Has this finally become the true image showing the fate of EU?
Yes – we’re talking about Brexit today: not one CV-19 report in sight! It’s now six weeks to the ‘deadline’ – the date on which Johnson has to ask for an extension which Remainers are still dead keen to get, but amidst the COVID-19 news still dominating public discourse they find it hard to make themselves heard.
Blithely disregarding heavy-weight papers and reports on the economic consequences of an extension, Remainers are dropping little snippets of gossip into the ears of Remain correspondents – snippets which are, surprise surprise, aimed at undermining Johnson’s negotiating position by smearing, ever so gently, David Frost while depicting ‘Our Michel’ as a poor man who is only doing what the powerful EU members tell him to.
There’s an intriguing ‘war of sources’ coming to the fore. It’s as if Brussels is trying to excuse in advance why something is going to give during these next six weeks. Here for example is a ‘senior EU sources’, speaking to RemainCentral;
“The European Union is ready to back down from its hard line on fishing rights next month once Europe’s leaders get involved in post-Brexit trade negotiations, according to senior sources in Brussels. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has struggled to gain “attention” from European capitals during the coronavirus crisis on the need to shift from what he has conceded is a “maximalist” mandate on fisheries demanded by France, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands.” (link, paywalled)
That ‘source’ goes on to tell RemainCentral that such decisions will best be made by the EU leaders who are of course struggling with their own Lockdown problems. And then we read that gentle piece of slur on David Frost, with an astonishing bit of back-pedalling:
“During secret talks, the EU has signalled that the European stance on “level playing field” demands for regulatory alignment and a role for the European Court of Justice are more flexible than presented, publicly, by Mr Frost and the government. “A sort of spectre has been created in the UK about continuing to copy and paste to align indefinitely to EU standards. The reality is different,” the European source said.” (link, paywalled)
Ah – but who has made these negotiations so difficult? Mr Frost by ‘presenting a spectre’, or M Barnier, cleaving to his mandate? When I saw the language (‘a sort of spectre’), I wondered if this ‘senior EU source’, blatantly leaking on supposedly secret talks, might perhaps be ‘our Michel’ himself … This next quote seems to be the actual reason for this leak:
“The EU does not expect the government to ask for an extension to the transition period next month to keep the UK in Europe’s single market and customs union beyond the end of the year.” (link, paywalled)
It looks as if Brussels has secretly accepted that Johnson won’t ask for an extension, and as if Barnier is trying to excuse himself for this disaster: not his fault – his hands were tied. After all, he’s got to think of his future … Then there’s this “UK Source” which spoke to the DT’s Brussels correspondent:
“A UK source close to the negotiations said Mr Barnier’s accusation(‘cherry-picking’) was “bewildering” because Britain only wanted what was typical from a free trade agreement. […] “The only explanation is that their arguments on the merits are not working, and they’re reaching for some of the old script.” (paywalled link)
The next quote is rather intriguing – compare and contrast with that quote from the ‘senior EU’ source above:
“EU diplomats have ruled out any high-level political intervention from national leaders to save the talks. The source said: “Mr Barnier must know that his mandate is non-negotiable in at least some important areas, but he’s doing his best with it.” (paywalled link)
Poor Michel! No help in sight then from the EU member states … Mind you, I find it very strange that such seasoned, top negotiator like M Barnier seems to be incapable of convincing the top EU leaders that this ain’t working. Of course, the CV-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns are an excellent excuse!
There’s something else which makes it more difficult for Barnier: the economic disaster both in the EU and here in the UK, meaning that for us an extension is not ‘affordable’. Even Big Business, so keen to keep us In, cannot argue with plain numbers. On Saturday the report of a new Think Tank, Centre for Brexit Policy, was published. This quote is from their summary:
“Extending the Transition Period (TP) and delaying Brexit for 2 years would cost £380 billion, or trillions of pounds if Brexit were lost forever as a result of extension. – An extension of the TP would prevent us from taking the radical steps needed to rebuild the post-Covid economy because the UK would continue to be bound by EU rules and unable to influence them.” (link)
I humbly suggest you might like to read that whole summary. You might also like to check out the comment by Martin Howe QC of ‘Lawyers for Britain’ (link), warning of the danger of an extension keeping us under the boots of the ECJ. Only last week Brussels told Johnson not to give extra concessions to French travellers when demanding travellers to the UK to go into quarantine next month. The ECJ threatened to impose hefty fines on our country for this ‘breach’. I’m not aware that they similarly threatened M Macron.
