February seems so long ago now. In that month the Prime Minister seemed to have pulled off the almost impossible task of uniting the Parliamentary Conservative Party on a sensible policy for leaving the EU properly, and the Parliamentary Labour Party had not completed its U-turn on “a customs union”. Further, the EU had declared at the end of 2017 that “sufficient progress” had been made to allow the negotiations to proceed.
How things can change in a couple of months!
In what amounts to a classic pincer movement, although I do not believe it was the result of an actual conspiracy, the EU and the UK Remoaners have sought, in their different ways, to force the UK to remain in its wretched Customs Union even after it has been released from the Treaties.
The fact that this has been allowed to happen is a sad reflection on the performance of the UK team, although admittedly the unelected dinosaurs of the House of Lords are beyond its control. Fortunately, that House has had no actual power since 1911, but that does not stop them doing all they can to throw spanners into the works when they want to.
Dealing first with the Irish Border, what started as an easy deal clincher for the UK has been successfully transformed by the EU into an instrument of blackmail by both the EU and the UK Remoaners. Michel Barrier, as I now call him, is a bright chap, and rather more than a year ago correctly identified the Irish Border as a deadly trap for the EU. He sought to defuse it by saying that Eire could not be used as a “test case”, but in so saying he was clutching at straws that did not exist; even he could not claim that Eire was not “one of the 27”.
The background to all this is that absolutely everybody knows that the best outcome for everybody is that the current free trade arrangements simply continue after the UK is released from the Treaties. Michel Barrier is not allowed to admit this, because the EU is determined to punish the UK for leaving the EU, pour encourager les autres.
This obstinacy gives the UK Remoaners a handle on which to base whatever machinations they think might be in their political interests.
The UK could have told Michel Barrier that the Irish Border would remain unchanged, as everyone wants, after the UK is released from the Treaties, and as Eire is in the EU, that meant that free trade between the whole EU and the UK would likewise remain unchanged. Sadly, they did not do this and look where we are now.
Fortunately, the mechanics of the situation remain basically favourable, provided only that the ECA 1972 is repealed before the UK is released from the Treaties. That statute now serves no useful purpose whatsoever and should be repealed as soon as possible. While it remains on the statute book it is an unnecessary trap, as if it were still law at the “Brexit Moment”, it would immediately replace all those Treaties straight back into UK law!
The UK Government should, therefore, take steps immediately to repeal the ECA 1972, in the simplest and fastest way that the Parliamentary rules permit.
The only other thing that needs to be done is to make statutory provision for the immediate and automatic reinstatement of all EU Regulations into UK law after the UK is released from the Treaties. If this is not done, they will all vanish at that moment, which is something the hardest UK Remoaner would not want at all. The UK government would be pushing at an open door with that one.
So, back to Article 50. Pursuant thereto, if a Withdrawal Agreement is reached and approved by the European Parliament before 11.00 p.m. on 29 March 2019, then on that approval the UK is released from the Treaties of the EU. If there has been no such approval by that time, then at that time the UK is released from the Treaties of the EU. Either way, deal or no deal, the result is the same.
If there is no deal, the EU does not get any “divorce payment”; Michel Barrier must be reminded repeatedly of this very important fact. More crucially, he must be reminded of the reason why I now so refer to him, because he is the only one threatening barriers; he must be forced to say exactly what barriers he wants to impose, as part of any agreed settlement.
If there is no deal, then, of course, the UK will be free of the Customs Union and all the other antiquated paraphernalia of the EU. With a few virtually imperceptible technical tweaks, the Irish Border would remain unchanged. No divorce bill will be paid and German car manufactures will have to add WTO tariffs to their exports to the UK. That would be most satisfactory for the UK, though not ideal.
The UK thus really does hold all the cards in the Brexit talks, but it does not seem to realise this. For Heaven’s sake, get a grip on it chaps!