Chris Thorne: The perfect green Brexit dividend – properly protected seas

13 Apr

Chris Thorne is an Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace UK. This is a sponsored post by Greenpeace UK.

Brexit is done, and the UK is now stepping out into the world on its own two feet. Brexit has divided opinions, no doubt, but the UK has left the European Union so we need to seize the opportunities presented to us to make Brexit a success.

Perhaps the biggest opportunity presented to us by Brexit is the chance to become a true world leader in protecting our seas.

For too long now, we have allowed the waters which surround our islands to be degraded by industrial fishing. This in large part was down to our membership of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, which made it challenging for the UK to implement stronger restrictions on industrial fishing in our seas, whether vessels hailed from the UK or the EU.

Supertrawlers, vast floating fish factories, regularly stalk our seas, hoovering up unimaginably vast quantities of fish with nets up to a mile long. No supertrawlers are UK owned. Bottom trawlers from the UK and EU rip up protected seabed habitats, undermining the entire marine ecosystem and indiscriminately killing marine life.

Bottom trawling also releases significant quantities of carbon that had been stored in seabed sediments, with a recent study in Nature finding that annually, emissions from bottom trawling are equivalent to emissions from the entire aviation industry. The UK has the fourth highest emissions from bottom trawling globally.

This degradation of our oceans by industrial fishing has serious consequences, not only for the marine environment, but also for our climate and, perhaps most importantly, for our fishing communities.

Simply put, if we allow high intensity industrial fishing to continue throughout our seas unchecked, it will become ever more difficult for our fishers to make a living from fishing. This isn’t Greenpeace sensationalism, this is the scientific consensus.

UK fishers today have to work 17 times as hard for the same size catches as 120 years ago because of industrial overfishing. Two thirds of the UK’s key fish stocks are overfished and severely depletedNorth Sea cod has lost its MSC certification because of dangerous stock declinesBritish mackerel lost its sustainable status in 2019 after overfishing pushed stocks to the brink of collapse. The list could go on and on.

This will have serious repercussions for our already struggling coastal communities. More and more fishing jobs will be lost, our fishing communities will be gutted, and for many of these communities, there will be no coming back.

Thankfully, there is a ready-made solution to hand, and one which this Conservative government has been instrumental in setting up – the UK’s network of Marine Protected Areas.

Set up over the last decade, the network covers more than 30 per cent of waters around the UK including many of our most sensitive and important marine areas such as reefs, seagrass meadows and kelp forests.

This sounds great, but there’s a catch…

The vast majority of these so-called protected areas at sea, particularly those in offshore waters, have no protections in place against the worst forms of industrial fishing. Supertrawlers and bottom trawlers are allowed to operate in these supposedly protected places with impunity, devastating fish stocks and damaging sensitive seabed habitats which underpin the marine ecosystem, releasing vast quantities of carbon from the seabed.

For example, 97 per cent of the offshore UK protected areas set up specifically to protect the seabed are still subject to bottom trawling. This method of fishing, which involves dragging heavy fishing gear along the seabed, is no different to a bulldozer ploughing through a protected forest on land. It degrades habitats, results in large quantities of bycatch and perhaps most concerningly, disturbs vital blue carbon stores on the seabed.

Supertrawlers can also be found in our protected areas. These high intensity fishing vessels are the largest on earth. They have freezer processor facilities on board, allowing them to stay at sea for weeks or months at a time, catching and processing hundreds of tonnes of fish in a day until their holds are filled with thousands of tonnes of fish. This harms the long-term health of fish stocks and has wider impacts on the marine ecosystem.

Most people would agree that these forms of destructive fishing have no place in areas that are supposed to be protected. However, our investigations have revealed that supertrawlers have doubled their fishing time in UK protected areas year on year since 2016, when the UK voted for Brexit, and earlier in 2021 it was revealed that in 2019 bottom trawlers spent hundreds of thousands of hours fishing in UK protected areas.

It seems that the Government agrees that bottom trawling is not compatible with our Marine Protected Areas, judging by its proposals to close the entire Dogger Bank Special Area of Conservation to bottom trawling, along with one other protected area. This signals that it recognises the problem, and we hope this is the Government’s first step towards turning our network of Marine Protected Areas into a genuinely world-leading conservation programme. However, there’s still a long way to go.

In many ways, the hard bit is already done. The UK has already designated over 30 per cent of our seas as protected, now all it needs to do is step up and properly look after each protected area, beginning with restricting the most destructive fishing operations inside them.

This will protect habitats, boost fish populations and revive coastal communities as fish populations become larger and more healthy, leading to bigger catches for our fishers. It will help keep carbon stored away safely in deep sea blue carbon stores, and it can provide the UK with an almost immediate Brexit win which will deliver real environmental protection.

In a year when the UK is hosting the G7 and the vital Glasgow climate summit, we should be presenting to the world a positive vision of global Britain as a world leader in environmental protection. What better way of doing this than properly protecting our seas?

Britain’s music industry, the EU, the UK – and an early entry for Frost’s inbox

2 Mar

Some post-Brexit barriers to business between the UK and the EU are a consequence of both parties failing to clinch an agreement that one or the other or both already have with third parties – in which the loser is the industry concerned, on both sides of the channel.

Others are a product of our own bureaucracy: of government being ponderous when it might be nimble in offering advice and support.

And others still are simply a product of Brexit as we agreed it, which brings with it friction in trade with the EU, which in turn can be minimised but not eliminated.

The continuing row over the access of British musicians to the EU and EU musicians to Britain offers examples of all three.

