Friday, 25 January 2019 15:48

Our Man in Europe

Dear Friends,

As we wait to find out what twists and turns await us next week – when the House of Commons resumes voting again in earnest – it is worth taking stock of where we are. In among the drama it is too easy to lose focus.

Firstly, the clock is ticking. Unless something else actively happens, the UK and Scotland with it will leave the EU at 11pm (tellingly, it takes effect at midnight Brussels time) on March 29. All this "there's no majority in the Commons for No Deal" is entirely meaningless. Brexit will happen unless they actively do something to stop it.

Secondly, May's "deal" is just to exit. It deals with the future only in an aspirational Political Declaration which is not entirely worthless, but is not binding either. So all the bumping of gums by MPs about Norway plus, Canada minus or upside-down Lichtenstein is all so much puff: these negotiations would only start after the exit. If we exit with a deal then a transition period kicks in where EU law will continue to apply as we try to negotiate a future relationship. Basically we'd have as little idea of the future as now, except we would be outside the EU.

A "soft" Brexit where the UK remains in the single market and the customs union is undoubtedly the least damaging aspiration, and a theoretical outcome under May's deal.

The problem is that deal fails to make it legally binding. As soon as we are out of the EU the Brexit ultras would destroy any good intentions. In a world where outrage can be whipped up over rules on lightbulbs, kettles and toasters, they'd be braying for non existent vetoes to be used at the slightest hint of a controversial new law. If you want to read more on this then take a look at my piece in the Herald:

The reality is that soft Brexit would inevitably become hard Brexit because the Brexit ultras have no desire to compromise. In the face of this the House of Commons only has one real choice: Remain.

Yes, it would be messy and yes, it will take courage, but even the best alternative is far worse.

Yours aye,


Some good news. The UK Government has scrapped their outrageous £65 fee for EU citizens applying for settled status.

Wired Magazine has also published an excellent piece on the new app that facilitates this.

If you want to keep track of the various amendments that the House of Commons will be voting on next week, this page from Institute for Government is for you.

David Henig, a commentator who thoroughly understands international trade, has written a powerful piece emphasising how Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May have basically the same Brexit policy.

The EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier told RTE that the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Irish backstop, is “the best deal possible” for the UK in the Brexit negotiations.

The Brexit Steering Group of the European Parliament has emphasised that MEPs will not support a deal without the backstop.

Michel Barnier also emphasised that "if the UK's red lines were to change in the days or weeks to come, the Union would immediately be prepared to look at other – more ambitious – models for the relationship, each of them based on a balance between rights and obligations."

A border control expert lays out in detail what a no deal Brexit will mean for the Northern Ireland Border.

Some Scottish Conservative MPs have been trying to prevent the Scottish Government and Parliament having a say on any future trade deals that the UK might sign. As Joan McAlpine MSP said, these MPs are putting their unionist ideology ahead of their constituents.

Scotland’s Brexit Minister Mike Russell MSP was in Brussels this week delivering a simple message: "The Scottish Government will now step up our efforts to secure an extension to Article 50 and for a second referendum on EU membership."

A no-deal Brexit would be damaging to Scotland's economy, according a unanimous report from the Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Constitution Committee.

The Institute for Government's annual roundup of the Civil Service has warned that civil servants have been redeployed to focus on Brexit, with a third of Treasury staff alone working on Brexit.

Britain Thinks have released their latest summary of what people across the UK think about the Brexit process. Their conclusion: "Any optimism about leaving is gone."

Despite his previous promises, Liam Fox MP confessed this week that the UK has yet to secure the roll over of any of the UK’s trade deals with the rest of the world.

The BBC is setting up a base on the continent so it can continue to broadcast in the EU after Brexit.

BrewDog have warned that 'no deal' would be a doomsday scenario for the company.

P&O have announced that they will changing the flag of their UK ships to Cyprus.

Arch-Brexiter James Dyson has announced plans to move his company to Singapore.

The Dutch government is in talks with over 250 companies regarding moving to the Netherlands.

There was a timely reminder of who protects our environmental standards as the EU initiated proceedings against the UK for not fulfilling its obligations regarding the pumping of raw sewage from a case in 2012.

Anybody with a .eu web domain must make plans for after Brexit since the people in the UK will no longer be entitled to use them.

Sir Ivan Rogers gave an important lecture to UCL. We must all wake up to the reality of Brexit. I support extending Article 50 to avert disaster but we must do something with that extension. As he concludes: "extra time is only of any real value if you make use of it to progress and change the national debate."

We must make it clear to new Scots that they are welcome in Scotland, as I emphasise in my National column this week.

Finally, Stewart McDonald MP has warned that Russia is sowing division and confusion in the Scottish independence campaign. Too many simply dismiss this and we need to take it far more seriously online and in the wider media. Kremlin-backed broadcasters RT and Sputnik are a malign influence and we should not be supporting them.

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