It’s all about him!


Yesterday the first set of talks between the EU and us finished, with a predictable result presented in the MSM in a predictable manner. For them, there’s only one player in these talks: a certain M Barnier.

As you trawled through today’s online papers not only would you have noticed that the Corona Virus outbreak is governing the headlines, nor that some papers seem to believe wasting space on ‘the return of Meghan’ is equally important, but that the few reports on those talks were only about Barnier – if you dug deeply enough to find them, that is.

Except for referring to ‘a British spokesman’ – not a ‘source’! – it’s as if we’re negligible, as if our objections are those of a petulant child not wanting to listen to ‘daddy’. Non-paywalled reports are here and here, paywalled ones are here and here. Let’s now have a look at what Mr Crisp, the Remain correspondent in the DT, wrote:

“Michel Barnier warned there were “serious” differences between the UK and the EU over the post-Brexit trade deal at the end of the first round of negotiations in Brussels on Thursday. A British government spokesman confirmed there were “significant” divides on fishing, level playing field guarantees, the governance of the agreement and whether there could be any role for the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Justice embedded in it.”  (paywalled link)

That is plain enough, for starters, although I am somewhat surprised that M Barnier seems to have been ignorant about our position on the ECJ and ECHR. It was, after all, one of the points in the Negotiating Mandate published by our government last week. Perhaps M Barnier’s English wasn’t sufficiently proficient? Perhaps his ‘team’ wasn’t’ allowed to spend extra money on proper translations? Or perhaps M Barnier simply loves to be in the limelight, to thunder ponderously from behind a lectern, to observe how his words are lapped up, certainly by British reporters.

The following quote is very strange indeed, unless one believes, as M Barnier obviously does, that the EU as such is a sovereign state:

“They are very serious divergences,” said Mr Barnier, before urging Britain to respect the EU’s “independence” and its right to set the terms of access to its own market.” (paywalled link)

Reading the DT report and that in RemainCentral in parallel, this next quote from The Times, in a similar vein, drops another little Barnier gem:

“In Brussels Mr Barnier defended his demands for Britain to stay aligned to European legislation, with a role for the EU’s courts in enforcing alignment, particularly on state subsidies to industry and on competition policy. “Whilst we agree on preserving high standards, my question is why not commit to them formally? It is a question of trust,” he said. “Nobody contests the UK’s independence.” (link, paywalled)

‘A question of trust’? As in ‘trust us, we’re Brussels’? As you know, I’m not one for counting chickens before they’re hatched, but don’t these plaintive remarks illustrate that, thunderous pronunciations notwithstanding, M Barnier knows he won’t get what he wants? Here’s a quote from RemainCentral’s report:

“They [the UK] do not wish formally to commit to continuing to apply the ECHR, nor do they wish to permit the European Court of Justice to play its full role in interpreting EU law,” Mr Barnier said in reference to sharing crime data. “This is serious. I say this is grave because if the UK’s position does not move it will have an immediate and concrete effect on the level of ambition of our co-operation.” (link, paywalled)

What lovely diversion – I’m sure we won’t tell the EU how to interpret their Laws!  He also didn’t specify what the ‘immediate and concrete effect’ will be. We’ll have to wait and see. Here’s a more detailed but still nebulous quote from the DT:

“Mr Barnier said that would have “grave” repercussions on the level of ambition of the joint fight against terrorism and data transfers between the EU and UK and urged Britain’s negotiator David Frost to reconsider, saying it was a “must have” for any deal.” (paywalled link)

Having told their readers all about M Barnier’s ‘grave’ concerns, implying that we must take him seriously and accede to his demands, we get quotes from that anonymous British spokesman, first the DT:

“Britain insists that it remains committed to human rights but that including the convention in another treaty breaks usual convention. It has ruled out any role for the EU’s top court as an unacceptable infringement of national sovereignty […]” (paywalled link)

Next, the quote from RemainCentral. It clarifies our stance, with an important observation:

“British sources said that the EU, which is not a signatory to the ECHR, wanted Britain to agree a new treaty clause that would interfere with how the court’s rulings were enforced in domestic law. A government spokesman said that while there were “expected, significant differences” the final deal had to respect that the country would be outside the orbit of EU law or its courts.”  (link, paywalled)

And so to the fish. What will happen in those particular negotiations is left vague, but M Barnier couldn’t help himself: first showing a softening attitude, then reverting to his bureaucratic nit-picking attitude:

“The EU’s chief negotiator hinted that Brussels could be prepared to shift from its stance that European boats will have continued access to UK waters under the same conditions as now. […] But Mr Barnier ruled out British hopes of striking a Norway style fishing deal with annual negotiations over the total allowed catch as impractical. While the Norway agreement covers five species of fish, a deal with Britain would cover 100 shared stocks.” (paywalled link)

Oh-My-God! M Barnier obviously desires a special agreement for every single species to be found and fished in our waters! Didn’t he listen to the French EU Minister who said the other day that fish swim everywhere? Are none of the 95 other species to be found in Norgwegian waters? How very odd! But never fear, here ‘s the next ‘Big Word’ we’ll hear more often, ‘balance’:

“Mr Barnier offered the prospect of a “balanced” compromise deal.  A senior EU official admitted that the European Commission could return to member states and ask them to back a different offer than the uncompromising demand made in the EU’s mandate for the talks. “We are ready to seek out a balanced solution,” Mr Barnier said, “For the member states a balanced solution on fisheries should be part of the free trade agreement, if we want a trade agreement.” (paywalled link)

I confess I’ve not yet heard of negotiations resulting in an ‘unbalanced’ compromise. Also interesting: M Barnier’s attitude notwithstanding, it seems there’s still no agreement amongst the EU member states. Since Fisheries are a hugely important issue, it’s good to detect a bit of spine in the British team:

“Britain insists that the fishing deal cannot be part of the trade agreement, which Mr Barnier insisted upon, because that is not common practice in trade deals. A UK government source close to the negotiation said, “The EU mandate effectively asks for the status quo – that is not going to happen.”  (paywalled link)

I simply cannot resist to quote from the concluding paragraphs in Mr Crisp’s article because they’re about our negotiation stance:

“British negotiators refused to discuss foreign policy and defence cooperation in the talks, arguing that there was no need to enshrine such dialogue in an institutional framework.”(paywalled link)

So that’s that – and do savour this final quote, this astonishing indication that M Barnier is still not properly prepared, that his thunderous and also plaintive words are simply waffling with intent:

“The EU will “quite soon” produce a legal text to form the basis of the negotiations. Mr Barnier said the coronavirus was not yet a threat to the next negotiating rounds in London and Brussels later this month and in April.” (paywalled link)

So M Barnier still hasn’t got his proper mandate, is it? Mind you – I’m glad that the Corona Virus hasn’t affected those talks as of yet! In her evening email to subscribers to the Speccie Isabel Hardman wisely observed:

“The uncertainty over whether there will be a trade deal is nothing compared to the uncertainty in the UK over the impact of coronavirus, and that’s where all the political attention is focused right now.”

That uncertainty has the 27 EU member states in its grip as well, not forgetting the brewing conflict at the Greek-Turkish borders about “refugees” who apparently are mostly not Syrians but Afghans and Iranians. 

I hope you enjoyed reading about the empty posturing of M Barnier – who knows, if the Corona virus accelerates, they may all have to negotiate via Skype, and you will agree that posturing on Skype won’t have the same impact as standing at a lectern looking big.

As always nowadays: keep well, take sensible precautions, wash your hands if you dislike wearing gloves, and definitely




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