In the first category, we have visas.  Some EU states will allow our musicians to visit without a visa for up to 90 days and other won’t.  That isn’t a problem for other third party states, such as St Lucia, Tonga or those which make up the United Arab Emirates, because they have a bileteral deal with the EU that waives the requirement.

In the second, there is VAT. UK exporters of physically recorded music and merchandise must go from paying no VAT to negotiating 27 different EU VAT systems to dealing with a single EU VAT system during this current year.  This is a classic instance of the businesses concerned needing more advice from the government as it seeks to navigate two systems within twelve months.

Finally, there will be more bureaucracy, admin and paperwork – even if the UK and the EU can sort that visa issue, and others that could reasonably be settled (such as carnets, for which there may already be an exemption for portable musical instruments taken into the EU for professional purposes).

That last category is integral to leaving the Single Market and Customs Union – which is outweighed, to some Brexiteers, by the regaining of national independence and, to others, by the gains that come from being outside the EU system and willing to act on it.  Our vaccine success alone could be worth “more than the most pessimistic assumptions about the economic damage of Brexit,” according to Jethro Elsden of the Centre for Policy Studies.

(Northern Ireland, of course, remains in the Single Market for goods and, in key respects, in the Customs Union too for practical purposes.)

Why the difficulty over negotiating a deal on visa waivers or work permits?  Because musicians are caught up in a wider issue of which their story is part: freedom of movement.

To cut a long story short, the EU made a public offer on the issue, which had wider implications for free movement, and the UK made a private one, that did not.

The former would have applied not only to musicians but to other workers and travellers, as Free Movement confirms.  But, for many people who backed Brexit, ending it was integral to the exercise.

Our proprietor’s EU referendum day poll of over 12,000 people found that a third of those who voted Leave said the main reason was that leaving “offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders.”

Meanwhile, Oliver Dowden says that “the reason why we rejected the offer from the European Union was that it wasn’t binding, it didn’t cover touring, it didn’t cover technical support staff, and crucially, it didn’t cover work permits.”

This continuing impasse is an early bidder for entry near the top of David Frost’s inbox as he begins only his second day as a member of the Cabinet – though if the free movement obstacle remains immovable, there will be little he can wring out of the EU.

However, Frost knows the ropes, having led the negotiation on the trade deal himself, and is so is well-placed to knock on the doors of individual member states, into whose hands most of these matters fall in the absence of an EU-wide agreement.

UK Music argues that “fishing is of course an important British industry, contributing £446 million to the UK economy in 2019 and employing 12,000 fishers”.

“But it pales in comparison with the UK music industry, which in the same year contributed £5.8 billion to the economy and supported 200,000 jobs.”

It is strange to think that there is more money in Peter Grimes, figuratively speaking, than there is in real fishing – even if because there is less than there might be because of the dispute.

There will be a £23 million fund for fisheries, and Music UK proposes, by way of parallel, a music exports office to help the sector cope with the increased bureaucracy.

Perhaps Rishi Sunak will make an offer tomorrow – after all, today’s papers are full of pre-briefing, as is way with modern Budgets, of £400 million more for theatres, museums, galleries and live music venues.

David Gauke: The UK, the EU, vaccines – and future relations. Here, jingoistic politicians. There, Trumpian ones. Bodes badly.

29 Jan

David Gauke is a former Justice Secretary, and was an independent candidate in South-West Hertfordshire at the recent general election.

Will the new, post-Brexit relationship between the UK and the EU run smoothly? Will the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) provide a foundation on which a closer relationship is constructed (albeit still much more distant than the one we had), or will it provide the means by which the UK diverges from the EU?

The first few weeks after the transition period have confirmed many of the predicted difficulties of a hard Brexit. Businesses have struggled with red tape and trade with the EU is much reduced.

Whatever the Prime Minister claimed, the TCA does not address non-tariff barriers in the same way as the Single Market, and the erection of trade barriers will have a long-term economic impact. Northern Ireland is adjusting to a border in the Irish Sea, and it must finally be occurring even to the DUP that campaigning for Brexit and against a deal that kept Northern Ireland and Great Britain closely aligned has not served the Union well.

Given the obvious problems of Brexit and that, by the time the transition period ended polls showed that a clear majority of the public thought the country had made a mistake in 2016 in voting to leave, one might expect that, over time, we would begin to move to a more collaborative relationship. The likelihood, however, is that we will go the other way.

There are a number of political reasons for this. Perhaps most importantly of all, the political imperative for the Conservative Party is to maintain the support of those Leave-voting Red Wallers who delivered the Prime Minister his majority.

This week saw the Conservative Group for Europe relaunched as the Conservative European Forum. The CEF’s Chairman, David Lidington, delivered a characteristically thoughtful, well-informed and pragmatic speech setting the case for building a constructive relationship with the EU.

I hope the Government follows his advice, but I fear it won’t. If the Government’s approach to the EU is thoughtful, pragmatic and constructive, this is not going to get the patriotic juices of Workington Man flowing. There needs to be rows, conflicts and Brussels-bashing from Boris Johnson whilst portraying Labour as the party of ‘rejoiners’. ‘Keep Brexit Done’ will be something we could hear a lot in 2024.

To nullify this risk, there is every sign that Keir Starmer will want the next general election to be about almost anything other than the EU. The most straightforward way for Labour to win more seats is to win back the Brexit-voting Red Wall.

The absence of much opposition from Labour to a hard Brexit position might create an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to articulate a pro-European one that will cut through to the public. But betting on a Lib Dem revival has not proved to be a profitable pursuit in recent years. In any event, pro-European votes have tended to be split amongst many parties and heavily concentrated in safe seats whilst Brexit votes are most efficiently distributed and, as long as Nigel Farage can be kept at bay, will vote Conservative.