There’s one other aspect to the possibility of our leaving the EU with No Deal on December 31st which ought to make it more palatable to Big Business Remainers. Roger Bootle in the DT remarks:
“Ironically, whatever congestion and delay businesses might encounter at borders will be reduced in the current circumstances, since trade volumes will be depressed for a while as a result of the economic effects of the virus.” (paywalled link)
Speak of clouds having silver linings! Perhaps it’s this commonsensical aspect which is dawning on the UK business community, making them remarkably silent at the moment. Roger Bootle, pointing out the constitutional consequences, next looks at what an extension means for our economy:
“But if we were to extend the transition period, we would expose ourselves to massive risk in three different areas. First, in the wake of the coronavirus it is absolutely vital that the British Government has complete freedom to set its own laws and regulations, including on such things as state aid to industry. […] This will include fashioning a regulatory regime that is appropriate to Britain’s interests. That requires diverging from the EU’s business-unfriendly regime.” (paywalled link)
The second danger, should there be an extension, is of course that our contributions will become much higher than they are now because the EU is planning their next, five-year budget. The third danger area is the Euro. Roger Bootle warns, giving details:
“The euro has always been a halfway house – a currency and a central bank without a fiscal authority to back them up. Meanwhile, Italy is facing an economic and financial disaster if it stays in the euro under the current policy regime. […] While Britain is still attached to the EU, we risk being drawn ineluctably into a massive financial bailout. If the balloon is about to go up, we had better make sure that we get as far away as possible from the impending wreckage – and that we do this PDQ.” (link)
This brings us to another danger to the EU created by Brussels itself. It could ring in the end of the EU as it is, caused by Brussels’ reaction to the decision of the German Constitutional Court who rejected the way the ECB is demanding CV-19 ‘money’ for economically affected member states. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard for the DT starts his article (paywalled) thus:
“Step by step, the EU institutional machine is making the same mistake with the German people that it made with the British people. It is taking a law-abiding and well-meaning nation for granted. It is treating the legitimate sensitivities of a large net contributor with disdain and playing fast and loose with constitutional law. […] The EU assumed it could get away with this because the German policy class has been broadly complicit – up to a point – but Europe has now run into the unyielding resistance of the German constitutional court, the defender of the post-War Rechtsstaat” (paywalled link)
When it’s about money especially, Brussels recognises no laws governing single member states, preferring financial sanctions. A.E-P observes:
“Brussels and the fraternity of EU-funded think tanks are outraged by the Karlsruhe challenge . But those now demanding that Germany bring its judges to heel are more or less the same people urging maximum sanctions against Poland and Hungary for doing exactly that – bringing their judges to heel. The German government can do no such thing.“ (paywalled link)
Indeed not. The consequences of such Brussels intervention into German Law are far-reaching as this would go to the fundamentals of post-war Germany. A.E-P’s concluding paragraphs are worth keeping:
“One is tempted to say that for the EU to lose its second biggest net contributor is careless: to risk losing its dominant economic power as well is compulsive. But Brussels is in a genuine quandary. It cannot let the euro implode either after going so far. The enduring theme of classical tragedies is that sometimes there is no way out.” (paywalled link)
Brussels has hoisted itself with its own petard. Their ongoing attempts to steamroller countries into submission may finally have gone too far. It remains to be seen how the EU member states react to this, given that their economies are all severely damaged by their CV-19 Lockdowns.
It would be deeply ironic if in the end it’s not Brexit which destroys the EU but CV-19. Remainers better beware: trying to tie us to this impending shipwreck for ideological reasons (hello, Mr Starmer!) will not play well – not when we’re faced with our own Lockdown economic disaster.
We Leavers must keep vigilant. Just as with the Lockdown, we must stay alert, use our Leave common sense, and
Photo by touring_fishman