Saturday, 19 May 2018 04:57

Our man in Europe

Dear Friends,

It has been another strange week in Westminster as, like delusional generals in charge of an already defeated army, the Tories continue to lay out fantasy plans for future. It seems to have become mantra that if the Government asserts something loudly enough and on letterheaded paper it will become reality.

Unfortunately, they can’t even agree to what to put down on the paper as it is clear they are at an impasse. However, if you look closely there is possibly some movement under the surface as (once again) the UK looks to be preparing to cave in. As reported by RTE’s Tony Connelly on Wednesday, the UK is effectively considering putting in the option of remaining in the Customs Union as a whole.

Obviously, nobody in the Tory party could possible concede to this. As Politico wryly noted: “When is a customs union not a customs union? When it’s a “time-limited goods arrangement.””

To be clear, despite the headlines from many papers this week this option is only for the Irish backstop arrangement at this stage, not necessarily the future trade deal. There has to be a legal fall back to prevent a border appearing in Ireland if the negotiations for a legally binding trade deal between the UK and EU were to fail. Since these won’t be started until after Brexit we need the backstop option now. This proposal has to be legally and practically workable. As the Centre for European Reform point out, that means that: “aspirations can never masquerade as insurance”.

If the UK wants to progress and get down to business, then it must first address the Irish Border - which remember is only an issue because the Brexiters are demanding that we leave the Single Market and have no Customs Union with the EU. Instead we have two proposals which as I said last week are ‘technically impossible and already rejected by the EU’ or ‘utterly unworkable and already rejected by the EU’. This week the head of the body that represents UK manufactures warned that the former ‘max fac’ technology option is “unrealistic” whilst HMRC warned that the latter proposal, Theresa May’s Customs Partnership, is "unviable"

This is why the EU has repeatedly rejected both yet here we are, months after that rejection, still watching the Tory party argue over which impossible future they would like. The question now is what will happen first. Will the UK Government cave to reality? Or will the Tory party cave in on itself?

Yours aye,


In Edinburgh the Scottish Parliament has refused consent for EU Withdrawal Bill. As Michael Russell MSP said during the debate: "The Scottish Parliament has now said overwhelmingly that this attempt to undermine devolution is unacceptable.” Now we will all find out whether we really are part of a family of nations, or if the will of the national Parliament of Scotland is simply irrelevant to the UK Government.

The Scottish Parliament also unanimously supported a report from the European Committee calling for the UK to remain in Erasmus+.

For anyone still clinging to “Lexit”, the UK Government have re-nationalised a rail company this week. Something they've done before but which Leavers still maintained wasn't allowed under EU rules...

Thomson Reuters are moving their foreign exchange derivatives business (which trades more than $300bn a day) to Dublin after Brexit.

Nicola Sturgeon has warned that “Brexit looms large and is relevant to any discussion of our economic future.” There is still time to stop Brexit, there is also room for compromise if the Hard Brexiters of the Tory party would listen. I couldn’t agree more: if Brexit is to happen then “the best approach is to remain in the single market, which is about eight times bigger than the UK market alone, and the customs union.”

The Norwegian PM has emphasised the UK would be welcome in the EEA.

The Centre for Constitutional Change have produced this handy 10 point guide to the EEA.

The Falkland Islands have warned against the dangers of leaving the EU since 94 per cent of their fishing exports by bulk went to the single market in 2017. Their fishing industry accounts for 41% of the islands economy.

The UK Government has promised a white paper which will (finally) contain answers about their Brexit plans. I must admit, I would not recommend holding your breath!

The Royal College of Nurses has called for a referendum on the Brexit deal.

As have four senior Labour MPs.

Michel Barnier gave a speech at the EU Institute for Security Studies conference. Yes, the EU wants to remain as close to the UK as possible on these issues but, legal reality means there will be consequences.
As he emphasised:

  • Britain will no longer participate in the decision-making of the EU.
  • Britain will no longer have the ability to shape and lead the EU's collective actions.
  • British entities will no longer have the same rights as EU entities

There is of course a certain wedding this weekend. It is worth noting that one of the farmers whose food will be served could close because of Brexit.

Indeed, even the supplier of Port to the Queen is concerned.

Finally, the Irish Taoiseach thought that ‘Max Fac’ was a make up not a UK Government plan – and who can blame him?

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