The upshot of all this is that even, if the public continues to become more pro-European in the way that it has in the last five years (largely because of demography), the chances of an explicitly pro-European Government being elected in 2024 remain slim.

Nor should we discount the possibility that UK opinion becomes more hostile towards the EU in future. Even the day-to-day negotiations with the EU which we are now condemned to – endlessly having to make judgements as to how we balance ‘sovereignty’ with access to our most important market – can have a deleterious impact on how the EU is seen.

A bigger trading partner willing to leverage its strong negotiating position to protect its interests can be an unlovely sight, as the Swiss discovered after narrowly rejecting EU membership in 1992, since when support for joining the EU has fallen sharply.

Within weeks of the transition period coming to an end, we have faced more than the day-to-day challenges. The row between the European Commission and AstraZeneca is turning into a crisis that could have very serious implications for UK/EU relations.

Even before the recent difficulties with the AZ supplies, plenty of Brexit supporters were claiming that the UK’s success in rolling out the vaccine is a vindication of our departure from the EU. The reality is that at the relevant time, we were still required to comply with EU rules and everything we did on vaccines we could have done as EU members. Nonetheless, it is true to say that in these particular circumstances, going it alone has served us well. It is not surprising some are describing this as a benefit of Brexit.

The case, however, needs to be made that what worked in the very specific circumstances of finding vaccines in a pandemic applies elsewhere. It is not obvious that there is a read across from our approach to vaccines to other challenges we will face, not least because we are not yet capable of cloning Kate Bingham.

Not every decision that this country has taken during the pandemic has been quite so world-beating, and there is also a risk that we learn the wrong lessons from the vaccine issue and, in the pursuit of self-sufficiency in a whole host of areas, become increasingly protectionist.

But the immediate danger of protectionism comes from the EU in its export controls on vaccines. Understandably, EU citizens are concerned about the slow rollout of the vaccine and the response of the European Commission has been to panic, lash out and distract.

The news that AstraZeneca is unable to deliver the number of doses hoped for has resulted in demands that it diverts the product committed to the UK. Notwithstanding the statements made by EU Commissioners, the publication of the agreement between the EU and AZ reveals that the contractual basis of such demands is, at the very least, questionable.

So its next step is to control exports to the UK. Yesterday, this even involved triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol enabling the EU to block exports from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland.  This is supposed to be a “last resort” mechanism, but its use was premature, provocative and sets a precedent that will be cited by those unwilling to accept the consequences of the Protocol.  The Commission has now seen sense and backed off.

There is an argument that, if the EU is throwing its weight around in order to prioritise the interests of the citizens of member states, this suggests that it is a good idea to be a member state. However, it is an unattractive argument that is, at best, ‘right but repulsive’.

Medicine supplies rely on internationalism and interdependence, and vaccine nationalism will mean that we all end up as losers. The UK’s response to the strident language coming out of the EU has been strikingly mature and measured. On this issue, at least, it has wisely sought to de-escalate tensions.

Let us hope that this is what happens, that the behaviour of the EU is performative and that the practical implications of yesterday’s announcement are limited. But it might not be.

The fundamentals of the UK’s need for a constructive relationship with the EU have not changed. It was not in our national interest to leave the EU; it is in our interests to create a new, special relationship. Such an outcome is not inevitable but the Trumpian behaviour of the EU in recent days makes that task all the harder.

Stephen Booth: This trade deal delivers both the UK and the EU’s main objectives. It gives us freedom – which comes at a price.

29 Dec

Stephen Booth is Head of the Britain in the World Project at Policy Exchange.

Much of the analysis of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement will flow from underlying prejudices. “The UK shouldn’t have left”, “we don’t need a trade deal with the EU”, “the UK should have or could have asked for X or Y”. It is, however, more instructive to assess the deal against the Government’s stated aims and, for that matter, what the EU said it wanted.

Brexit will have economic and geopolitical consequences. But, ultimately, it is a constitutional question for both Brexiteers and Brussels. In the foreword to the UK explainer, the Prime Minister cites “restoring national sovereignty” as the “central purpose of leaving the EU”.

Meanwhile, the EU’s brochure is quick to stress that, even under the new agreement, the UK will lose the benefits of membership. “This will recreate barriers to trade in goods and services and to cross-border mobility and exchanges that have not existed for decades,” it says. In other words, freedom comes at a price.

The past year of negotiations has not simply been an exercise in haggling over the price of UK legal independence from the EU system. At times, it seemed Brussels was simply unwilling to recognise this principle as part of a negotiated settlement. The EU had initially demanded dynamic alignment with EU law, enforced via the European Court of Justice (ECJ). And it demanded a continuation of existing EU fishing rights in UK waters, despite the UK’s departure from the Common Fisheries Policy.

A Brexit government with a significant majority could not have accepted such a deal. Nonetheless, convincing the EU to conclude a deal that does recognise the UK as a “sovereign equal” is a significant achievement for the negotiating team led by David Frost. The agreement is based on international law, there is no role for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and no requirement for the UK to continue following EU law. Under the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol, ECJ jurisprudence will continue over some issues in the province. Despite this, there has been a calming of Northern Irish tensions over the issue.

As has been noted before, this negotiation was unique, since it was driven by the desire for separation rather than integration. Therefore, any agreement essentially had to do two things. First, establish the new baseline for the UK-EU economic relationship (or the degree of dislocation) and, second, address how further divergence (or convergence) in the future should be managed.

