Director of the Better Off Out campaign, Rory Broomfield, writes:
Last week, the EU released their draft negotiation framework that they wished to conduct the UK-EU article 50 negotiations through. Many measures were unacceptable and the UK should not kowtow to them.
The headline grabber was that the EU wanted to make Gibraltar a bargaining chip in the negotiations. This is wholly unacceptable and should not be allowed to remain in the framework. It undermines the UK’s sovereignty, the principle of self-determination and effectively gives Spain a veto over whether there is a deal or not.
Nonetheless, the framework illustrates two things:
- The EU is looking to “play hard” with the negotiations – demanding things that are impossible to include in the deal as leverage elsewhere;
- The EU is trying to trick the UK into accepting other, maybe less (but still) ridiculous demands, in place of them dropping the outright absurd demands made.
There are (at least) five other demands that will also pose an issue going forward with the EU’s draft plan.
The first is the so-called “divorce-bill”. Point number 10 in the EU’s plan says that there should be “a single financial settlement that should ensure that the Union and the United Kingdom both respect the obligations undertaken before the date of withdrawal”.
Effectively, it’s saying that the UK should cough up billions of pounds for a political union it does not wish to remain in.
John Redwood MP has addressed this point very elegantly in his Comment Central article earlier this week. He said: “We are proposing that the UK continues to share its Intelligence with them, and to contribute to European defence and security initiatives and commitments.
“We are proposing that the UK develops several friendly collaborations and partnerships in science, education, joint investments and the rest.”
This seems like the right approach for the UK government to take. The UK has got many things that the EU does not have and wants. The government should act accordingly in coming to a settlement that allows partnership to continue, but only to fund things that the UK wishes to continue its partnership within (the Erasmus programme, for example).
The second issue concerns the timing of the negotiations. In the EU’s draft document, they suggest that “[T]he European Council will monitor progress closely and determine when sufficient progress has been achieved to allow negotiations to proceed to the next phase”.
I suppose it is the nature of the European Council to have some influence over this, as they are a counter-party in the negotiations, but to freeze the UK out of having any say over how the negotiation progresses is to completely seize control over the negotiations. A lot will be determined by the agenda order, however, it is unacceptable for issues such as trade to be sidelined for issues of comparatively minor budgetary concerns (for example).
Thirdly, the EU does not want the UK to address certain issues bilaterally. This is despite wanting to give Spain an effective veto over the UK and Gibraltar.
In the draft text, it says: “there will be no separate negotiations between individual Member States and the United Kingdom”.
This begs the question: when does discussions over Article 50 become discussions over general diplomacy and international relations? A liberal reading / interpretation of this passage within the agreement suggests that the UK would be restricted in discussing unrelated to trade with other EU Member States, which the EU has no right in dictating.
The fourth issue concerns how the trade talks work. The EU draft agreement reads: “Preserving the integrity of the Single Market excludes participation based on a sector-by-sector approach. A non-member of the Union, that does not live up to the same obligations as a member, cannot have the same rights and enjoy the same benefits as a member.”
In essence, this suggests that the UK cannot do sector-by-sector deals but it also suggests that the UK would not be able to have zero-tariff access to goods, services and capital coming from and going to the EU. This is bonkers – especially for the EU. Given the circa £63 billion annualised deficit that the EU has with the UK, if it does not want Spanish, French and Polish farmers to sell their goods in the UK tariff free then this would help achieve it. And, by looking to prevent sector-by-sector zero tariffs, what does this mean for the German car industry and their exports to the UK if a deal is not done that includes the automotive industry? The UK is the largest and most profitable export market for the German car industry. To potentially disrupt this is beyond belief.
My fifth issue with this draft is the biggest: the EU’s desire to harmonise UK regulations post Brexit.
The text of the document clearly states in point 19 that “[Any free trade agreement] must ensure a level playing field in terms of competition and state-aid, and must encompass safeguards against unfair competitive advantages”.
This is ridiculous and is, in effect, an attempt to ensure that the UK becomes harmonised to European Court and Commission decisions, even after the UK leaves them.
To stipulate that any deal is contingent on the UK not using its competitive advantage is completely unacceptable. The UK is a sovereign state and should be able to act independently after it leaves the EU. To tie the UK to the EU in such a manner in matters of trade would undermine the UK’s position in the world for years to come.
The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, is meeting Prime Minister Theresa May this week to discuss the draft framework. I sincerely hope that she and others raise their concerns on these and many other issues with the draft negotiations laid out by the European Council.
The EU has shown already that it isn’t above trying to trick the UK into tying itself to unacceptable demands. It has illustrated that they are not above playing hardball with the negotiations.
In response, the UK should call the EU’s bluff. We should be prepared to walk away if these demands are not dropped. After we leave the EU, the UK should be free to make its own decisions and represent its own interests domestically, on the world stage and towards the EU. Anything less would be a betrayal of the British people.