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Worst negotiation since the Faust/Devil deal


I’ve read the EU's UK Withdrawal Agreement. 

The first thing that struck me was that it seemed to be the document that the EU might have drawn up before negotiations started - a kind of EU, ‘have our cake and eat it’ wish-list.  There’s an almost complete absence of reciprocity.  It’s all about how to ensure the EU loses as little as possible of the benefits they derive from the UK’s membership, despite the fact that we will no longer be a member. There is no balance in the allocation of rights and responsibilities and almost nothing about what the UK might gain.

Now, if the withdrawal agreement is to be seen as the terms dictated by the EU to a member who has seriously let the side down and is lucky not to have been cast utterly into the wilderness, it makes sense.  But if it is an attempt to set out fair and reasonable terms on which we leave the club, it is deeply insulting. 

It has been estimated that over the years we have made a net contribution of £180 billion (£180,000,000,000) to the EU.  Throughout that period the EU has pursued its ambition of ever closer union, with the formation of a European super-state as its ultimate goal. Given that the UK has never wanted to be a part of a European super-state, we have persistently tried to persuade the EU to follow a different path. David Cameron’s pre-referendum effort to persuade the EU to change course (to concentrate more on economic competitiveness rather than on political union) was just the most recent example of our failed attempts.  Despite these failures and the EU’s determination to pursue ‘ever closer union’, we have continued to finance the development and expansion of the EU.

Fair enough!  Although we weren’t told it when we joined the EU, ever closer union was in the Treaty of Rome, so we shouldn’t be surprised there is now a single currency in most of the EU and that there is talk of forming an effective EU army.

But equally, the EU shouldn’t be surprised that, albeit belatedly, the UK has said “Enough is enough!”.

Given this history of our relations with the EU, you might think the EU would view our departure with regret (which they do) and show the UK some gratitude and respect for our very substantial contribution (which they aren’t). And, if they don’t show some gratitude and respect, we should demand it.  After all, as one of the main net contributors, we’ve paid for much of the EU.

So how have we ended up with the entirely one-sided Withdrawal Agreement, that leaves the UK still paying vast sums of money to the EU for an indeterminate period, but now without any say in  EU laws and directives, despite still being indefinitely subject to many of them - and, worst of all, unable to leave the EU completely without the EU's permission, however onerous the conditions that the EU imposes on us?

Well, let’s be honest.  The negotiations have been almost unbelievably mishandled.  Any half-competent negotiator would have refused the EU’s demand that we agreed the terms of withdrawal before we discussed our future relationship with the EU.  We should have said that, following the referendum, the EU must now see and deal with the UK as an independent country, an independent country that is the fifth or sixth biggest economy in the world and already a major trading partner of the EU.  We should have said we will be leaving in March 2019, if need be on WTO terms, but that our door is open for discussion about a free trade agreement. 

We should have added that, of course, there is also a need to sort out the terms and mechanics of our departure but these should form a relatively minor issue in determining something much more important - our future relationship with the EU.

That’s what we should have done, but we didn’t.  Instead, we have allowed the EU to dictate the terms of our withdrawal, as though we were ashamed of our decision to leave.  Having read the withdrawal agreement, I have to wonder what our negotiating team has been doing over the last 18 months.  Whatever it is, there is little evidence of it in the Withdrawal Agreement.

What should we do now?  First we must not accept the Withdrawal Agreement.  While we are a member of the EU, there is a mechanism for leaving. If we sign the Withdrawal Agreement, it will have the status of a treaty which means there is no way out without the agreement of the EU. In other words, in this and many other ways, the Withdrawal Agreement is far worse than being a member of the EU (which, given the EU’s wish to keep us as a member, is no surprise).

Secondly, we should go back to the EU and say that since we cannot accept the withdrawal agreement, as things stand, we will be leaving the EU on WTO terms on 29th March next year.  However, given the dislocation of trade this will cause to both parties, we would like a one year postponement of our departure, on the understanding that we and the EU spend that year making every effort to negotiate a free trade agreement. If the EU refuses to allow a one year extension of the current arrangements or to discuss a free trade deal, we have to be prepared to leave on WTO terms.  We should also make it clear that there should be a review of any estimate of what we should pay on leaving the EU, and that estimate should be based on what we are legally obliged to pay (I believe that is nothing) and how much, out of the UK’s goodwill, we are prepared to contribute (which will depend on how reasonable the EU is during the proposed trade negotiations).

Yes, it’s a mess. And the mess is largely the fault of the UK Government by embarking on a failed, sycophantic negotiating strategy. Let me be frank.  In promoting the Withdrawal Agreement, Teresa May is peddling half-truths in order to fool the public, desperate for a resolution of the situation, into accepting an appallingly flawed deal.

She should be ashamed of herself. And she must not succeed.

2018 12 21


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