The deal’s main feature is ensuring there are no tariffs or quotas on goods traded between the UK and the EU, where they meet the relevant rules of origin. This is significant because it is the first time that the EU has agreed a zero-tariff, zero-quota deal with any other trading partner (for example, the EU retains a small number of tariffs on Canadian agricultural exports). Certainly, businesses would have liked more time to adjust to the new relationship, but the deal provides important stability for the sectors most vulnerable to a no deal Brexit, such as agriculture, automotive, aerospace and chemicals.

The UK has secured some simplifications for customs formalities and important provisions for haulage, but there will be new frictions on UK-EU trade. For example, the EU refused to reduce the frequency of checks on food imports and has insisted that some products be certified by EU rather than UK testing bodies. The provisions on services are limited. The cost of doing business with the EU will be increased as a result.

There are several issues that could evolve in future. UK professional qualifications will not be recognised at the outset, but there is a mechanism to do so in the future. Arrangements for personal data and financial services remain dependent on unilateral EU decisions, due to be taken next year, which might provide a basis for further cooperation.

On fishing, a delicate balance has been struck. 25 per cent of EU boats’ fishing quota in UK waters by value will be transferred to the UK fleet, over a period of five-and-a-half years. The Government says this will bring the share of the total catch taken in UK waters by UK vessels to around two thirds. After this period, there will be annual talks on the amount EU boats can catch in UK waters (and vice versa). The UK would then have the right to completely withdraw EU access to UK waters. However, in response, the EU could impose tariffs on fish or other goods exports from the UK. These measures would need to be proportionate to the impact of the loss of access and are subject to arbitration. This means that the annual negotiations from 2026 could yet become a difficult political battleground.

The UK probably gave a little more than it would have liked to. However, the amount of fish caught in UK waters by UK vessels will increase, the UK has maintained tariff- and quota-free access to the EU market where much of the UK catch is sold, and the agreement establishes the principle of the UK’s status as an independent coastal state. It is undoubtedly an improvement on the status quo and, at this point, it is not clear the UK has the capacity to catch all the fish available.

The other major contentious issue throughout the negotiations has been the level-playing field. The agreement is a reasonable solution to satisfy the UK’s demand for regulatory independence and address the EU’s concern that future divergence may result in distortions to trade or investment.

The UK has agreed not to lower its existing standards on employment and the environment or use subsidies to unfairly distort trade. Both sides would also have the right to take countermeasures, such as imposing tariffs, if they believe they are being damaged by future changes to subsidy policy, labour and social policy, or climate and environment policy. As such, any dispute would only concern the effects of any changes to UK legislation, rather than whether UK rules are exactly the same as the EU’s.

This “rebalancing mechanism” has the potential to get messy if it is used frequently. However, crucially, any countermeasures are subject to independent arbitration, which means there would need to be solid justification for any EU tariffs in response to UK divergence. Tariffs cannot be used arbitrarily by the EU for leverage over the UK in the future. Ultimately, a race to the bottom on standards was always likely to be a bigger EU concern in theory than in practice. The reality is that the UK is likely to be equally as ambitious as the EU in many of these areas, such as climate change or animal welfare commitments, and perhaps more so.

In summary, this agreement is a considerable political achievement, because it manages to combine independence from the EU’s regulatory system with a high degree of market access (relative to comparable trade agreements, rather than EU membership). At times, this appeared impossible and, therefore, the UK’s strategy has been vindicated.

The deal recognises that the UK-EU relationship will continue to evolve. There could be future disputes but the deal is likely to provide stability for the next five to ten years when the world will no doubt be different again.

It is equally important that the country can move on and devote its energies to the future, both with regards to domestic policy and international relationships beyond Europe.

This is the first of a new series of pieces by Policy Exchange for Conservative Home looking at the various issues that arise from the Brexit trade deal.

Why fishing has always been a bigger part of Brexit than its cash value would suggest

22 Dec

This morning’s media reports suggested that the Government was inching towards a compromising on fishing which might finally ‘unlock’ the negotiations with the European Union and avoid a no-deal Brexit in January.

According to Raoul Ruparel, a former special advisor at the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU), this involved rowing back on the scale of the reduction in the fishing quote they’re seeking, the implementation of a ‘transition period’, and setting up an ‘independent arbitration panel’, as well as a break clause.

Whilst this does involve a climbdown on Boris Johnson’s part, Ruparel suggests it would still be a good deal for the British fishing industry, increasing their share of the catch in UK waters by a share “worth between €140m-€200m” whilst also protecting the ~€100m worth British vessels currently catch in EU waters: in all “a significant gain in the value of fish caught by UK vessels and indeed no loss from now”. Which might be why this afternoon’s media reports brought word that Brussels had rejected it.

There may yet be a breakthrough. Both sides are under pressure to compromise, the Times reports, over fears that the entire free trade agreement is being jeopardised by a dispute over something worth less than €100 million. But as it stands the Government may well choose a no-deal exit rather than back down. Why?

Certainly there is no shortage of British commentators vocally baffled by the weight that the Prime Minister has given to fishing in the negotiations, and keen to point out that the industry’s contribution to the national economy is less than that of individual companies such as Harrods or Games Workshop. But it’s easy to take a high-minded view about that’s best for the economy overall when you live in a region or work in a sector that’s feeling the benefits.

Like mining a generation before, fishing has become totemic because its fate captures how certain communities have been ‘left behind’, as Johnson might put it, by the direction of UK economic policy during our EU membership. The rejoinder to the smart-alec statistics is that the small size of today’s industry is not lost on Brexit-backing coastal communities: but it is viewed as a problem, not just a fact.

And just as the referendum itself gave a section of the British public a rare and very unwelcome taste of being on the losing side, so too has the Government’s emphasis on fish been an overdue induction into how it feels when national policy is set by someone else’s priorities.

