The EU Puppet Master
Over the weekend, the war of words about the forthcoming trade negotiations has, let’s say cautiously: ‘intensified’. The trigger was an article in the DT which was picked up by other papers. Interestingly the initial report mentioned a ‘government paper’, which was duly mentioned in the other articles. So yesterday morning yours truly tried to find that paper, even asking our News Review editor Debbie LeMay to see if she could find it – and there was none we could find.
The articles which I had duly bookmarked were however redacted in the course of yesterday, and wouldn’t you know: no hint of a government paper is now seen anywhere. However, the content of the original report is sufficiently important because, wouldn’t you know – there’s a French reaction! Here is the relevant quote from that DT article:
“Number 10 is understood to object to a raft of stipulations in a draft negotiating mandate submitted to EU leaders by the European Commission […] The disclosure comes after David Frost, the Prime Minister’s Europe adviser, held talks with British officials last week to finalise the UK’s negotiating position for trade talks with the EU. Mr Johnson’s negotiators are expected to insist that the UK should be given a deal akin to the EU’s agreements with countries such as Canada, Korea and Japan, which they say involve less stringent requirements than those set out in the draft mandate. […] On Monday evening, David Frost, Mr Johnson’s Europe adviser and chief negotiator, is due to give a lecture in Brussels on the EU and the type of relationship the UK is seeking with the bloc after Brexit.” (paywalled link)
While The Express, keeping close to the redacted article in the DT (link), thus doesn’t mention those numbers, the DM hasn’t ‘redacted them out’:
“Mr Frost plans to point out to his Brussels counterparts that, for example, the EU removed 99.5 per cent of tariffs in its deal with Korea, 99 per cent with Japan and 98.7 per cent with Canada – and did not expect ‘regulatory alignment’ with any of those countries.” (link)
None of us know if Mr Frost will really point out those numbers because none of us have seen the text of his speech, not even the MSM journalists. We will however keep them in mind because it surely is relevant that the EU is planning to use different measures for what should in effect be the same thing: a trade agreement encouraging trade between countries.
The main objections have been coming from France in the first instance – and lo and behold, the French Foreign Minister made blood-curdling remarks at the Security Conference taking place in Munich:
“France has warned that talks between Britain and the EU over a future trade deal will turn nasty. Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, said that the negotiators were likely to rip each other apart, with the two sides expected to fight particularly hard over fishing rights. […] Mr Le Drian said yesterday at a security conference in Munich: “I think that on trade issues or on the measures for our future relationship that we are going to discuss, we are going to start on, we are going to rip each other apart. But that is part of the negotiation. Everyone is going to defend their interests.” (link, paywalled)
Naturellement, M Le Drian – that’s to be expected, n’est-çe pas! It is noteworthy however that France and by extension the EU still seem to think that we in the UK have to knuckle under, accept the French diktats without demur and generally not fight back. The Times continues, referring to that speech by Mr Frost:
“David Frost, the government’s chief trade negotiator, will outline Britain’s vision for its future relationship with the EU in a lecture, his first public intervention, tonight in Brussels. […] A Downing Street analysis produced last weekend said that the EU imposed less stringent requirements in deals with Canada, South Korea and Japan, which removed at least 98 per cent of tariffs, than those outlined in its draft negotiating mandate for an agreement with Britain. The public speech by Mr Frost, 54, marks a departure from the tactics pursued under Theresa May’s government, when the process was surrounded by secrecy.” (link, paywalled)
That last sentence caught my undivided attention. It looks as if there’s been some shift in the attitude of our Brexit negotiators. Could it be that, thanks to the new broom in No10, attitudes in Whitehall have changed ever so slightly? Here is the background for M Le Drian’s belligerent words:
“Mr Le Drian’s words came as President Macron pushed the European Commission to take a tough stance before the talks, and insist that Britain adopt EU standards on workers’ rights and environmental standards. France fears that British companies will be able to undercut their European counterparts if Mr Johnson’s government reduces environmental regulations and workers’ rights or institutes a Singaporean-style low-tax regime. If Mr Macron convinces other EU states to fall in behind him, it would lessen the chance of securing an agreement by the end of the year, the deadline that Mr Johnson has imposed on Britain’s transition period.” (link, paywalled)
We see yet again that France, that M Macron, wants to chain us to the dinosaur that is the EU because France fears competition, especially in regard to state aid where France is a master of circumventing EU rules. And as expected, Fisheries come into it:
“Mr Le Drian […[ warned of a fight over fishing rights and suggested that if European boats were barred from British waters, France would urge the EU to prevent British trawlers from selling their catches on the Continent. “They offload more than 70 per cent of their catch” on continental Europe, Mr Le Drian said, adding that the Macron government would not “compromise” over the question. “Fishing cannot in any way be a bargaining chip in the negotiations.” (link, paywalled)
It cannot – really? How then to describe what France is doing, trying to link Fisheries with rules about Financial Services? One set of rules for France – one for the UK? France, in the vacuum created by the political troubles in Germany which are weakening Ms Merkel, is now “The EU”, according to M Macron. The next remark by M Le Drian is important since it points to a less obvious French bargaining chip:
“He added, however, that France was ready to pursue and to deepen bilateral co-operation with Britain over security and defence. “We must realise that we have common interests,” he said, adding that Britain and France should seek “progress” in bilateral arrangements but also to co-operate within Nato. His words may have been an attempt to reassure Britain and other allies after Mr Macron declared Nato last year to be “brain-dead”. (link, paywalled)
Hm. So what is it: tear our mutual throats out or be ‘friends in arms’? I’m not sure yet if France, if M Macron, believes that enticing us into his pet project of a EU ‘Army’ is going to be some sort of compensation for giving up on our Fisheries.
However, when one sees the MSM headlines reporting M Le Drian’s speech, one does wonder if vested Remain interests are again trying to reverse Brexit. See for example this: “France and Britain ‘will rip each other apart over trade talks’ warns Macron’s Foreign Minister amid fears of price hikes” (link), or this one: “Brexit warning: France warns Boris of ‘bloody battle’ over trade – ‘EU will rip UK apart’ (link).
I’m now a bit puzzled: who is going to rip whom apart? Is it an exclusive fight between France and Britain, or is it the EU which will ‘destroy the UK’? Does the EU actually have the power to do so? In spite of France’s mighty words, I do have some doubts, especially when I read that there are serious problems in regard to the EU budget being debated in Brussels at the moment. Of interest for the coming trade talks and that Barnier Mandate is that there are two blocks in the EU, leaving aside France and Germany who aren’t named in the report, the ‘Frugals’ and the ‘Friends of Cohesion’:
“The so-called ‘Frugals’ – made up of the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and Denmark, […] are the largest net contributors to the EU budget. […] The 15 under the Friends of Cohesion flag are the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Estonia, Croatia, Malta, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Portugal and Greece. This group has criticised the richer countries for not contributing more, and has set up a divide between the east and west.” (link)
That looks more like a division between ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ to me. Will we now hear screams of “Frugal austeriteee” coming from Brussels? I hope the Brexit negotiators are aware of those two groups and think about how best to approach the “Friends of Cohesion” with good offers. After all, we will have to negotiate with each country separately, won’t we.
Meanwhile, we’ll have to wait for the official text of Mr Frost’s speech tonight …
Photo by pietropiupparco