Another day in the Brexit Diary, another ‘day after’. Our Remain Brussels correspondents wallowed uncritically in the predictable Barnier reaction to Mr David Frost’s speech. Leavers though realised quickly that, as usual, M Barnier ‘didn’t get it’.
However, given today’s headlines, you’d think all we need to do to get a good trade agreement is to hand back the Elgin Marbles. Oddly enough, Greece, as far as I’m aware, isn’t demanding that France return the Nike of Samothrace which was removed by the French. There is however more to this Greek demand.
The return of the Elgin Marbles seems to have become the latest bargaining chip in the forthcoming trade talks, as reported in today’s MSM (here,here, paywalled here and here). The DT’s Brussels correspondent, after a screaming headline, back-pedalled immediately:
“Greece has denied the clause refers to the Elgin Marbles and says it is intended to fight the illicit trade in antiquities” (paywalled link).
It’s an interesting report though because, somehow, a rather relevant paragraph has slipped in between paragraphs on that Marbles demand. This is the text, as it appeared in Mr Crisp’s article:
“The demand was revealed in Brussels after the EU inter-governmental talks and as Michel Barnier rejected demands by David Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator, for a Canada-style trade agreement. British negotiators will reject any role for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the future trading relationship, it also emerged, opening up another rift between the two deeply divided sides ahead of trade talks in March. EU governments have been revising the mandate for the negotiations, which is meant to be finalised on Wednesday. The latest draft, a copy of which was obtained by The Daily Telegraph, reads: “The Parties should, consistently with Union rules, address issues relating to the return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their countries of origin.” (paywalled link)
That looks as if those Marbles might be utilised to cement in our subjugation to the ECJ. Right at the end of that report there’s clarification of the UK’s stance on the ECJ – easily overlooked as readers are supposedly made to fume about those marbles and stop reading:
“Brussels insists that the ECJ must remain the supreme arbiter of EU law and wants a system where any questions on it are referred from an arbitration panel for a binding decision. The UK will rule that out, The Telegraph understands, despite the Government agreeing to a similar system in the Withdrawal Agreement.” (paywalled link)
RemainCentral, for their more ‘cultured’ readers who might also object to this Elgin Marble Clause, soothingly writes:
“The clause does not mean that the return of the marble sculpture would be a precondition for a free trade deal.” (link, paywalled)
So are those marbles a bargaining chip or aren’t they? Scrolling down some more in that same RemainCentral report, there’s another item which has somehow not made it into the DT’s article:
“In another unhelpful development for the government, the Brussels negotiating mandate has been hardened on fishing and, according to the latest text, the EU the will now demand that European boats be allowed the same access and catches in British fisheries from the end of the year. The new demand would “uphold existing reciprocal access conditions, quota shares and traditional activity of the Union fleet” in Britain’s coastal waters after the transition period this year. If agreed, the EU would continue to fish for “all relevant species” at the same level with quotas, as decided under the Common Fisheries Policy, “which can only be adjusted with the consent of both parties”. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has warned the government that concessions of fishing are a condition of a trade deal and continued access to European markets for the City of London.” (link, paywalled)
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that our Remain Correspondents overlooked that reference to “the Union Fleet”. For me this is yet another illustration that Brussels regards itself now as a sovereign entity, with its own ‘fleet’.
Another indication can be found in the way M Barnier brushed off the arguments put on the table by Mr Frost. It’s not just that Barnier, as expected, rejected outright a “Canada Deal” (link), it’s how M Barnier picked up expressions from Mr Frost’s speech: ‘sovereignty’ and ‘democratic’ to weaponise them for the EU. Here’s the report in RemainCentral:
“Asked if Mr Frost was right to say that agreeing to such alignment in a trade deal would be undemocratic, Mr Barnier said: “Truly not. It is a sovereign decision of the EU, it is a sovereign decision of the UK to co-operate. That is what Boris Johnson wrote in the political declaration.” Mr Barnier said that the EU could never accept a deal on the same terms as Canada as Britain was too much of a competitive threat.” (link, paywalled)
Reader comments below that report, astonishingly, pointed out that Barnier’s words demonstrate clearly that he already regards the EU as a sovereign entity. That is something Leavers have been saying for years! Barnier also clearly shows his hand as arch-protectionist: no FTA with the EU as long as he’s at the helm. Here’s what Joe Barnes, The Express’ Brussels correspondent, reported from the same Barnier event – it’s quite illuminating:
“Mr Barnier insisted it was “truly not” the case the bloc is trying to use trade negotiations to undermine Westminster’s sovereignty. He added: “It is a sovereign decision of the UK and the EU to put in certain subjects, their rules, their normal in cooperation with the other. It is a sovereign decision of the EU, it is a sovereign decision of the UK to cooperate. It is formally written in the political declaration that distortion of competition, unfair competition… that is what Boris Johnson wrote in the political declaration. We want to find the means, serious and calmly, to put in a legal and political transition to go hand in hand with each other.” (link)
That’s very nicely put by M Barnier – French diplomacy, innit: using big words veiling the realité and demonstrating that he truly didn’t get what Mr Frost was saying. Dear Michel also left some dirty, nitty-gritty trade details to Mr Hogan, the Irish Trade Commissioner – similarly no slouch when it comes to threats:
“Phil Hogan, the EU’s trade commissioner, warned that if Britain rejected Brussels demands for alignment with European regulations then talks this year would fail leaving the government responsible for the economic damage. “We’re looking for a level playing field and they don’t seem to want it,” he said, responding to a speech on Monday night by David Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator. “It’s up to the UK to make sure [economic disruption ] doesn’t happen. Full responsibility is in the hands of the UK.” (link, paywalled)
Mr Hogan obviously also didn’t get what Mr Frost was saying … Again, Joe Barnes reports the particulars – note how “British Business” (the CBI, perchance, Remain to the core? Mr Hogan doesn’t say …) is used as stick to beat the UK with:
“Mr Hogan claimed its policy has sparked fears from British businesses. “It’s a big worry for many of the manufacturing sectors in the U.K.,” he said. “If they want to diverge from the existing rules and regulations, we are going to have problems. And the more they diverge from the existing EU law and regulations, the more problems we’ll have.” (link)
Mr Hogan and indeed the EU seem to think that ‘British business’ is just waiting in the starting blocks to ‘diverge’ from those sacred EU norms, for the sheer devilry of it!
However, our friends at facts4eu published a pertinent report on EU trade figures – straight from the EU horse’s mouth. They pointed out that, in good old Brussels fashion, these figures were released on Friday afternoon and thus were overlooked by our MSM who had other things to bellyache about. See the report here – the stats and figures are impressive – for us!
In addition, in the wake of that blood-curdling speech by the French foreign secretary, they next reported on the actual trade figures with France – go here, also for a stunning graph. One assumes M Macron is aware of these figures, as Mr Hogan should be. Their attitude, given those trade figures and given their threats, doesn’t really make sense if they desire ‘a good relationship’ with us.
I wonder if it occurs to any of those belligerent French and EU figures that their demands cut both ways. Don’t the trade figures mentioned above show that it’s not us who need to kowtow and beg, that the boot is on the other foot?
Ah well – we’ll see later today what all will have gone into M Barnier’s ‘mandate’. Meanwhile, all we can do is hope that Mr Frost and his team are well prepared and will stand firm – and not sell us out à la May.