(There is also a wearisome double-standard at work when the very people who decried ministers’ preparedness to ‘break international law’ via the UK Internal Market Bill also decry their plans to uphold international law by policing British fishing waters in the event of no deal.)

From the moment Bob Geldof flipped v-signs at fishermen on the Thames, if not before, this issue became a bigger part of Brexit than its cash value would suggest. Johnson surely knows that getting a good deal for coastal communities – not least in Scotland – is an acid test not just for them, but for a substantial share of the new electoral coalition he’s built on the expectation that Brexit signalled a shift in the nation’s priorities.

John Redwood: Why we would be better off with No Deal

14 Dec

Sir John Redwood is MP for Wokingham, and is a former Secretary of State for Wales.

No Deal would be a good outcome for the UK. It would mean that we take back control of our borders, our money, our laws and our fish, as promised by the Leave campaign. The deals on offer from the EU fall well short of improving on No Deal.

It wants to continue overfishing our seas with its huge industrial trawlers. It wants to control our law making in all areas related in any way to business and trade. It wants its court to adjudicate disputes between us – in a clear violation of usual international practice, in which an impartial arbitrator is used, or the two sides need to argue matters through to agreement. Its every word and action signals that it does not wish to accept the fact that we have voted to be an independent country, and intend to be one.

When Theresa May with senior civil servants foolishly sought to recreate many of the features of our EU membership under the cover of a so-called comprehensive partnership, the EU made it impossible for her. If we just wanted a free trade agreement like Canada or Japan, that seemed to be on offer.

Once a new UK government offered to do just, that the EU decided to impede and prevent it, and to pretend the UK still really wanted special access to the Single Market which in turn required subservience to its laws.

There was little good faith in trying to implement the Political Agreement by the EU, given that it said that a free trade agreement would lie at the heart of a new relationship between the EU and the UK. The EU has always behaved with discipline and severity in its negotiating stance, assuming that it can have its cake and eat it. It has repeated its mantra that you cannot have access to the Single Market without accepting many limitations on your freedoms.

This of course is simply not true for the rest of the world, which trades with the EU without having to obey its laws. In every other case, the EU accepts mutual respect for World Trade Organisation rules. The EU as a member of the WTO accepts its disputes resolution. The EU has a history of some violations of WTO rules with penalties – as with subsidies to Airbus.

I was asked to give many speeches during the EU referendum campaign to business audiences. I always said No Deal was the only outcome we could guarantee. It was an outcome which would give a good answer for the UK, achieving all our aims to be independent. On the past economic evidence, I expected a No Deal Brexit to offer us a small boost to GDP if we used the new freedoms well.

I used to go on to say it would be very easy – if there was political will – to add a free trade agreement on top of No deal, which would be beneficial to both sides. In most free trade deals, there are delays and problems with each side wishing to defend a tariff here and a non-tariff barrier there.

In the case of the UK and EU, we start from a position where there are no tariffs and no untowards barriers to goods trade, so it would just be a question of rolling over what we have.  I also sometimes added that some thought the EU would not behave well or want to do that.

In that event, surely it shows how right we are to leave if our EU neighbours, friends and allies behave in such a silly way towards us, to the point of hurting their own access to our own lucrative market. To the EU, the UK has indeed been Treasure Island. It has taken large payments from us in the form of our net contributions to the EU, and has ru a huge surplus on goods and food trade through tariff-free entry.

The Prime Minister has been clear and right in saying we will leave the Single Market and Customs Union. We want our own international trade policy, and will be a more powerful and consistent voice for freer trade than the EU. To do this, we need to have full control of all matters relating to trade and business.

The Single Market has been damaging to the UK overall. In our first decade in the Common Market, as it was then erroneously called, we lost half our motor manufacturing capacity as tariffs were removed. Over the years, we have seen the loss of most of our steel industry and aluminium output, serial damage to textile and ceramic manufacture, the mass closure of foundries and the break up and contraction of our chemical industry.  Our market share in temperate food production has fallen sharply, and we have gone from being a net exporter of fish to a shrunken industry, with consumers reliant on imports for much of our demand.

EU grants and subsidies have bid some business investment away from the UK. EU rules have often been based around the needs and methods of large-scale continental producers at the expense of our firms. The EU has failed to negotiate trade deals at all with two of our largest trading partners, the USA and China, and has not bothered about proper service sector access in other deals, despite the UK’s strong position in many service areas.

Our average growth rate was faster before entry into the Common Market post-war than during the years of Common market membership, which in turn was faster than our average growth rate in the years which followed 1992 and the so-called completion of the Single Market.

The UK establishment has never been willing to analyse the data and understand what was truly happening. It visited upon us the disaster of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, whose predictable impact caused a major recession at the very point there was meant to be a boost from completing the Single Market.

So how can now use our freedoms as we leave with No Deal, assuming there is no last-minute wish to be sensible by the EU and agree a free trade deal?   We should be up and running with tax cuts – at last, we can take VAT off all those green products from insulation to boiler controls the EU insists on.

We can lift tariffs from South African oranges and other tropical fruit and food that we cannot grow for ourselves. We should pursue our offer to the USA of removing EU retaliatory tariffs on its goods if it will drop their tariff on Scotch whisky, which was an unwelcome hit from an EU trade spat.

We should set up freeports and enterprise zones to marshal new investment and make more in the UK. We should reorient farm subsidies to slash the food miles, and grow more of our own salads, fruits,and vegetables. We should land more of our fish at home, and add fish processing to create meals and products that we want to eat or which we can export.

