European Parliament and the UK Parliament have both confirmed the deal and so finally ratified it. This offer would remain open only for 28 days; if not accepted, then there would be a return to the “Straight” plan. The true cost to the UK would not be the full 5 billion Euros because it would stop paying its contributions, of £161 million net every week, sooner.
1. The EU guarantees the right of all UK nationals lawfully resident in the EU to remain in the EU in perpetuity, and the UK guarantees the right of all EU nationals lawfully resident in the UK to remain in the UK in perpetuity. Once this provision has been agreed the following are the terms and conditions which the UK proposes as the withdrawal agreement pursuant to the provisions of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
2. All trading terms, conditions and agreements relating exclusively to the sale and purchase of goods and services between the UK and the EU shall remain wholly unchanged from those applying at present.
3. All arrangements, protocols and agreements relating to co-operation between the UK and the EU concerning intelligence, policing, the prevention of terrorism, and all other such matters, shall remain wholly unchanged from those applying at present.
4. Until the UK is released from the Treaties pursuant to Article 50 the payments at present made by the UK to the EU and those made in any way shape or form by the EU to the UK or to any person, company, institution, partnership, charity, or any other entity in the UK, shall continue wholly unchanged. In the event of any deduction or reduction of any sort with regard to the said payments by the EU, the UK will deduct the amount of such deduction or reduction from the said payments it makes to the EU.
5. When the UK is released from the Treaties pursuant to Article 50 it shall immediately cease all payments to the EU and shall not pay anything at all to the EU thereafter. There can be no payment for “continued access” or anything like that.
6. The UK shall not make any payment of any sort, or in any way, at any time, to the EU beyond those hereinbefore specified, and the EU will not make any payment of any sort to the UK or to any entity within the UK as aforesaid beyond those hereinbefore specified. For the avoidance of doubt, this is a critically important legal point; Article 50 does not provide for any payment either way. This is not a divorce and there is no divorce bill. A figure of 100 billion Euros has been bandied about; the correct figure is precisely nil. “
In conclusion, it is appropriate now to give some attention to Eire. For centuries that nation has literally fought to be freed from control by England, which it eventually obtained in the first half of the 20th century, only a few decades later voluntarily to submit itself to the dominance by Brussels. It derives no net benefit there from, and was vilified by the EU when it was forced to seek an 80 billion Euro bailout to save its banks, and the Irish government had all the toxic bank debt dumped on it by the EU in the process. The people of Eire are most unhappy with the gradual erosion of what is left of its sovereignty to the EU, and they hate the idea of any sort of EU “superstate”. There is much to be said in favour of “Irexit”.