Updated Tuesday 8 December 2020
Boris Johnson and European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, may have “welcomed the fact that progress has been achieved in many areas” in their weekend conference call.
Nevertheless, significant differences remain on three critical issues: ‘a level playing field’ when it comes to state aid; ‘governance’ and who will arbitrate future disputes between the EU and UK; and access to UK waters for EU fishing fleets.
Both sides acknowledged in a joint press statement that if these issues are not resolved, the UK is heading for the ‘no-deal’ scenario at the end of the Brexit ‘transition period’.
We dealt with ‘state aid’ in a previous post – highlighting the hardening of the UK ‘red line’ in recent weeks. It is difficult to see how, having widened the gulf between the parties, the UK could compromise and accept the EU position without loss of face.
Johnson and von der Leyen spoke again yesterday evening” [7 December] – having instructed their chief negotiators to reconvene in Brussels. In the hour immediately before the call the House of Commons voted to re-insert the controversial ‘Treaty breaking’ clauses in the ‘Internal Market Bill’ that had been removed last week by the House of Lords in an overwhelming cross-party vote.
Whist publicly stating that they want an agreement, the UK Government last week added a second piece of legislation that is likely to further increase the likelihood that one of one of the 27 EU member states using its veto – even if negotiators can find common ground, four-and-a-half years after the vote leave referendum. One veto from a any member state, or the European Parliament, or the European Council, will be enough to stop a trade deal in its tracks – and Great Britain will leave the EU single market and customs with ‘no-deal’ on 31 December.
On Thursday 3 December, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, Leader of the House of Commons, announced that the Government would be introducing the ‘Taxation (Post-Transition Period) Bill’. To date, the Bill has not been published – yet is to be fast-tracked to a ‘second reading’ on 9 December 2020.
The Internal Market Bill has received widespread criticism around the across European and around the World. President-elect Joe Biden has said that if passed, it will count against the UK in any future discussions about a trade agreement. The House of Lords have formally ‘expressed regret’ that the part of the Bill which concerns the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol would: “undermine the rule of law and damage the reputation of the United Kingdom” as Parliament – “which is responsible for making the law and expecting people to obey the laws it makes – would be knowingly granting power to the Executive to break the law.”
The House of Lords resolved to remove clauses that would enable a breach of international law. They also resolved to remove clauses “intended to give the UK Government the power to provide financial assistance to any part of the United Kingdom for a wide range of purposes.” The main arguments against granting those powers were the effects on the devolution – with the potential to undermine the stability of the Union that is the United Kingdom. The cross-party majority was 433 to 165.
The Government has now reinstated the clauses.
In a related move, Michael Gove MP, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster indicated in October that in the event of a no-deal end to Brexit transition, the Government would need to legislate “measures relating to tariffs on movements of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland” in the form of a ‘Finance Bill’.
In a highly unusual fast-track move, the provisional date has been set for Wednesday 9 December for Parliament to complete the ‘second reading’ and the ‘committee stage’ of the ‘Taxation (Post-Transition Period) Bill’. MPs will have their first sight of the contents of the Bill on Tuesday 8 December as it is published on the Parliament website. The Bill has the potential to further alienate all those who do not want the UK to break international law and treaty commitments to the Good Friday Agreement.
With EU and UK negotiations on a knife-edge and against the backdrop of either a very ‘thin’ deal, or no-deal, Peter Mandelson – former Cabinet Minister and EU Commissioner – has published an article in the Guardian looking at how the UK – having spent nearly half a century reshaping itself round the opportunities offered by European economic integration – now has to scope out the next chapter in its national story.
“In determining that Great Britain should not only leave the EU, but additionally languish outside Europe’s giant single market and its frictionless customs union, Boris Johnson is putting Britain at a massive and permanent disadvantage in relation to its biggest export market. All the new benefits from every global trade deal that we could ever aspire to will not begin to equal the size of our present European trade. This is the price we will pay for the triumph of hard-line Tory Brexiters over those with a stronger sense of national interest in their party.”
He argues that there were many other priorities into which we could have invested energy much more gainfully in order to build a “21st-century Britain – including a recasting of work and human rights, and updating the welfare system.
I’d like to add: leading the move to create a sustainable planet for future generations; levelling some of the global inequalities that presently create friction between factions and nations; and harnessing the burgeoning technological advances in artificial intelligence, communications, robotics, genetics, medicine and agriculture – for the greater good of mankind.
Photo: EP Research