We should put in more electricity capacity, and end our growing dependence on imported EU power. As the Government encourages the planting of many more trees, we should ensure more sustainable forestry to cut the massive timber imports.

These are all good economic reasons to press for the No Deal Brexit. The best reason of all is to be free, living in an independent country. I want to help pass on a country that is self-governing – a beacon for democracy.  Brexit means taking back control of our laws, our borders and our money. That way we will be better governed. If any given government lets us down we can sack it, and get the answer we want from another. That is something we can never do as members of the  EU. They give us the laws and we do not control the government.

Matt Bevington: Barnier doesn’t need a new mandate to find compromises

9 Dec

Matt Bevington is public policy & foreign affairs analyst at the UK in a Changing Europe.

“The last round of talks finished with Michel Barnier waving around the declaration from last year. Does the Minister agree that he should wave it towards EU leaders and ask them to refine his mandate so that he has more chance of making a deal on state aid and fishing?” Nigel Mills MP, 16 June 2020

“Yes.” Michael Gove

Like many of the arguments around Brexit, those about the EU’s negotiating mandate never seem to go away. On December 8, Paul Goodman reported on this site that the idea was still floating around among Conservative MPs that the EU mandate needed to change to advance negotiations. If only Michel Barnier wasn’t so hamstrung by an unrealistic set of negotiating instructions, the argument goes, real progress could be made.

It is true that the EU mandate makes some demanding asks of the UK. On government subsidies, for instance, it says “The envisaged partnership should ensure the application of Union State aid rules to and in the United Kingdom.” In other words, EU rules on subsidies should apply in the UK in future and, by extension, the European Court of Justice would need to adjudicate those rules.

On fisheries, too, the EU mandate is uncompromising. It says, “the provisions on fisheries should uphold existing reciprocal access conditions, quota shares and the traditional activity of the Union fleet”. It argues that, basically, nothing should change when it comes to fish. EU boats should get the same access and quota as now.

On so-called level playing field issues, the EU mandate, again, demands EU rules be followed in future. It says, “the envisaged agreement should uphold common high standards, and corresponding high standards over time with Union standards as a reference point”. This would apply to a swathe of areas, including labour and environmental standards. The UK and EU would keep in lockstep on these issues over time according to how EU rules developed.

Looking at all this, you might reasonably conclude that such a mandate was incompatible with anything the UK could agree to. It could never agree to follow EU subsidy rules, accept the status quo for fish or promise to keep in lockstep with EU rules on level-playing field standards.

With negotiations now entering their tenth month, and seemingly little prospect of a solution on these issues, surely Barnier should go back to EU governments and ask for a more flexible mandate. Shouldn’t he?

Put simply, no. The fixation on the EU’s negotiating mandate is a red herring.

There are at least four reasons why. First, because it’s not necessary. EU negotiators have already moved away from the EU mandate in crucial areas. They are no longer demanding the UK follow EU state aid rules and they accept that the status quo on fish will not continue. That doesn’t mean these issues have been solved, but it shows that the mandate is far from gospel and plenty flexible already.

Second, because it’s not necessary. EU governments are the ones that gave Barnier his negotiating instructions and it is they who would sign off on any deal. They can decide to make compromises not foreseen in the mandate and even contradict it if they wish because they wrote it. EU governments are not about to sanction themselves for having accepted a deal on different terms to the original mandate.

Third, even if the EU were to try and draw up a new negotiating mandate now, it is such a complex process – involving 27 different governments, each with their own competing interests – there is simply no time to do so. These things take months of internal debate and discussion. Trying to do so mid-negotiation is a recipe for undoing lots of what has already been agreed and going backwards.

EU negotiators and member states are in constant contact at this stage in the talks anyway. If Barnier is not moving, it is because he is being told not to, not simply because of his interpretation of the mandate. Equally, if he is given the green light to move, he will, even if that goes against parts of his original mandate.

It is not completely unheard of for EU negotiating mandates to be changed. For instance, in the EU’s talks with the US, it adopted a new, more limited mandate in 2019 following the failure of the TTIP negotiations. This was because of “difficulties in negotiating mutually acceptable commitments in areas identified as priorities by the Union”, necessitating “a more limited agreement”. Note, though, that the EU did not change its mandate mid-negotiation with the US. It did so once those talks had failed to advance a much more limited agenda.

Fourth, given all that, the EU has no reason to want to change its mandate. Such a move would be tantamount recognition that the initial mandate was a mistake. That would weaken its position in negotiations. Part of the EU’s posture in these talks has been that it is monotonously consistent in its principles and demands. Changing this now would undermine that completely.

The UK itself would not dream of changing its formal negotiating objectives at such a crucial point in the talks. Why would the EU?

One of the reasons politicians in the UK may be so keen to focus on the EU mandate is partly the blame game. If talks fail, it can be pinned on the EU for not being flexible enough in its negotiating instructions. That would be the wrong conclusion.

Ultimately, the EU mandate does not prevent a deal being reached and does not need to be changed to do so. The same goes for the UK’s negotiating objectives. They are a guide for negotiations – and very important – but not a script. Indeed, the EU mandate has already been diverged from in fundamental ways, on state aid and fisheries. There would many explanations for no deal if it happened – either side’s negotiating objectives is not one of them.

How the EU must wish it had accepted May’s Chequers offer

9 Dec

Daniel Hannan is a writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

Liam Fox was right. The former trade secretary has been much mocked for his remark that a trade deal with the EU would be “one of the easiest in human history”. Two and a half years later, that deal has still not been done and, as I write, there is a real prospect that the talks will break down. Yet Fox’s reasoning was sound. The most difficult aspects of trade negotiations, in general, are the opening of markets and the recognition of each other’s standards. In this instance, neither issue arises. Britain and the EU already have access to each other’s markets and reciprocal standards. Every barrier would be a costly move away from the status quo. For once, the inertia bias pulls towards free trade.

So what is the problem? Why wasn’t a deal struck long ago? Well – and this is where Foxie was correct – it wasn’t because of differences over trade. The purely commercial aspects of the deal seem to have been agreed easily enough. The hold-up, as everyone knows, is over other matters, notably fisheries and what Brussels negotiators (and most British media) misleadingly call the “level playing field”.

Neither of these disputes is primarily economic. We keep being told that the fishing industry accounts for a tiny proportion of Britain’s GDP, but the same is true for the EU. More to the point, the only way in which EU trawlers would be wholly excluded from British waters is if there were no deal. A deal would mean a phased reduction in access for Continental vessels, but not a reduction to zero. Whatever the EU’s reasons for holding out on fisheries, concern for French skippers is plainly not one of them.

Similarly, when it comes to the level playing field, Brussels doesn’t truly fear that Britain will abolish the minimum wage, scrap its environmental rules or subsidise its industries with a view to hostile dumping. British social and employment standards are higher than the EU’s requirements, its green targets more ambitious and its levels of state aid lower.

No, in both cases, the issue is emotional rather than economic. Eurocrats are still affronted by the 2016 referendum result. A few explicitly want Britain to suffer, even if that means that the 27 suffer, too. Even those who, rationally, accept that the best way to maximise their own prosperity is to have a free and open trading relationship with their biggest market sometimes struggle, psychologically, to follow that logic all the way through. Hence all their snide remarks and passive-aggressive tweets.

Britain’s other trade talks – first with Japan, Australia and New Zealand, then with the United States, then with India, Mercosur and the Gulf states – have been premised on the idea that both sides want to maximise their prosperity. We recently agreed a deal with Switzerland which covers pretty much the same ground as the EU talks. Foxite in its simplicity, it largely involved the two sides agreeing to leave things as they were. Indeed, the main complicating factor was EU pressure on Switzerland not to agree to too much.

Why, then, do Brussels negotiators talk of “granting” tariff-free access as if trade were an act of kindness? Because, in truth, they have not come to terms with Brexit. The EU thinks of itself as a modern empire (see speeches by José Manuel Barroso, Guy Verhofstadt et al) and its attitude to Britain is that of a metropolitan power toward a renegade province. They find it hard to let go. They want some remaining emblems of suzerainty.

We British should understand. We have, from time to time, found ourselves in the EU’s shoes. When the bulk of Ireland broke away, for example, London struggled to reconcile itself to the notion that it there was now a truly independent country next door. It imposed all sorts of conditions on the new state, including an oath of allegiance to the Crown, the continuing use of three Irish ports and a guarantee that the Anglo-Irish Treaty would have legal precedence over measures adopted by the Irish parliament.

In truth, these measures were more decorative than functional. Ireland after 1921 was, in its essentials, an independent country; but another generation passed before it formally assumed the final attributes of sovereignty without British opposition.

Fisheries and the level playing field are, so to speak, the EU’s treaty ports and oath of allegiance – symbols that Britain is a semi-protectorate rather than with an equal sovereign power. While Eurocrats would no doubt phrase that sentence differently, the truth is that they see Britain as a rule-taking dependent, like Macedonia or Ukraine, rather than as a wholly independent nation.

The funny thing is that, when Theresa May offered them such a relationship at the 2018 Salzburg summit, they threw it back in her face. Perhaps, as reports suggested at the time, they were simply put off by her manner. Perhaps they were not prepared, on principle, to agree to anything proposed by the renegade province. Either way, they must now wish they had grabbed that deal.

Labour are divided over an EU deal, but no-deal Brexit would pose its own problem for Starmer

7 Dec

As the denouement of the EU negotiations loom, the papers have offered a running commentary of Sir Keir Starmer’s struggle to unite the Labour Party behind his Brexit policy.

The Labour leader is reportedly “leaning heavily towards whipping in favour of a deal if ministers strike one”, according to the Times, “but his top team is divided on the merits of such a move”.

A substantial section of the Shadow Cabinet want the Opposition to abstain and let the Government carry the can for the consequences of whatever manner of Brexit the Prime Minister eventually delivers. The problem is that it is extremely difficult to simultaneously claim that Britain’s relationship with Europe (or indeed approach to lockdown) is an issue of paramount importance, as so many in Labour have, and then sit out of the vote on that relationship.

Voting against the deal, at this stage in the negotiations, risks not only looking inveterately hostile to Brexit to many of the ‘Red Wall’ voters Labour needs to win back from the Conservatives, but is also a tacit endorsement of ‘No Deal’, as at this stage no alternative to whatever Boris Johnson brings back is on the table.

So Starmer is probably right, on balance, to row in behind the deal in the Commons. Voters seldom blame the Opposition for Government policy anyway. But what if, contra to all the weary cynicism of those watching the London-Brussels pantomime, the talks really do fall through and No Deal Brexit it is?

The Leader of the Opposition can scarcely endorse it, especially given his personal role as the champion of the Europhile rearguard during the previous parliament. In a recent piece for Prospect, Peter Mandelson claims Starmer is one of the principle suspects in the mystery of what killed a soft Brexit:

“Ultimately Keir Starmer, then Labour’s Brexit spokesman, used the paralysis to wear Corbyn down until he accepted a People’s Vote as the Labour platform – hoping that the cul-de-sac would turn into an exit route from Brexit. It was a high-stakes, winner-takes-all gamble – and they lost, with a softer Brexit being the collateral damage.”

But attacking it will carry its own risks. The Government will (or at least, given its messaging record, ought) to come straight out of the traps with an exculpatory version of events, pinning the blame for the collapse of the negotiations on unreasonable EU demands to prevent it protecting the fishing industry and setting up a state aid policy to help regenerate regional industries.

If it wants to win back the territory lost to the Tories at the last election, Labour probably can’t look like it’s endorsing Brussels’ policy. But if it doesn’t, that invites the obvious question: what would you have done in Johnson’s place: accepted the terms he rejected? Or walk away, as he did?

Stephen Booth: Agreeing to disagree on the trickiest parts of the UK-EU deal may be the best way forward. For now.

26 Nov

Stephen Booth is Head of the Britain in the World Project at Policy Exchange.

A UK-EU trade deal is said to be 95 per cent there. However, it seems that every passing week has promised to be the “crunch” point that will mark the breakthrough.

An agreement is probably more likely than not, but the last five per cent is always the trickiest bit. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, confirmed yesterday that it is the three familiar issues of fishing, governance and the level playing field that remain unresolved.

Risks remain. Perhaps one of the biggest is that the EU, and Emmanuel Macron in particular, misjudges the UK mood and refuses to yield on fishing. It may be macro-economically insignificant to the wider UK economy, but it is particularly important for communities in Scotland and therefore the politics of the Union. The Prime Minister must be able to claim a victory on the issue.

The two sides are reportedly discussing whether review clauses and transitional arrangements can ease the path to an agreement. One suggestion is that the EU could retain part of its current fishing quota for several years, after which the arrangements would be reviewed.

In practice, this would not necessarily present a major concession from the UK, since it does not currently have a big enough fleet to catch all the quota in its waters. According to the latest available statistics, EU vessels landed an annual average of 790,000 tonnes of fish in UK waters, while UK boats landed 546,000 tonnes in domestic waters and a further 94,000 tonnes in EU waters. Therefore, a transition period could make sense, providing the UK with additional quota immediately and time to increase the capabilities of its domestic fleet.

The question is what happens at the end of any transitional period. The UK would want to move to annual negotiations. The EU negotiating team is apparently willing to consider the concept of a transitional period, but only if a review clause was linked to the broader UK-EU economic relationship.

Another idea is that a review mechanism might establish the possibility of imposing tariffs on trade in goods if Britain no longer wanted to abide by the agreement’s terms on level playing field areas such as state aid. The obvious risk is that these issues simply return to destabilise the wider trade relationship in the years to come. It would be better to settle these issues now, but agreeing to disagree may be the only way through at this point.

At this late stage, negotiators have no doubt mapped out a multiple of technical fixes that could be employed. This is now about political decisions and choreography.

With difficult compromises required, it has suited both sides to run down the clock in the hope the other would give ground. And compromises will inevitably leave some constituencies on both sides unhappy. Reducing the time available for any grievances to fester is not necessarily unhelpful to politicians’ efforts to ensure a deal sticks at home.

Both sides had previously insisted that a deal had to be reached in October in order to allow for the process of ratification and, just as importantly, to provide traders with details of the new rules and processes they will need to operate under next year. However, deal-making within and by the EU is often done at the last minute and, all along, the only genuine deadline has been the December 31, when the transition period is due to end.

Nevertheless, with little over a month to go until the new year, time is actually running out. If a political deal is done in the next week or so, there are procedural challenges to ensuring it is in force by the January 1.

On the EU side, time is needed for so-called “legal scrubbing” and translation of the text. The agreement is likely to be defined as a “mixed agreement”, which means that it covers powers conferred exclusively to the EU institutions and those reserved by the member states. This means that a deal must be ratified by EU leaders, the European Parliament and every national, and in some cases regional, parliament.

EU leaders can defer national ratification until next year by agreeing to “provisionally apply” any deal. However, the European Parliament must consent by year end and is planning an emergency session on December 28. MEPs might complain about the timetable but would not be expected to scupper a deal.

On the UK side, we don’t yet know exactly what the parliamentary process will look like. David Frost previously told the House of Lords EU Select Committee that the Government’s assumption is that “there will have to be primary legislation for at least some elements” of the agreement. Civil servants are reportedly drawing up a “future relationship bill”, which will need parliamentary approval at breakneck speed before the end of the year.

It is noteworthy that there is apparently a debate within the Shadow Cabinet on whether to back a deal or abstain. However, this is more about internal Labour Party politics, since abstentions would not hinder the passage of a deal. Implementing primary legislation would be amendable but it is unlikely that the Labour Party would have the votes required to do so.

It has been suggested by some that the economic difference between the likely “thin” trade deal on offer and no deal is not that significant, so in the end no deal might be the more politically palatable option for the Government. Only time will tell.

However, this Government explicitly sought a “Canada-style” deal from the outset of the negotiations, accepting that some friction on UK-EU trade was worth exchanging for greater independence over UK regulatory and trade policy.

The economic benefit of a so-called “thin” deal – provided that the compromises on fishing and governance are acceptable – is that it would provide for tariff-free trade, which remains important for certain sectors, such as automotive, chemicals and agriculture.

Equally, while there is unlikely to be a formal implementation period for a deal, if both sides are invested in the agreement, a pragmatic approach can be taken to border checks and greater priority given to the free flow of trade. This goodwill would also help to resolve the disputes over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

A deal might provide a platform for greater engagement and cooperation in the future. Or it might need to be revisited in the event of future disputes. However, a no deal would likely result in further immediate and bitter negotiations on the fallout. It would probably suit the UK and the EU to draw a line and move on, for now.